By Adam Cook
It doesn’t always start as an argument. My eldest (9) son will just calmly ask me why he can’t play Call of Duty. I respond in kind, explaining that it’s an 18-rated title, and that he’s nine years old. I assume that my logical perspective will destroy his tiny mind. But all his friends play it, and have done for ages, he tells me. I can check this, because he plays on my gamertag, which is now littered with bizarre usernames only children and clan-members could come up with.
And then there’s stalemate, because I can’t exert any power over what the rest of the world does with their kids, and he can’t understand why I’m being so mean to him, and singling him out.
My nine-year-old son is already the social pariah, and it’s mostly my fault.
Melodrama aside, the discussion is coming up more and more as he and his younger brother (7) have surges of testosterone. I can hear them upstairs, quite often, arguing with their pals. They’re in party chat on Xbox 360. My kids are playing FIFA 15 or Minecraft, and their friends are playing Call of Duty: Ghosts, or in some cases, GTA V.
I wonder if I’m the only sane person out there. I wonder if I’ve experienced enough youthful, annoying voices over my tenure on Xbox Live that I have a responsibility to ensure my boys don’t add to that noise. Most of all, though, I wonder where the bloody hell games for kids went.
I’m 33, and when I was playing games, they were all daft, silly experiences. I don’t recall a single game back then that had a story worth a damn, but nobody cared. The big bucks have well and truly come, and cinematic, visually bombastic experiences are what big-money development is about. With that, games have become more adult, including sexual content (let’s just pretend Leisure Suit Larry never happened), violence, and...well, adult language.
The market has massively shifted. The video game boom happened for my generation, and as we’ve gotten older, developers have too. Nobody is making games aimed at kids. Well, nobody is making games aimed at growing kids, anyway: that difficult age between being really young and coming of age eludes the game development community.
Skylanders is a great series, Rayman entertains for a bit, and the Lego titles are often a lot of fun. My kids loved those when they were younger. But they’re smarter than I was at their age, and YouTube means they’re also aware of literally everything else that’s out there. They want a more mature experience. They’re bored of FIFA, even Minecraft is losing its magic. They want something meatier. They want to play what I play.
So I looked at my shelves. Nothing. Desperation sets in and I’m suddenly Googling to jog my memory: are the sex scenes in Mass Effect missable? I think they are… right? Shit. I can’t chance it. Gears of...nope. Uncharted, God of War, Far Cry, Assassin’s Creed (their friends play that series, too) – none of these are appropriate.
Then I realise I’ve forgotten the coolest of the cool. Sega may no longer be the powerhouse they once were, but history can repeat itself. Enter stage right, my old friend Nintendo.
The short version is that, apparently, Nintendo isn’t cool anymore. I didn’t know this, did you? (Seriously, that’s a real question). The long version is that, although Super Mario 3D World and Mario Kart 8 are astonishing games, my kids don’t want them. They entertain for a while, sure, and they do enjoy them, but they want to get online with their friends and play together. Nintendo, despite improving on past online efforts, still doesn’t fit the bill. And we’re back to square one, and he’s coming into my office and asking what game I was just playing. It’s The Order: 1886, I tell him. Apparently it looks cool, from what he saw of it.
YouTube has become a haven for kids, too. Throw them a tablet device and rather than playing any number of wonderful games (Device 6, Monument Valley, etc) they’ll spend an hour watching StampyLongNose play Minecraft for his five million subscribers (he may be a lovely guy, but his laugh haunts my dreams). And, if you’re not looking for a bit, they’ll watch through half of the campaign of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare before you snatch it away. But if I tell them to stop watching it, and go play it, well apparently I’m the bad guy. Again.
“But dad, my friend showed me Five Nights at Freddies on his iPad”, and my head is in my hands, because just like me, they find a way anyway.
Moments like that really make you reflect. You start to wonder if you’re the problem, and you can’t talk to anyone about it because they’re all letting their kids play anyway. I was on the cusp of just giving up, letting them loose on Call of Duty, and then a mysterious package arrived. Inside the box, there were two smaller boxes. They were these. Flabbergasted, I cleaned my glasses, but no, there they were: a box of Call of Duty Mega Bloks, and one for Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag.
These games – these 18-rated games – have toys aimed at kids. A company that makes children’s toys is making Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed Lego.
No. Just no. My resolve was strengthened, I will continue to be the gatekeeper. I will continue to shield my kids from this stuff.
I like to think I’m the cool dad (I suppose everyone does). I’m that dad that, back when you were young, got all the games early. I’m real; I exist. But I won’t let them play these massive, adult games, because I want them to be kids for as long as possible. You spend your adult life wishing you could be as carefree as you once were. I won’t rob them of that.
I’m alright with being the bad guy, but I’d love a little help from the industry, and other parents.