Men and women of all ages love video games, but the bond between a kid and his or her video game is special. Not only are video games fun and exciting–and even beneficial for a child’s mental and physical development, in some situations–but they can serve as a child’s introduction to storytelling that’s a bit more complex than “See Spot Run.”
Which, in turn, lands video games in a love-hate relationship with parents. Parents (even those who are gamers themselves) naturally want to keep kids safe from negative influences. Kids by and large just want to have a good time. Unfortunately, seldom do both sides’ definition of either align, especially in the world of interactive entertainment, which can lead to problems, troubles and issues that affect the family or household environment.
Here are ten series that kids love, and parents tend to hate. By exploring each one, we can learn why these games have appeal beyond mowing down virtual enemies. On the flip side, we’ll understand why these titles might make parents nervous.
Keep in mind that every game sold at retail, and most games sold on the digital marketplace, has been analyzed and rated for its content, primarily by the ESRB. It’s ultimately up to parents to decide whether or not to heed these ratings.
CALL OF DUTY
Why parents hate it: Activision’s Call of Duty is a military-themed first-person shooter series that has been around since 2003. The series’ multiple entries have revolved around World War II, as well as the Cold War.
Call of Duty games feature a whole lot of shooting and killing, which makes parents uneasy. 2009’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 was also the center of additional controversy thanks to its optional “No Russian” mission, wherein players can join a band of Russian terrorists and shoot up an airport. Though the player does not have to kill civilians, and is not awarded in any way if he/she does, the very existence of the scenario was enough to ignite the anger and concern of the mainstream press worldwide.
Why kids love it: Just to get it out of the way: kids have a natural attraction to items and acts that they’re forbidden to indulge in. No doubt some minors play Call of Duty–and every other game on this list–because that big bold “M” rating beckons them. But there’s a reason why these kids stick around once the thrill of rebellion has faded.
Entries in the Call of Duty series, for instance, consistently score high with reviewers and players. The first-person shooter genre is very busy, but CoD games can generally be counted on for a compelling story, solid gameplay, a stirring soundtrack (featuring contributions from famous composers like Hans Zimmer and Brian Tyler), and excellent multiplayer features. CoD games are simply put together well. They’re fun to play alone, and especially fun to play with friends.
The content in CoD may understandably be too heavy for some parents; regardless of whether or not you give your kids official permission to play M-rated games, it’s never a bad choice to have a serious discussion about video games and the fantasy violence depicted within.
GRAND THEFT AUTO
Why parents hate it: Boy oh boy. If any game series has been dragged through the streets over and over again by the mainstream press, it’s Grand Theft Auto. Grand Theft Auto games, particularly games released post-Grand Theft Auto III (2001), when the series evolved into its current 3D, open-world format, initiate fresh waves of panic whenever a new one drops. As a consequence, the Grand Theft Auto series is the target of vague criticisms and descriptors like, “That game that lets kids kill prostitutes and steal the money.”
Why kids love it: Make no mistake: Grand Theft Auto is a series for adults. It’s also a series set in a world where you can generally do whatever you want–bad or good.
Rockstar’s open-ended virtual world is a remarkable thing in itself, which makes it attractive for adults and kids alike. What’s not compelling about a game that lets us air out our darker side without any (real world) consequences? More than that, however, each game also boasts a great soundtrack, a compelling story, and a colorful, if sometimes eccentric, cast of characters. Can you run over innocent people? Yes. Do you have to? No.
Again, parents need to draw their own lines and initiate discussion with their kids.
Why parents hate it: “Survival horror” games like the long-running Silent Hill and Resident Evil series became popular in North America around the dawn of the original PlayStation. In Japan, however, survival horror games date as far back as the Famicom (Nintendo Entertainment System).
Fans of Japanese horror films already know that Japan’s scary movies reach far beyond blood, gore, and heart-stopping “Got-You” moments where the villain jumps out at the victim: rather, they tend to touch on disturbing imagery and unsettling questions about psychology and sanity. The Silent Hill games, which originated in Japan and retain much of the country’s mastery at subtle horror (despite the fact the newer games are typically developed outside of Japan), are very capable of keeping a young kid up at night.
Also, parents might feel vengeful against Silent Hill because they spent money on the 2006 film, which was bad.
Why kids love it: There probably isn’t a kid in the world who hasn’t gone behind their parents’ backs to watch an R-rated horror movie, either because they genuinely wanted to, or because they were pressured into doing so by their peers. The scares in Silent Hill are that much more potent because actively stumbling around in the fog and darkness is so much more throat-drying and cringe-inducing than simply watching pre-scripted actions fold out on a screen.
Why parents hate it: Aside from maybe Grand Theft Auto, no series can lay claim to suffering through as much controversy as Mortal Kombat. The original Mortal Kombat hit the arcades in 1992, a time when fighting games were thriving. Parents already weren’t thrilled with games like Street Fighter II, which (they argued) was nothing more than a violence simulator. But when Mortal Kombat became famous for its stable of gory finishers (now immortalized in pop culture as “Fatalities”), parent disapproval toward the game shot up by a thousand percent. And when it was announced that Acclaim would be bringing the whole bloody package home for consoles, the media and politicians went positively orangutan.
The homecoming of Mortal Kombat had significant impact(!) on the console market. It led to the creation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), a rating system that’s still applies its mark to most games sold in North America. Moreover, by the time Mortal Kombat II arrived on consoles in 1994, Nintendo of America had already begun loosening up its famously draconian censorship rules for localized games. That’s because its refusal to allow red blood in the original SNES port of Mortal Kombat resulted in a lot of lost sales to the Sega Genesis port.
Why parents hate it–Wait, what?: Okay, so maybe Mario doesn’t have to dodge as many shotgun blasts as the other series on this list, but make no mistake: the Super Mario games are still capable of breeding some fine old arguments between parents and kids regarding balancing play time with homework and other chores.
Why kids love it: When the Super Mario games debuted in the early ’80s, their whimsical stories and iconic platformer-style gameplay rearranged the definition of a video game. Mario has since hit his 30th birthday, and his adventures still enrapture kids and adults alike.