Gaming has been around for most of us since we were kids ourselves, it's just more accessible today. No longer do you need a pocket full of coins and a lift to the arcade to while away an afternoon. Our kids can game 24 hours a day from the comfort of their own bedroom or mobile phone.
The Digital Australia 2016 report from Bond University found 98 percent of children have video games. More than two thirds have three or more game-playing devices. And a third have used walkthroughs to help them play better. Gaming is a big industry and it’s one savvy parents need to get their head around.
Types of gaming
Frogger might be gone, but other old favourites are still making the rounds. These days there are 12 main types of games:
1. Simulations: These have been around a long time. Flight Simulator was my husband’s favourite back in 1982. Others in this category include Euro Truck Simulator and Goat Simulator. Yes, it’s about goats!
2. Puzzle Games: One of my kids loves these games and plays them a lot. Current favourites include YOLO, One More Line, Quizzer and 94%.
3. Sports: This is another branch of gaming that hasn’t changed. Just the graphics and algorithms have improved. Anything made by EA Sports is a great example of these games.
4. Adventure: All the Mario games from our youth sit in this field. Today’s favourites include Jetpack Joyride and Pokemon. These games are usually for just one player who needs to complete challenges to get to the next level.
5. Action: This is a popular genre for tweens and teens and includes Terraria, Just Cause and War Thunder.
6. Role Playing Games (RPG): Have your kids been playing one of the Lego games, Rust or ARK? These are all common examples of this type of game.
7. Real Time Strategy (RTS): These are the games that can suck teenagers into a vortex of time. Think Civilisation V, Minecraft and League of Legends. To do well at these games the player needs to build up an inventory and usually meets up with others online.
8. Combat: A couple of examples of this one are Chivalry and Arma 3, where the player needs to fight close up.
9. Stealth Shooter: These are war games or spy sagas. They involve strategy, like Assassin’s Creed and Metal Gear Solid.
10. First Person Shooters (FPS): The difference between these and others shooting games is this one has you look through the eyes of the shooter. Examples of this genre are CSGO, Battlefield 4 and the Call of Duty collection.
11. Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO): These are the pinnacle games for most game players. They connect with others around the world in a virtual gaming landscape. Examples of this one include Trove, World of Warcraft, Runescape and Club Penguin.
12. Educational: Yes, they still make educational games. Think Mathletics, Literacy Planet and Reading Eggs.
Ratings as a guideline for gaming
Here in Australia we have five levels of rating for games to provide guidance on who should be playing what. They matches up with our movie ratings:
General (G) content suitable to people of all ages. Some themes might go over the head of young people, like the jokes in some Disney films.
Parental Guidance (PG) for people under 15 years of age. Sometime these games contain content which might upset young children. There wouldn’t be many tweens these days uncomfortable with PG-rated content.
Mature Audiences (MA) aimed at 15 years and over. There are no restrictions on those under 15 playing them, just when purchasing them. At this level, games can contain violence and nudity.
Mature Audiences 15 plus (MA15+) the content in these games is legally limited to people over 15 years of ages. They can include sex scenes and drug use.
Restricted (R18+) over 18 years and is likely to be offensive to plenty of adults.
For a young person to be able to buy an MA15+ game, they need their parent or someone else over 18 to buy it for them. This is a good opportunity to talk about why that game is restricted. Explore what content it might contain that warrants that rating.
Of course if your kids are purchasing games online, then there’s not the same checks and balances. But in most instances they will need a credit card, so ask as many questions as you need to.
Exercising your rights as a parent
Many parents feel that when it comes to gaming, they have little control over what their kids do.
But if your house is anything like ours, your kids will be gaming off the wifi, so you can limit their access to that. Either by turning the machine off or setting a new password each day. Recognise that you have plenty of power as a parent, even if your kids don’t think so.
Here are five tips I use when it comes to gaming:
1. Ratings are a good way to set limits. In our family, before someone buys a game we talk about is its rating. If it’s got an MA15+ then I want to know what’s in it that warrants that rating. Now we have an adult in the house, we can’t actually stop them from buying these higher-rated games. But I do often talk about why I don’t like games that victimise women or have excessive violence.
2. Talk about content you disagree with. A couple of years ago, every 14 year old boy was playing Grand Theft Auto. I don’t like this game as I feel it treats women as victims and expendable; part of climbing to the top. We had a long talk about the values underlying thes game and how it made me feel as a woman. I could accept that it put my son in a difficult position. But it was a battle I wasn’t willing to lose.
3. Be open about the addictive nature of games. One of our kids is a big gamer. It gets in the way of study, even though he tries to limit it. Gaming is addictive, particularly when you play those long role-playing or action games. I value the social aspect of gaming, but we also need to talk about what addiction looks like and how to manage it. This is not easy for kids, so it’s about supporting and encouraging them adopt good habits.
4. Talk about playing safely online. These days kids don’t play by themselves. There’s a world of other gamers they will encounter. Tell them never to share their real name or to create an avatar like their real name. Make sure they understand they should never share their address. Be aware of other risks online too, like scams, dating services and porn. Just as you talk about sex before your kids are likely to be doing that, tell them about these dangers too.
5. Don’t freak out! Playing a “shooter” game isn’t going to turn your baby into a serial killer. But talk about balance, and again if this is an issue for you, talk to them about why. There’s a lot kids can learn about life from gaming. So embrace some of those opportunities to help your teenagers work out how the adult world works.
If you’re looking for more tips on gaming and safety online, have a look at Common Sense Media.
What do you think about gaming? I’d love you to share your thoughts…