Parental Guidance

Friday, December 5, 2008
This holiday season the Timothy Plan, in investment company providing advice on what they call the moral integrity of companies and products has released a four page chart of video games rated by their content. The list includes 140 video games from Age of Conan to Wii Play. It's meant to give parents an objective view of the content in the games their children play, breaking down content into categories like sex, violence, language, etc and giving each game a score of 1, 2 or 3 based on the intensity of the content.

The intent is not to malign video games (at least not overtly) or to call for a ban on them. I believe the Timothy Plan really wants to help parents better understand the games their children play. The problem wit their approach is that the score card is largely ineffective at really detailing the content present in most games. On top of that, much of a game's content is meaningless when not observe in the context of the game world. Most of all, the people that created this list don't play games.

The best way to understand something has never been from the outside looking in, but rather to understand it form the perspective of the people involved in it. The best place for parents to go when deciding what games to get their children are other gamers. It's not like gamers are hard to find these days, with over 60% of households in the US owning a major console. Concerned parents need look no further than their own neighbors for real advice.

The kind of information people really need involves more than a score card. People need to understand what the game is about, what the real goal of the game is. Talk with some local gamers and really dig deep into the game.

Experience has taught me that many people don't understand the depth of meaning in many modern games. Describing the plots of games like Bioshock or Half-Life to non-gamers, the most common response I've ever heard was "I had no idea it was that deep." When confronted with a context for the content, many games cease to seem so menacing. Grand Theft Auto IV isn't about shooting hookers and cops, instead is more about the fable of the American dream and the expectations it brings.

All you gamers reading this, make yourselves available to answer the questions of the puzzled parents out shopping this season. All you non-gamers, take the time to really listen to your gaming friends about the games your children, friend or significant other want to play. I know for a fact you'll learn a lot more about the content of the games from one of us than you ever will from a half-researched, incomplete, moral score card. The lessons these games teach your kids might be more valuable than you've been lead to believe.