The hardest co-op

Earlier this month I came across a post on Explore the Gaming World! about video games and violence. In it, author Claudio explains that games don’t always have to be violent and can be a form of art with well-written stories. There was a paragraph in the article that stood out for me:

Every game has an age: if you gift to a kid an 18+ game, it’s your fault. Instead buy him something colourful or take him out to play something with you in the park. It isn’t the kid’s fault if they play this kind of game. But it’s the choice of a lazy parent.

I completely agree: strictly speaking, video games aren’t toys. They’re media with plenty of content – not all of which is appropriate – and so parents need to make informed decisions when purchasing titles for their child. Unfortunately though, it isn’t so straightforward when that child comes from a split family.

My other-half Pete has a nine-year-old son from his past marriage. Ethan is a not-so-little-any-more boy with a very inquisitive nature, always full of jokes and various songs he’s made up; and he’s currently trying to decide between whether he should become a maintenance man or a game developer when he grows up. He just isn’t quite sure which he’d enjoy the most.

Ethan, Pete, Duxford Air Museum, hangar, planes

I’ve become rather attached to these two lads over the past few years and gaming has always played a big part in our relationship. It’s definitely something Ethan and I have bonded over from the beginning. He was surprised to find that ‘girls play video games’ when we were first introduced and there was an initial period where I had to prove my credentials, but now he’s started to add female protagonists into ideas for projects he’s going to make when he’s older. He gets that I’d rather play as a character the same sex as myself, and I love him dearly for that.

Parenting where the responsibility is shared between two families is one of the hardest cooperatives I’ve ever taken part in. At times it can be even more difficult and confusing than that damned goat puzzle in Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars. It’s like being part of a four-person team where everyone wants the controller: multiple views on Ethan’s wellbeing come from Pete, myself, my stepson’s mother and her new husband, and even the smallest decision requires coming to an agreement.

It’s impossible for all of us to be completely happy with every decision made but we generally manage to get along. Unfortunately though, the subject of video games has recently started to cause some friction within our ‘team’. Where Pete and I are gamers ourselves we’re aware of the content of what’s being played and can make sure it’s appropriate. Yes, we’ve made some mistakes (like the time that Ethan caught me sneaking in an hour of BioShock after we thought he’d gone to bed and was scared witless) but on the whole, I think we handle the subject of gaming with my stepson as responsibly as possible.

Our teammates however don’t have much existing knowledge of video games, although they were recently given an Xbox so Ethan could continue his hobby when he’s at his ‘other’ home. This means he has begun to play with his stepdad – which is great, because I know myself how much if can facilitate bonding – but the choice of titles gives us cause for concern. For example, he recently revealed that they’d bought a Tom Clancy game to play together, and there’s also been a mention of Grand Theft Auto.

You would have thought that PEGI’s bright-red 18-rating symbol on the box would have indicated that these aren’t things suitable for a nine-year-old. Titles are given such ratings for a reason: they provide ‘a reliable indication of the suitability of the game content in terms of protection of minors’.

As Ethan’s friends start playing Call of Duty after school or are given a copy of Five Nights at Freddy’s by their older brothers (both of which have happened), it’s time for our team to have that conversation. Experience tells me that it’s going to be a tough one and Pete and I will have to word our opinions very carefully. There’s a real danger that what we say will be misconstrued: instead of hearing the warning that the games he’s playing aren’t age-appropriate, there’s a chance it will be taken as though we’re saying we don’t want him gaming with anyone other than ourselves.

Ultimately, the effectiveness of any decision or actions taken lies with Ethan’s mum and stepdad purely due to logistics. While we’re able to monitor what he’s up to when he’s with us on the weekends, that becomes harder to do when he’s at his other home during the week. Does that mean we should give up and hand over a copy of GTA V though? No, it bloody doesn’t.

Regardless of how the conversation with our teammates goes, what we will do is continue trying to teach Ethan and be the best parent-and-step-parent we can. I’ve taught him practical things such as how to tie his shoe-laces, how to do the front crawl, how to round numbers to the nearest ten and how to make a cake. And I’m also trying to show him that games don’t have to include guns and violence to be fun; that they can be enjoyed responsibly; and experiences such as Journey can be beautiful, scary and exciting all at the same time.

Journey, video game, mountain, stranger, dessert, sky, star, sand, clouds

For the record, he loved Journey. After climbing the snowy mountain and reaching the final cutscene, he said:

So I’m the star… and the next person playing right now will see me in the sky at the start of their game. That’s cool.”

Yes, it’s definitely cool.

19 thoughts on “The hardest co-op

  1. My favourite thing from this (I fully agree with your points, parents know their child and should understand what their child is interacting with) is the constant reference to “team mates”. I love that way of thinking when there is more than one family involved. Excellent!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It’s not always easy and, as I wrote above, it’s impossible for all of us to be happy with every decision made. But we’ve got to do whatever is best for Ethan so that means working at it as a team… and preferably not giving him access to games which aren’t suitable!

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Definitely! The hardest part will be getting the others to understand the content of any game when they’re not gamers themselves. There can be a tendency to consider them as simply ‘toys’.

          Liked by 2 people

  2. Loving your way to write, also i think with parents like you the little Ethan will grow and be an handsome adult. I’m glad you readed my article and shared it in your site, can’t wait to see what you will write in future!

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  3. As someone who was in the position to educate people in regards to their video game purchase–normally for a child–I definitely agree that the conversation all starts with the parents. It’s not healthy to have a black or white mentality with video games, because they’re a combination of many different art forms and are more complex than a simple rating. But the rating is a great guideline and entry point into discussing with a child what the game actually is and represents.

    I love the story–can’t remember the source, sorry–about a three year old that played GTA and spent the whole time saving people. The thought of harming someone, even when behind the wheel and it all being too easy to do, disturbed the child and they only wanted to do good. This is a reflection of great parenting as the entire experience was watched over by the father.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think the mistake that some parents make is to view video games as ‘toys’, and consider their age-rating classifications as being the same as the age-range applied by toy manufacturers. It could result in their children being exposed to themes which are totally unsuitable – it’s always wise to know and understand what your kid is playing!

      I hadn’t heard about the GTA story you mentioned, but that’s such a great anecdote. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I can’t imagine the difficulty of being a parent whose child is part of another family when gaming is involved. I’ve seen so many parents become despondent over their lack of ability to control their kid’s exposure to mature content.

    It sounds like you both are handling the situation well, and it sounds like Ethan is an incredibly mature child for his age. I hope my wife and I are so lucky when we finally have children 🙂

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    1. Thanks so much for the kind words. 🙂

      I’m incredibly lucky: Ethan is such a good kid and in general, understands why he’s not allowed to play something that has an age-rating too old for him. He’ll ask what the story is about (which we’ll explain in nine-year-old terms) and what type of game it is; and as long as we answer those questions, he’s happy to accept our reasons as to why he can’t play it.

      But as the children he goes to school with start to talk about games given to them by older brothers and his stepdad buys a ‘Tom Clancy’ title… that may start to change. So it’s time to have an open conversation about responsible gaming.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. My ten year old son has Aspergers and is obsessed with PEGI ratings. He pretty much self polices in that regard. A lot of his classmates rib him for not playing COD or GTA, wondering why he plays Zelda and Mario Maker but, due to his condition, he doesn’t usually see the point in needing to belong to any group.

    He watches me play Skyrim, it’s about as far as he gets in the underage gaming.

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    1. Fortunately Ethan’s classmates haven’t started ribbing him about not playing older games just yet, although they’re playing CoD themselves. But when they do… yeah, that’s going to be tough.

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  6. It’s always nice to read about responsible parenting when it comes to age-rated games.

    I spent a few years working in games retail, and I’ve lost count how many times I’ve had to explain to clueless parents why GTA wasn’t suitable for their under-aged child. They always sounded surprised when I told them what kind of content they could expect from a PEGI 18 game.

    Nine times out of ten they would buy the game anyway. It was almost like they didn’t believe me.

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    1. It amazes me how many parents still aren’t making informed decisions when it comes to video games and their children. There are adverts for new releases all over the place now – on television, in newspapers, on the side of buses – and information about them is readily accessible. So there’s no excuse not to do your research!

      You’d think the bright-red 18 symbol would it it away though…

      Liked by 1 person

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