Gaming with Children

I’m gaming with children. Well, not literally… yet. I am the recent father of four (yes, four) children. It should surprise nobody that this has changed my gaming habits. A few months ago I completed Mass Effect 2 and all of the then-currently available DLC in about two weeks. Since the kids came home a month ago I have played a few stages of Plants vs. Zombies and scheduled two “play dates” with my best friend to get our butts kicked by adolescents at Halo: Reach.

Having less time for games isn’t the only effect having kids has had on me. I’ve started thinking about whether I want my kids to be as into video games as I am, and if they are when do I let them start playing? What games do I choose? How often and for how long is healthy? All of these are questions that I never had to ask myself, but it is clear that I need to find an answer to them.

What is today’s Super Mario Bros. 3? SMB3 sits on a high pedestal for me. I loved it as a kid, I love it now, and it’s the first Mario game I ever beat. Either games are harder now than they used to be or I’m getting worse at them as I get older. I’m not sure that six year old me could complete New Super Mario Bros. on Wii regardless of how long I was allowed to play it. It took a herculean effort for my wife and I to complete NSMBWii, and we had the benefit of a co-op buddy to help us out. Looking through my collection I don’t see a whole lot for the budding gamer. Sure, I have some “kiddie” games, but even they seem too difficult. Ratchet & Clank and Sly Cooper, while age-appropriate for a young child thematically, are pretty darn complicated. In order to play you need to go through the tutorial and figure out what button does what. Gone are the days where you move with the cross, jump with A, and throw fire with B.

Are kids destined to start on handhelds? Should I just dust off my old NES and Genesis so that they can start with simple Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog? And more importantly, what kind of example will I set for them when they eventually wake up in the middle of the night, wander downstairs to ask for a glass of water, and see me shooting wave after wave of dudes in the face in Uncharted 2?

I’ve still got a few years before these issues come to fruition, but in the meantime I need to come to grips with my reduced gaming schedule. This week alone I have spent $14 on DLC. While this is better than spending $60 on a new game, I’m not sure when I’ll have a chance to go back to Mass Effect 2 to play through Lair of the Shadow Broker and try out the new weapons I bought. 

I certainly have a newfound respect for the folks at the ESRB and a new perspective on games like Grand Theft Auto, Reach and Heavy Rain. What would I do if my child saw me getting extra life in GTA? Or assassinating an enemy in Reach? Or playing Madison’s first segment in Heavy Rain? All three would prompt discussions, certainly, but is a video game the right catalyst for those discussions? I’ve got to be careful from here on out – whether something is fun is no longer my only consideration when browsing the racks at GameStop.