Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

Birthday Frags

Posted by Trixter on August 1, 2008


Today I am 37. I am also 237. I’m working on the latter.

My youngest son Max will be 9 years old in November, but already he has been bugging (begging?) me to play some first-person shooters. I initially thought this was a good idea and let him play TimeShift with all of the blood/gore turned off. But something struck me as he played it: As he was gunning down the enemy, he was showing hardly any reaction as to what they were doing. In other words, he was shooting a fairly realistic gun at a fairly realistic enemy, who was yelling and dying in a fairly realistic way, and he simply was not reacting to this at all. That bothered me, so I uninstalled the game (actually I rar’d it up and moved it to another drive — I figure by the time he’s smart enough to figure out how to restore it, he’ll be old enough to play it :-).

While I relish the thought of nurturing the next Fatal1ty, I am bound by the morals/values/scruples that all parents (should) have. So I had to lay down the law last month about what he could and couldn’t play specifically regarding first-person shooters. Coming up with parenting-friendly rules was surprisingly easy (no realistic human targets, etc.). Coming up with the games that honor those rules was a little harder, given that the point of an FPS is to kill things :-) Here’s what Max can expect:

  • 8-9 years old: No human targets or scary environments. Acceptable FPS games: Serious Sam series, Tron 2.0, Shadowcaster
  • 10-11: Human targets okay only if they are zombies or possessed or otherwise completely unrealistic (ie. quite pixelated graphics or low polygon count). Acceptable games: Doom, Heretic/Hexen
  • 12-13: Any target or setting is fine as long as the game is rated ESRB “T” for teen
  • 14-15: Can play anything he wants as long as it’s not pointlessly sadistic (ie. games like Manhunt are not allowed)
  • 16+: Anything goes (I was sneaking into R-rated movies when I was 16 so I figure it would be hypocritical to not let him play anything he wants at 16)

(I’m probably forgetting some eligible games; let me know which ones and I’ll amend the above.)

Note that the above guidelines assume all games will have all gore and bad language set to “off” if the game allows it. Even if they don’t, Max and I have an understanding about bad language (when it is and isn’t appropriate) so I’m not worried about that, and blood coming from an obvious non-human enemy is fine too. Fantasy violence is clearly a game. Getting a headshot on a human soldier can also be a game, but only if you’re properly grounded, and I don’t think a 9-year-old is that grounded.

Max, of course, thinks these rules are completely unreasonable. I think they’re pretty damn lenient!

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6 Responses to “Birthday Frags”

  1. Alkivar said

    Did you consider the fact he wasn’t reacting to the killing because the blood/gore was turned off? Certainly you should have less/no reaction to killing if the consequences of shooting someone are turned off.

    I seem to recall reading a study published saying that violence when portrayed with blood and gore and dead bodies was less apt to increase a child’s violent behavior than cartoon violence where consequences are never shown. it might be an interesting experiment to see how your son reacts to the same game with blood/gore turned on.

    Not that I’m trying to tell you how to raise your kid that would be rude… if he turns out half as smart as you microsoft is doomed.

  2. Trixter said

    That’s a very astute observation. He has played other games with gore turned on and didn’t like it and wanted me to turn it off. For the original Half-Life (which I allowed because the low poly count + software rendering made it anything but life-like), he didn’t like “kid mode” (soldiers are robots and fade away when killed) and wanted me to turn it off.

    So he’s complex, but I’m playing it safe :)

  3. DosFreak said

    “he was shooting a fairly realistic gun at a fairly realistic enemy, who was yelling and dying in a fairly realistic way, and he simply was not reacting to this at all.”

    What kind of reaction are you looking for? Does he react differently for other games and that’s why you noticed how he failed to react with this game?

    I find it odd that someone would be bothered that someone would fail to react when:

    1. Controlling an onscreen character holding a weapon using a gamepad/mouse/keyboard which is in no way similar to a real weapon.

    2. Watching the action on a 2D screen which doesn’t even come close to the full 3D of the real world.

    3. Lack of blood.
    Poor animation.
    Poor textures (compared to real world).
    Repition of enemy actions.
    Duplication of enemy textures. (Same faces, clothes, etc)

    So I’m not sure if there’s anything to be worried about unless your worried that your son after playing these types of video games will start to believe that the real world is as hollow as the video games he plays. heh.

    The more video games/books/movies I read the harder it is to find good material….and more and more often when I try to play a game that is the latest and greatest thing I realize how empty and lifeless it really is. (Likely due to experiencing too much while to the “next generation” the games are new to them)

    Painkiller was hyped beyond belief but when I played it, it bored me to tears. I finally just turned on GOD mode, and gunned down anything in my path (without reacting of course) just so I can check out the maps which were the best things about the game.

    So, if your son did that for Painkiller (if you let him play it, I’m sure you may have exceptions sometimes for your rules posted above). If he turned on GOD mode and killed everything in his path without reacting just to check out the maps would you have a problem with that? Would you discuss it with him and after realizing that that is why he did it would you still let him play it?

    Another thing, it may be a good idea to get him to play other games or at least not mediocre FPS’s. :) Interactive Fiction, Adventure, RPG’s, RTS, etc etc. Variety is the spice of life and once you’ve played one FPS you’ve pretty much played them all. (And a good thing about games other than FPS’s is that they are mostly not as violent)

  4. Trixter said

    “Does he react differently for other games and that’s why you noticed how he failed to react with this game?” Yes. I was expecting just something like “oh man!” or “cool!” or *something*. It was his lack of reaction that bothered. He’s almost nine, he should think that slowing down time to unload a few blasts into someone is, at the very least, cool :-)

    No painkiller. As awesome as a STAKE GUN is :-) it will have to wait until he’s 14.

    I didn’t write it above, but he has also played Tass Times in Tonetown and Arcanum and while he liked them, he doesn’t ask me to help him finish (he gets bored with the reading). He *did* show an interest in Deus Ex, so there is still hope :)

    BTW I disagree about “if you’ve played one FPS you’ve played them all”.

  5. Cav said

    Good post about a subject I’ll have to grapple with in a few years. I’m curious though about, “8-9 years old: No human targets or scary environments. Acceptable FPS games: Serious Sam series.”

    Serious Sam series? That’s a pretty freaky series, plus it’s rated M. I was just curious about the logic. Thanks. Great site, btw.

  6. Trixter said

    LOL! Serious Sam is only “M” because you’re shooting guns that cause red blood to come out, but come on, it’s not really that scary or horrifying, just intense. After the initial shock of “that’s a freaky monster!” wears off, it’s just wall-to-wall carnage (which is what he wanted) without long-term emotional scars (which is what I wanted).

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