Gaming with Children: What parents need

November 2, 2010

A year ago, my play sessions usually ended with me looking at the clock, realizing that 3 a.m. is too close to 5 a.m. to keep playing and stumbling to bed.

Now they end with one of my children crying, spitting up, needing to be fed, needing a diaper change, needing play time, needing a bink replaced (they can’t really hang on to stuff yet), or a combination of the above. There is no “in a minute,” “let me find a save point,” or ignoring what is going on around me. Kids need something, game has to end post haste. I have a lot of time to think while doing baby stuff – especially when I’m trying to stay quiet because I managed to cease the crying before my wife wakes up – and naturally my mind drifts to video games. Here’s what I’ve decided all games absolutely must have going forward. I won’t rule a game out for missing one, but it’d be great if more developers realized that we can’t all play for four hours at a time and wait 20 minutes until the next time the game auto-saves.

Content filtering: At the menu screen of any game I should be able to turn certain effects off – blood, gore, and foul language should be user selectable. Nintendo forced the issue with Mortal Kombat in the 90s, and today I’d like the ability to toggle between “blood” and “sweat.” And in an otherwise appropriate game it’d be nice to replace any swearing with a broadcast radio bleep out noise.

Save anywhere: I don’t need quick save, but at any point while playing a game (aside from in multiplayer) I should be able to hit start, select save, and shut off the console. If you don’t want the save system abused then make the game delete my save after I load it – I just want to be able to play, save, and not lose my progress when something more important demands my attention.

Pause anywhere: Similar to wanting to save anywhere, I want to be able to pause anywhere. This should be too hard – on all three current consoles the OS is constantly present (this is why you can return to the menu at any time). Every time I hit the 360 button, the PS button, or the Home button on the Wii the system menu should suspend the current game. This would allow parents to wipe up drool, change a diaper, or replace a lost bink without missing the narrative scene being played. It’d also be great for everybody else out there who answers the phone when it rings. 

Theater mode: It is inevitable that I will miss a cutscene. I will forget to pause, or your game doesn’t offer it, or the cat will hit unpause for me while I’m in the other room taking care of things. After I have used the handy “save anywhere” feature and exited to the menu let me rewatch that scene by selecting it from the video menu. You made those films and are proud of them, I want to watch them, and all you need to do to make that happen is add a menu pick.

I’m going to miss things, my kill/death ratio in Halo: Reach is going to be terrible some matches, and my kids are always going to be more important than running to save point. Your audience has quite a few parents in it now, and technology has advanced to the point that player convenience can be built into consoles and games. If more games took advantage of these things then those of us who play games and take care of kids would have more fun and probably spend more money on your games in the future.