MMO Family: Parents as gaming gatekeepers

MMO Family is your resource for leveling a gaming-specced family, from tips on balancing gaming with family life to finding age-appropriate online games for everyone in the family.

Does your child have the emotional levels it takes to tackle certain MMOs? The idea of parents as gaming gatekeepers all too often comes down to simplistic, ESRB ratings-based rulings passed down from on high by relatively disengaged parents. Deciding what and how your child should play is far from a black-or-white decision. Last time in MMO Family, for instance, we looked at how to tell if your child is ready for MMO raiding -- yet far too many commenters missed the point, assuming (from the topic alone, we can only presume) that we advocate a laissez-faire attitude that allows kids to abandon their other activities and strands them in front of a keyboard during every free moment. Come on, folks, it's not a choice between letting kids play to the detriment of the rest of their lives vs. not playing at all. It's about gatekeeping -- and this is where you, the parent, come in.

The truth is, categorically forbidding kids who're interested in video games to play at all is no more thoughtful or balanced an approach than throwing up your hands and letting them log in during every waking moment. Your role is to help children learn to balance their interests and lives, with as light or heavy a hand as may be necessary for your kids. This week, we've brought you some thoughts from a mother and son who've been there, done that -- together.
When Mum weighs in

In this article from last year, UK gamer Nathan Miller interviewed his own mother about what it was like acting as a gaming gatekeeper during his years at home. Miller's post paints a picture of an involved mother who balances social, emotional and developmental concerns.

Writes his mother:

I think I started buying you games around 8 or 9 years old. You didn't get them immediately. You had to ask for a long time, even though your friends had them for a while, but I guess it was a point of reference for you. To have something in common with others was I think the main reason we bought you a console.
Because this family didn't have access to the internet and all the tools we have today to help us vet games for our kids, this mother's methods of choosing games were rather basic -- but she did remain firmly in control.

Miller remembers:

I remember that my friends had Grand Theft Auto, one of the most controversial games that has since become a best selling series, allowing the player total freedom in a city but encouraging them through storyline to become a career criminal. I suppose the early censorship my Mum had instilled had worked as I don't really remember having a large desire to get GTA, and it was only when the 3D version came out when I was older at around 15, that I had a desire to buy it, and my education in games in conjunction with my Mum's early censoring had firmly distinguished gaming from reality.
The big factor in Miller's entire relationship with gaming was his mother's direct and personal involvement.
This brought me to one of my clearest memories as a young gamer. My Mum sat down and actively took part in scrolling beat-em up games with me. None of my other friends Mum's did that! So it was really fun that she actively took part in them and we able to complete or get to the final round of, the two games we played the most together; Streets of Rage 2 and Golden Axe 2.

Of two particular titles the mother/son duo tackled together, the mother reports:
I was iffy about the violence on the cover but I let you convince me slightly and I wanted to experience it myself to see whether it was bad or not, and in the end I ended up really enjoying it! ... think I ended up playing it through wanting to experience how violent it was for myself and also you asking me to play with you when you didn't have friends round. Unless you experience it for yourself, you don't really know what it's about and it also gave me validity if I needed to censor it while we were playing.

Con your games like a pro

There are so many different tools that can help you decide if a game is right for your family and kids. Sift through them all and find the methods that help you the most.

Only you can match your kids' individual personalities and interests with the games they want to play. Would your devilishly intelligent grade-schooler latch onto the pervasive innuendo in the quest text of one game? Don't buy it. Might your homework-laden tween be likely to get sucked into endless faction grinding? Choose a lighter title.

Yes, this means it's up to you to gain at least some level of familiarity with the games your kids want to play. Beyond the storyline and general goals of the game, ask yourself what sort of activities players are doing on a daily basis. Are they killing monsters or other players? Playing minigames? Chatting? What are the other players like? How old are they? How much will they interact? Check out our Parents Guide to Kids and Family Gaming to compare and contrast what's involved in some of today's most popular MMOs for kids. We're adding new titles all the time; if there's a game you'd like us to review (and I say "us" because Massively's own Rubi Bayer will be joining the MMO Family team soon!), drop us a note in the comments.

If you played games as a child, how did your own parents handle choosing them? Were they even involved in the process? Did either of your parents play with you? Now that you're a parent, are you handling things similarly or differently with your own family? Do you play games with your kids and talk with them about what they're playing? Let us know what you think in the comments!

When it's time to find just the right game for your family, turn to MMO Family's growing Parents Guide to Kids & Family Gaming. Drop me a line with your thoughts, suggestions, family game experiences, and questions about gaming and parenting at lisa@massively.com.

This article was originally published on Massively.