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source: Jeff

Family Friendly Gaming

The following post is from Michelle of Mommy Misadventures:

video games for kids
source: Jeff

As a child of the 1980s, I grew up playing video games. My dad got me my own Nintendo when I was about 8 years old and I spent many a childhood afternoon playing games like Mario Brothers, Top Gun, Excite Bike and the original Legend of Zelda. As an adult, I’m married to a gamer and I’m happy to say that video games remain a fun part of our daily family life.

In most parenting circles, video games are often demonized. They’ve been blamed for everything from violence and poor grades to the childhood obesity epidemic. Yet video games are not all bad.

The Benefits of Video Games:

In January 2010, research by the Office of Naval Research showed that video games can help adults by improving their abilities to solve problems and process information.

Later that year, another study by Cheryl K. Olson at the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Mental Health and Media indicated that among other benefits, video games helped to improve visual and spatial recognition skills as well as help build pride, self-esteem and socialization.

Regardless of the research, the fact remains that video games are, well, fun!

The most important factor to ensuring that your family reaps the possible benefits of gaming (rather than suffer undesirable consequences) is to play an active role in your family’s video gaming by choosing games and establishing rules.

Here are a few ways to learn more about video games and choose titles that are right for your family while helping to encourage healthy gaming habits.

Learn and understand the video game rating system.

Like movies, video games are rated for content. Computer, console, and downloadable content (DLC) is rated by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) and the rating is displayed prominently on the box or in the online store for downloadable content.

The ratings include:

(EC) Early Childhood – Suitable for ages 3 and older.

(E) Everyone – Suitable for ages 6 and older. May contain cartoon, fantasy, mild violence, and/or language.

(E10) Everyone + 10 – Similar to the E rating, this category may contain a bit more cartoon, fantasy, violence and/or language.

(T) Teen – May be suitable for ages 13 and older. May contain violence, suggestive themes, and strong language.

Mature – Meant for ages 17 and older. May contain intense violence and gore, sexual content, and/or strong language.

For most families, anything rated E10, E or EC is a good place to start looking.

Learn more about each individual video game.

While ESRB ratings can tell you what to expect from a game, you should never buy a game for your family based simply on the ESRB rating. Research a game before you buy it. The box is a good place to start and will at least give you a good description of what to expect.

To take it a step further, find parent-targeted reviews about the game as these will give you the best overview on what to expect from the game in relation to your children.

Online resources like IGN’s What They Play, edited by video game industry veterans who are also parents, and Game Reviews at Common Sense Media are two great places to start familiarizing yourself with video games. Both sites are parent-centric and give recommendations for various age groups.

Use built-in parental controls.

The Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii consoles all have built-in parental controls that allow you to control what your children play. All three allow you to set what rating you will allow your kids to play. Consult your console’s manual on how to enable parental control.

Limit game time.

Some families choose to include game time and television time under the same “screen time” rule while others may separate them. Others may ban weekday gaming all together while some will only allow gaming once schoolwork has been completed.

Remember that “game time” should also include time spent with a handheld game device such as a Playstation Portable or Nintendo DS which can be just as much, if not more, of a time sink for some kids because of the portability. Choose time guidelines that work for your own comfort level and stick with them.

Understand the online gaming experience.

Some games come with an online component, either player interaction via online gameplay networks like Xbox Live and PlayStation network or full participation in a greater online community such as with massively multiplayer online RPGs (MMORPGs) like World of Warcraft and DC Universe Online.

Online game interactions can vary. Sometimes, you’ll meet friendly, helpful players and other times, you may find some rude, abusive ones. Some games may have swear filters that can screen for language but there is no guarantee that these filters will catch everything.

If you choose to allow your family to play an online game, monitor their gameplay and communication. Advise your children never to give their real name or any personal information like their age, school, or email address to other players they meet online.

Make gaming a family affair.

Be a family that has fun together! By keeping your video gaming in a common area, like the family room or great room, it encourages family interaction as well as allows parents to keep an eye on what’s being played. Sometimes watching a video game can be almost as fun as playing it yourself!

For many families, family game night often means board games but there’s no reason that video gaming can’t also be part of game night.

The Nintendo Wii is especially family-friendly with lots of fun, all-aged games that encourage movement. The Xbox 360 Kinect and PlayStation 3 Move are new entries to the movement controlled gaming that offer family-friendly games to get the family off the couch and having a blast!

What are your thoughts? Do you allow your children to play video games? Do you play with your kids?

Michelle Mista is a former IT professional turned work-at-home mom. She muses about motherhood at Mommy Misadventures. A geek of all trades, she loves computers, video games, photography and coffee and is on the constant quest to balance life, work and geekery.

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