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Game On: How do I introduce my child to video games?

UPDATED: Thu., March 4, 2021

“Minecraft” can be described as simple, lighthearted, wholesome and constructive.  (PlayStation)
“Minecraft” can be described as simple, lighthearted, wholesome and constructive. (PlayStation)
By Riordan Zentler For The Spokesman-Review

Barely a month has passed since the birth of my firstborn, and already I have caught him staring in wide-eyed wonder at the television while I game. As a new parent, I have more questions than answers with regards to raising a child, but I wonder: Which games should Lucien play when he’s old enough? When exactly is “old enough?” Will he even be a gamer at all?

I would certainly hold no hard feelings if he grew up to have no interest in video games. It’s a fun hobby that can bring people together, but it can just as easily become an obsessive habit done in isolation.

For years, I’ve watched in sadness as more and more people seem to choose isolation and staying indoors, and the pandemic has exacerbated that trend considerably. Balance is important – I’m glad my father insisted I participate in Boy Scouts, which frequently had me exploring the great outdoors.

For better and worse, my parents let me spend a lot of time playing video games. If my homework was finished and I wasn’t on a scouting trip, I had free reign. I’m not sure I want my boy to spend quite as much time gaming as I did in my formative years – I didn’t spend enough time honing practical skills, and it likely stunted my social skills until high school.

My wife recently brought up the idea of simply taking away controllers past a certain hour, and that seems prudent. One thing we’ll be avoiding for sure is the tablet trap. Certain games and educational apps can help with brain development, but I have seen countless kids running around with tablets in their hands, oblivious to the world around them.

I understand young children can be exhausting, but is sticking a piece of tech in their hands and ignoring them really the best option? It’s lazy parenting at its worst. Another pitfall is, of course, letting your kid play anything. I was playing “Mortal Kombat 3” at age 4, and I didn’t turn out aggressive, but I recall certain “fatalities” disturbing me and leaving me in tears.

That’s laughable now, but I’d rather avoid putting my son through that sort of meaningless drama and desensitization to violence. One of my favorite games released in 2020 was “Doom Eternal,” but that title will remain shelved for many years on account of its gruesome violence.

The trouble is, every kid is different – violence might disturb one child, and swearing might influence the next. Others will brush it all off, too enamored with the gameplay itself to give much notice to adult themes.

The Entertainment Software Rating Board was established in 1994 in response to “Night Trap” and the aforementioned “Mortal Kombat” series, and while it was created with good intentions, it often falls short of providing a good snapshot of what content to expect. It’s certainly inferior to Motion Picture Association of America ratings for films, which I usually find to be pretty apt.

A few examples – any game depicting a gun, even if it is never discharged, jumps up to “E10+” for “everyone 10 and up.” Prior to that rating being established in 2005, guns earned an automatic “Teen” rating, and the ESRB doesn’t change ratings retroactively.

Every game in the “Halo” series aside from its most recent entry received a “Mature” rating for the simple fact that players shoot aliens who bleed – this is the same rating granted to the “Grand Theft Auto” series, which depicts rampant street violence, prostitution, drug use, strip clubs and organized crime.

While the ESRB is better than nothing at all, it doesn’t tell anywhere close to the whole story, and I’d advise parents to do a bit of research themselves before deciding which games are appropriate for their children.

Part of that research is analyzing your kid – for many years, I was squeamish, then around age 13 something changed, and I barely batted an eye at “BioShock,” a dystopian-themed game with no shortage of disturbing visuals. I was suddenly old enough to understand the developers were using the game’s content to warn against sociopolitical trappings, not condoning violence.

In a few short years, if my boy expresses an interest in playing video games, I’d like to show him “Minecraft” or perhaps “Sonic the Hedgehog” – something simple and lighthearted. I’ve been harping on about mature games to prove a point, but there is no shortage of games out there that are wholesome and constructive.

“The Legend of Zelda,” “Crash Bandicoot,” “Super Mario,” “Plants vs. Zombies,” “Terraria” and the “Lego” series are just a few E-rated games that make for excellent entertainment, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Riordan Zentler can be reached at

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