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Get Your Game On

G. PG. PG-13. R. Do you know what I'm referring to? My guess is that most of us recognize these movie ratings and know what they mean.

How about these? EC. E. E10+. T. M. AO. Chances are far fewer of us know what these are, according to the 12th annual MediaWise Video Game Report Card issued this week. The ratings, for those of you scratching your heads, are the Entertainment Software Rating Board's guide to video games. EC (Early Childhood) are for kids ages 3 and up. E (Everyone) are appropriate for 6 and older. E10+ are games for 10 and older. T (Teen) video games have content suitable for ages 13 and up. M (Mature) are okay for 17 and older. AO (Adult Only) videos may include prolonged scenes of intense violence and/or graphic sexual content and nudity.

In the report, 28 percent of parent respondents said they understood nothing about video game ratings. And 44 percent said they understood "a little." That differs from their kids. Of more than 1,000 8 to 16 year olds who responded to the survey, more than 70 percent knew the meanings of E, T and M ratings. And about 50 percent of tweens and 79 percent of teens have played "mature" video games.

While the report card is not a truly scientific look at video game use, it still has some interesting information that is worth a look. For instance, 90 percent of the kids surveyed play video games or computer games at home. More than a third of kids and parents report arguing about the amount of time the kids spend playing the games. And only about a third of parents of kids who play video games play the games with their kids.

Where do you stand on your kids' computer and video game use? Which games do you allow and do they like? Do you follow the ratings? What tensions do you face with your kids about their games?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  December 6, 2007; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Teens , Tweens
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We have a few practical rules about computer/video games such as no playing them before school or homework is completed, but as long as my kids involve themselves with a variety of actibities throughout the week, I don't limit the number of hours they play.

My teenage girls get into the various forms of electronic communication, IM, Facebook, and text messaging. Their slightly younger brother likes to play the more violent video games like Halo 3 and Runescape. As long as the game doesn't portray pornography, I'm not concerned about the content.

My kids are free to read any book they want , and I don't censor their music, (although I'll tell them to turn it down or off, if it bugs me). They also know that there email is private and I won't go snooping around trying to read it without their permission. The way I see it is that as a parent, I'll do what I can to encourage decency, but I can't micromanage it; too much effort, and eventually they will have to establish the standards on their own.

Posted by: DandyLion | December 6, 2007 9:35 AM | Report abuse

Dr. Leonard Sax has an interesting book that discusses boys and video game use ("Boys Adrift"). He discusses violent (specifically) video game use and the studies showing it does encourage anti-social tendencies.

He is not entirely anti-video-game, but encourages limiting video game time and using games like NFL video games instead of the uber-violent Halo (killing cops, prostitutes), etc.

I plan to take the "everything in moderation" route. We won't buy my son any video game stuff, but he can play as much as he wants as his friends' houses.

I grew up without it and did that, and while I always wanted it, I soon outgrew the desire.

We have cousins whose son (age 7) is constantly playing handheld video games during social get-togethers. He's not interested in talking to us at all. Once recently, his handheld video game was broken, and we had such fun with him! He was an entirely different kid and we joked around, roasted marshmellows and wrestled. In my mind, video game use encourages anti-social behavior and should be limited. Period.

Posted by: Rebecca | December 6, 2007 9:43 AM | Report abuse

Mrs. Garfinkle, thank you for taking an open minded approach to discussing video games and educating parents about the rating system. Most MSM lean to the right discussing video games saying that they are all violent and are bad for kids.

As a new dad, I'm in my late 20's and play video games (Wii, xBox, PS2) and have already formulated in my mind the ones that I would like to play with my son and the ones that should wait until he is older. I am always surprised that parents don't question or look at the games that their kids play. Most parents wouldn't let their kids buy or watch an R-rated movie (at least before 13) but they will let their kids play games that are equally intense or graphic.

Video games are not just for kids, they are no longer toys. Systems like the PS3($600) or xBox360 ($450) really are not intended for children but for those like me who grew up in the late 70's, 80's with video games being in every home. We have grown up and want our video games to grow up too.

Parents please, look at what your kids are playing. If you do not let them watch an R-rated movie, don't let them play a M-rated game. Or play it with them and judge for yourself. My mom always watched a movie first before allowing us kids to watch it to see if it was appropriate. I plan to do the same with video games.

Also, just for education for those that might not no. I subscribe to xBox Live, the online system that lets you play with other people, and will never, ever let my kids use that until they are 16. Unfortunately, there is language being used that would get you kicked out of the military. I am always amazed when it is an 8 year old's voice I hear saying it. If you monitor the websites your child goes to, you should monitor there video games online as well.

A final plug, (hopefully, you've found this posting helpful) one of the main reasons I bought a Nintendo Wii is because you can download old games onto it. I will love when my son can play and beat the games I grew up on that were a little simpler and not as flashy but are just as fun.

For the person who's cousin has a nose stuck in a portable video game, that's just how kids are being anti-social. It would be no different if he had his nose stuck in a book and didn't want to be social, he just now has a flashier way to do it.

Posted by: belcharlie | December 6, 2007 10:11 AM | Report abuse

Rebecca, you kill cops and prostitutes in Halo? Are you sure you're not getting this confused with GTA (Grand Theft Auto)? Halo is about some guys in the future fighting aliens. Violent? Yes -- against those aliens. And no, we're not talking about illegal aliens.

Anyway, I've got to agree with belcharlie about the video games. As a new parent in his late 20s, I grew up with video games -- albeit of a simpler variety: just Nintendo.

That's why I think the Wii is probably the best system for kids and definitely has the best selection for kids' games. PS2 and XBOX are actually for adults and they're geared and marketed that way. Why in the world anyone would buy either of those for an 8 year old is beyond me.

By the way, all that aside, I loved GTA Vice City. It was a lot of fun.

Posted by: Ryan | December 6, 2007 10:54 AM | Report abuse

As a parent of young boys, younger than 10, I am extremely disappointed in the availability and quality of educational games. Why Nintendo couldn't carry fun games that encourage math and reading development is beyond me. So the choices available are Leap and V-Smart systems, neither of which have much variety.

That said, I'm amazed at the variety of free games on the Internet. We play together. For now, this and a few Nintendo Game Boy games suffices. We've been able to enforce the rule that the Game Boy doesn't leave the house, either. The few times that it has, a game cartridge was lost.

Posted by: S.Spring | December 6, 2007 11:26 AM | Report abuse

Don't try to make yourself feel better about "educational" games. I think those games are just to make parents feel better about their kids playing video games. I doubt it doesn't anything to enhance the kids' education.

Posted by: Ryan | December 6, 2007 11:45 AM | Report abuse

I doubt it doesn't anything to enhance the kids' education.

I agree, but when we allow our kids to play video games it is usually games of that ilk. At least they won't likely come away from it dumber than they went in. Not everything they do has to be edifying. Sometimes video games are the kid version of watching trash t.v. to relax.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | December 6, 2007 12:15 PM | Report abuse

My 7 year old (she'll be 8 next month) daughter will be receiving her first computer game from Santa this year. She asked for a Nancy Drew mystery game that is played on the PC. We don't do violence at our house. Only G and some PG movies and no commercial television. We're prudes, I know. Don't get me wrong, she gets plenty of "violence" exposure reading books like the Harry Potter series, Eragon, etc. I just think it is better if her own imagination puts a picture to the violence rather than the CGI nightmares that are out there today.

Posted by: 21117 | December 6, 2007 12:18 PM | Report abuse

Ryan, I agree with you with most of the educational/game software out there is ineffective... but,

my son, as a great surprise to me, aced the social studies section of the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) How? All the hours he spent playing the game Age of Mythology. There are other games out there that are pretty good too, but the problem is that the "educational" games are marketed and packaged for the adults who buy them. For me, it's trial and error. If a kid likes the game and it applies relevant historical or geographical data to the adventure of the game, it's a keeper.

Other than pre-school programs that teach the alphabet, I've never come across a reading program that's worth anything.

And the "educational" math programs out there probably delay your child from learning the content.

Posted by: DandyLion | December 6, 2007 12:18 PM | Report abuse

How about a different category in the poll:

More than an hour a day, and I'm fine with that and don't feel the need to "pry them away."

It bugs me when people automatically assume that if your child does x that the parent has a problem with it or that a problem exists with doing x.

My kids play computer and video games for more than an hour a day. They also participate in sports, go to school, take music lessons, spend time with friends, read, spend time with family, do volunteer work. It's all good.

Posted by: fake99 | December 6, 2007 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Ah, now that's certainly true, dandylion. When certain information is incorporated into the game, your kid's going to learn it. When I was a kid, there was a board game called SolarQuest, which was like a Monopoly of the solar system. Just from playing that game, I learned all the moons of the solar system. Of course, this only came in handy when I was on a quiz bowl team in high school and, one time, had a round in a competition that was entirely about moons of the various planets in the solar system.

Anyway, I don't count such board games or related video/computer games as "educational" games because the intent of the game is not to "educate". It's just that incorporating facts into the game makes it more interesting.

There's a computer game called Civilization that enables you to learn little tidbits about various civilizations and special wonders/buildings of the world. But that's not what the game is about.

Posted by: rlalumiere | December 6, 2007 3:17 PM | Report abuse

Oh, I meant to make a final comment. My thoughts on video games:

Let your kids have fun video games that are appropriate for their age. Let them play them -- don't use them as a reward for good behavior and don't take them away as punishment. Make sure you encourage your kids to engage in a variety of activities.

One key way to get the variety of activities: Let them play their video games on the main TV in the house (no kid should have his own TV, anyway, but that's a separate issue). Then, when you want him/her to stop playing, you can just say that you want to watch something on TV. Voila! He has to get off, but it's not a punishment nor is there a specific timed limit on his playing.

Also, when you get a new video game for Christmas for your kid, let him play it a lot initially. We all get bored of the video games eventually, but it's better if it happens naturally. Like I said, don't turn it into a reward.

Posted by: Ryan | December 6, 2007 3:21 PM | Report abuse

I tend to be against most of the rating systems because they are arbitrary and don't mean anything when it comes to a single individual child.

The contrast between censoring books vs censoring movies and games is a good one to explore.

Posted by: Liz D | December 6, 2007 3:25 PM | Report abuse

does dance, dance revolution count as a video game? we play that with my son. it's a great areobic workout.

Posted by: quark | December 6, 2007 5:02 PM | Report abuse

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