Games and Kids: Are We Being Too Strict?

Games and Kids: Are We Being Too Strict?

When you’re a parent, it seems as if freaks and weirdos are coiled in every shadow, ready to strike and drag your child away into some unimaginable nightmare. In reality–well, there are quite a number of freaks and weirdos out there, but maybe not as many as screaming headlines claim. But even one incident is one too many for a parent, which is why video game companies and industry experts want to help them monitor their kids’ online gaming habits and chats.

Microsoft, for instance, has performed a major update to its Play Smart, Play Safe website, which educates parents in the UK about balancing game time for kids, playing as a family, parental controls, and how to interact safely with other gamers over online services like Xbox Live Arcade.

Play Smart, Play Safe is a good resource, but it begs the question: In an age where video games are already monitored by ratings organizations like the ESRB and subject to parental controls and censorship of sensitive topics (for instance, removing the ability to play as the Taliban in Medal of Honor), is there such a thing as over-shielding kids from the content in video games?

Opinions vary. When a slow news week hits and the media latches onto a story about kids getting their hands on something they shouldn’t–say, a violent video game that’s out of their age range–there follows a torrent of complaints about devices like the V-chip and services like the ESRB doing the job that that parents would do without fail back in the good old days. Adjectives describing today’s youth usually accompany the comments: Lazy, coddled, rude, stupid, soft, etc.

But information services like the ESRB and Play Smart, Play Safe don’t exist to shield kids from the bad ol’ real world. In fact, they’re in place to prevent well-meaning parents from over-policing their child’s video game habits. One scary documentary about the evils of video games can leave a terrible impression on mom and dad, who might lock down access to games of any kind. That’s the kind of all-or-nothing approach that leads to bitterness, and is almost never necessary or beneficial.

Gaming is an all-ages hobby, and not everything out there is suitable for kids. It’s important for parents to know that, and to learn–along with their kids–how to play safely. More importantly, sites like Play Smart, Play Safe encourage parents to learn about games in the most effective way possible: By playing them with their kids.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.


  1. We picked up Epic Mickey for my 7 year old daughter, whom was very excited about it. It’s rated E for Everyone, of course, but the opening scene of the game, wherein the evil doctor attempts to suck Mickey’s heart right out of his chest after threatening him with gigantic scissors, a drill, and a chainsaw was just too intense for her. She even had trouble falling asleep that night due to it. As a gamer, I’m well informed, but in this particular instance it didn’t occur to me that a game about Mickey Mouse would be so intense for her. It’s not a failure of the rating system as much as a failure of me relying too much on the rating system and a reminder that parents need to spend the time evaluating everything their child consumes. Unfortunately, some parents are simply not going to do that and will only react negatively after the fact. There’s no easy solution for that kind of attitude and I’m doubtful that a website like Play Smart, Play Safe will have any kind of measurable effect on those kind of situations. Honestly, though, the creation of such a site seems nothing more than a public relations tool to help cover the company’s ass should any such negative press events occur. I’d like to see you revisit this site next year and see how much it’s been updated or if it even still exists by then.

    I’m not sure if I made my point (or if I even had one), but I will say the industry can probably never be too strict about releasing and disseminating information about their products because it’s ultimately up to the parents to decide how to put it into action, but I also believe that such sites are nothing more than marketing tools.

  2. Regarding the Epic Mickey comment, I think you bring up an interesting point (yes, you did make a point). Since it ultimately falls on the parents to really decide what’s okay for their children and what’s not, shouldn’t they be the most well informed? They’re the ones making the final decision.

    The ESRB is great and all, and offers a GENERAL idea of who shouldn’t be allowed to play certain games, but different parents have different opinions on what’s safe. Especially with regards to their children. I know the ESRB gets summary videos from the developers that help determine the rating. Why aren’t these offered to parents? Shouldn’t they be the ones who have the final say on what’s considered E for Everybody?

    Just a note: maybe the ESRB does offer these videos. If they do, then I’m unaware. If somebody like myself (avid game industry follower) is unaware, I know the average parent will have no idea as well.

  3. Epic Mickey’s a really good example too, since I know there are kids who will grow up with fond memories of those scary bits, just like there are kids who aren’t ready for them. The game’s designer was clear that was his intent too.

    The same thing happened with Chernabog in Fantasia, and the T. rex in The Land Before Time.

  4. Nadia Oxford

    Epic Mickey is on my ever-growing “I’ll Play This Someday, I Swear” list. However, I’ve played demos of the game at preview events, etc, and I’m honestly surprised to learn that the game is rated E. I took it for granted that it was rated E10+. I was under the impression that the game was developed to appeal to a younger audience, but was especially meant to rope in twenty- and- thirty-somethings. The Mickey we grew up with was a little dark at times. A kid who only knows Mickey as the wide-eyed spokesmouse for Disney would have good reason to be startled by parts of Epic Mickey.

    Once in a while, the ESRB misses the mark. Used to happen all the time in the late ’90s with Playstation games. Final Fantasy VII was labelled for “Blood” (there was very little) and “Realistic violence” (What, Aeris getting stabbed, I guess?), but no word on the bad language–there was a lot–or suggestive themes. Tifa’s bazooms, anyone?

  5. I was just thinking about the whole rating thing and so came searching the internet for discussions.

    I am generally of the view that most parents are entirely ignorant of the content of modern day games, or alternatively do not care whether their child watches violent / sexual images. Due to this I think that the games industry really needs to stress and enforce restrictions and guidance on violent and sexual games. I think the ESRB is not as clear as the BBFC ratings and parents are now even less likely to buy with discretion.

    Dispite this, I have a couple of concerns with overly strict ratings.

    There are some games which are given 15 ratings and sometimes 18 ratings almost due to technicalities.
    One example is Halo 3, which is rated 15, presumably because it’s got shooting in it. Halo 3 is a very mild game made up of fantasy alien shooting with very little true violence or disturbing imagery.

    I think parents pick up games like Halo 3, then see their kid playing it and think “Hmmmm… this is pretty kid friendly- no swearing, cartoony shooting of aliens. This rating system is over-the-top” and then go and buy something like Condemned 2, Manhunt, or Madworld thinking that video games are still pretty tame.

    Although some games are rightly rated 15 or 18 due to excessive violence and bad language etc., when compared to alot of movies at the moment the ratings are very unbalanced. Games like Doom 3, Driver, and others (all 18 rated) that I can’t remember are definately no worse than movies such as Kick Ass (15), The Dark Knight (12a), The Road (15), which are infinately more disturbing than most videogames.

  6. Kids should be playing COD to teach them about history!

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