Video Games Gone Bad: Do You Know What Your Children Are Playing?

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With three birthdays - not to mention Christmas - just around the corner at my house, I was interested to read the release of PC Magazine's list of the 10 worst games
of all time
and was more than relieved to learn that we didn't own any of them (yet!?!) and perhaps even a little surprised.

Apparently, I am NOT the only person on the fence about what video games to buy for my kids, this year.

It seems playing Nintendo, Xbox or Playstation (when chosen carefully and played on the proper platform) may not be as bad as we were lead to believe, as the blogosphere begins to understand scientists' new vision of video games:

The Federation of American Scientists says that video games can redefine education. The theory is that games teach skills that employers want: analytical thinking, team building, multitasking and problem-solving under duress.

[Blogtip: Blogging Baby]

Yes, but - haven't they heard? - how've we been told, time and time again, video games make our kids violent; don't they?

Sara Gilbert blogged about how she thought - as most parents early on do - her children would never own a video game system. That is, until Microsoft began marketing Xbox 360 to preschoolers through 'Pinata' cartoons and admits that their campaign is slowly beginning to grow on her, too:

It's really such a brilliant strategy. Children are ever so perceptible to brands at the ages of three and four, and ever so much cuter when they beg for things. You can just feel my "I nevers" melting away like so many pieces of caramel inside one of the pinata characters in the new Xbox 360 game, now can't you? I can't say I'm pleased. But secretly, quietly.

If you're seriously looking into investing in a gaming system, the general consensus is that there are two basic rules of thumb - following Gadzooki's recipe for saving $1,000 per video game system:

1. Buy your system one year after its release. In doing this you set YOUR OWN video game cycle.

2. Never buy a game over $20. Most games get this low pretty quickly and rarely take more than one year on the market.

Pretty simple, but utterly successful. It allows you to get more game for your buck.

So start gaming to your own drum-beat and you’ll realize there’s no need to play by the industry’s rules anymore.

The Girl Gamer lists five reasons why she does NOT want to be one of the cool kids in line to buy Nintendo Wii or PS3 next month:

1. First year games are usually last generation quality:

Graphics are usually last gen and the games could have easily been played on the previous system, but if you wait about a year and then suddenly the games seem to get better.

2. Lack of gaming choices:

To fully enjoy a system you need to be able to pick the game types you want and when a system only has 10 games available on the launch day, the selection is slim at best.

3. Glitches:

Xbox 360 had systems that didn’t turn on, or have video feed to the TV, Nintendo DS had hinges that broke with little or no effort, Xbox had a power cord that could catch on fire and now the PS3 had problems with overheating just before launch.

4. Exclusives:

Nintendo 64 owners know what I mean – Final Fantasy jumped ship to Playstation and left Nintendo fans crying into their cartridge slots.

5. Lack of Units:

Every new system not starting with the name Nintendo loves to screw with us gamers by hyping their systems and then not producing enough units for the public to buy, which means gamers either wait in line at Best Buy in a sleeping bag overnight or pay double or even triple the
price on Ebay to get the system right away.

Things to look for when buying kid-safe videos:

Consider the ratings:

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Early Childhood (3 years and up)

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Everyone (kids - Adults)

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Teens (13 years and up)

The American Academy of Pediatrics cautions that video game ratings are not always accurate.

Check the content and consult guides to determine if the contect reflects what you feel is appropriate for your child:

Children's Technology Review

Game Critics

Lion and Lamb Project

Review Corner

[source]

My seven-year-old son idolizes his uncle (my twin brother and only sibling) who is currently serving in the Army National Guard and is very much into...well...basically, anything to do with the military. Although I don't think of his wearing fatigues and collecting army figures as anything more than a fascination, that doesn't mean that my husband and I appreciated his drawing of, "Sniper Bear!"

Neither did his teacher.

I can't say that I blame my son for being upset that his teddy bear - one that was supposed
to represent someone my son admired and best reflected who he aspires to be - did NOT make it onto the bulletin board, either.

It's confusing.

Taking a closer look at his bear, we decided to ditch the rifle, cut off the rocket launcher strapped to his back, erase his dark eyebrows, make his face look a little less menacing and perhaps changing his name to "Army Bear" would better reflect my son's non-violent nature.

I hope.

There are moments, I admit, when I allow my child to play video games - sometimes for hours and especially when he's got a friend staying over - and perhaps not consider the negative effects, as much.

Or, when his father comes home late at night and spends a few precious moments before bedtime battling Darth Vader and the evil empires of Ratchet and Crank, with "the boy."

Don't get me wrong - living in a house where the estrogen levels far outweigh that of the testosterone - it isn't so much an argument against gender as it is merely a question of male-bonding.

There's a fair amount of game play on both sides of the gene pool (trust me!) and there's one video game that perhaps most (if not all) 'tweens and teens can relate to, but is taking quite a bit of heat from gaming parents - have you heard of, "The Bully Game?"

Kate over at Prevention Works describes it this way:

The new game focuses on a boy named Jimmy and his first day at a reform school (he's been expelled from every other school he's attended). He encounters all kinds of cliques, from jocks to nerds to dropouts. In the game, Jimmy has the opportunity to defend the nerds, sometimes with
baseball bats, other times with slingshots—or he can walk away without fighting.

And - in light of the recent school shootings - questions the gamers objective:

The creators at Rockstar games defend Bully by saying that he's a kid whom we’ve all been at one
time. He gets bullied and he bullies others, which is common in real life at school. However, in
school, if you defend a friend with a baseball bat you tend to get in serious trouble. It begs
the question: what are we teaching our children if we condone violent, bullying games? Are we
telling our children that this is the type of behavior one must display when confronted with a
bully?

The gaming website Joystiq responds to the controversy over the boy on boy kissing, in Bully:

The game is rated T and the box clearly states that there are "sexual themes." Players can also go through Bully without ever having to kiss a boy if they don't want to. Hopefully, the negative hype about Bully is so played out that this surprising content won't cause a frenzy about youth corruption or some such nonsense. Once again, it's kissing -- everyone stay calm.

Point taken.

If you're still wondering (like me) whether there will ever be a time when playing video games is actually proven to be healthy for a child, there is a game that seems to have produced measurable "positive" results:

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Re-Mission by HopeLab, a Palo Alto, Calif., non-profit organization, features a microscopic nanobot named Roxxi, a shapely brunette who, with the player's direction, travels through the body aggressively blasting away at cancer cells.

A trial of 375 cancer patients, all young adults aged 13 to 29, showed that those who played the
Re-Mission game adhered to their treatment protocol more closely and maintained higher levels of the treatment drugs in their blood, the report said. They also showed an ability to better understand their disease and they showed more confidence that they could beat it.

[source]

No matter what my husband and I decide for our children, it helps to know that there are resources available to help us choose between educational and bullying-type video games.

On the other hand, I can still see how kicking cancer's ass can be sorta...CEWL!

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Contributing Editor Elizabeth Thompson also writes for the eZine, "The Imperfect Parent."

[Photo Credit: Tim Boyle / Getty Images file - via MSNBC]

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