I overheard a presumably uninvolved mom in the video game aisle at Walmart this morning, asking one of the older, more seasoned employees about the various video game systems. I heard the employee giving vague, noncommittal answers - but really what he should be trying to do (in my opinion) is to ask some questions that will allow her to make a clear choice so she can get what she wants and be on her way.
For a moment, let's forget the fact that Mom should have done her homework before she ever set foot in Walmart. Wait! The peanut gallery argues. Mom can't know what to get their kids, that's why they're asking the Walmart employee! That Walmart employee isn't any more of a gamer than that Mom is, even if he does work in the electronics section. He knows what he's been told, but he doesn't know much firsthand - or he'd been able to give more compelling, specific answers and guide her to a solution.
After I got involved, and came over to explain about friend codes for Nintendo multiplayer games, and how she shouldn't worry about her kid(s?) playing against random people on the internet, she expressed her concern about "Is it going to be fast enough? My son is always complaining about that on the computer."
After asking if they had other console gaming systems at home, I tried to reassure her that there was less of that to worry about on a console because he couldn't fill up a Nintendo DS with random programs like he had presumably done to the computer at home. After Mom explains that no, his computer is clean, but he screwed up our computer once, et cetera, then she mentions the other thing that she wants to get him. Xbox. (Which, at this point, is the XBox 360 - the second iteration of Microsoft's console.)
I almost never go much farther with anybody in this conversation without the following:
1) How old is the child in question?
2) What games do they want to play?
and sometimes a third followup question that's based around the answers to the first two. In this case, the answers were "twelve" and "Modern Warfare 2 and Halo". So, based on that, I asked
3) Would you let your kid watch "Saving Private Ryan"?
but not before I had said "Grossly Inappropriate" at least once. If the answers had been "twelve" and "Forza and Burnout", I might have been more encouraging. Perhaps if her child was older, or she said something about he did a big report on WWII for school and was really into the tactics of the eastern theater, I might have been more encouraging.
So, I discouraged her from Xbox360 , touted Nintendo's kid-friendly lineup, and ran away knowing that I was just going to keep saying "Grossly Inappropriate".
Don't get me wrong - the Xbox360 is a very capable piece of hardware, and there are a lot of family friendly titles for it - but if "Modern Warfare 2" is where you're headed, "Lego Indiana Jones" and "Rock Band 2" are just going to be little bumps on the road on the way to the M-Rated titles.
Don't you play a lot of M-Rated games? Aren't you afraid that your kids will be desensitized to violence?
Yes, I play a lot of M-Rated games. I also play a lot of other games, too. What does #2 son want to watch the most? "Pikmin". #2 son can say "zombies", and he is scared of scary music. When he wants to watch me play something, it's pretty pastoral by comparison to what he's aware of. On top of that - Pikmin is a really great game with lots of depth.
#1 son has been playing "Lego Batman", "Wii Play", and "Billy Hatcher". Sure, sometimes #1 son watches me play violent games, but not for very long. If he thinks that he is scared, he doesn't watch anymore and goes to do something else. We also talk about the scary stuff, and I feel that he has a good handle on what is real and what isn't - especially when we've talked about it. Inexplicably, he takes great delight in watching me play Wii Fit - maybe it's fun to watch someone else struggle foolishly with the pushup/side plank exercise.
So, now that I'm done rambling, and ranting, I can't help thinking that I might have ruined Christmas for some kid even though I tried to play by the guidelines and encourage industry sanctioned age-appropriate games. Alternately, I might have gotten his mother to be more involved in what he's doing.