I have only been a parent for about three years now, which means I got to spend three whole decades playing video games without having to worry about their content. Games with blood and gore and cursing and scantily-clad women blurred with the ones that didn’t, because it didn’t really make a big difference to me. Shooting someone in one game did little more than paint a bullet hole texture over their body, while in another game it exploded their entire torso into meaty chunks. The women in some games were respectably dressed and with normal body proportions, while the women in other games were wearing what amounted to dental floss strung across enormous breasts and down the cracks of impossibly large behinds. Some games never so much as uttered a “damn” or a “hell,” while other games had dialogue that would offend Quentin Tarantino. None of it mattered to me; I was either enjoying a game or I wasn’t, and that was the only reason to play or not to play a game.
Once kids entered the picture, I suddenly had to be more aware of the content of the games I was playing. Initially, this didn’t seem like a huge deal; so I had to wait until they were in bed to play Mortal Kombat or Grand Theft Auto, so what? My gaming tastes encompass far more than just “mature” games, and in fact, I actually play more kid-friendly games than not. Well, as it turns out, things are much more complicated than that. See, the problem isn’t with the games that wear their “M” rating like a badge of honor and utilize each and every inch of what they are allowed to put into a game with that rating. Those are easy to keep in a separate “Play only after 9:00pm” pile. Where things get tricky is in the middle-of-the-road games that only feature occasional bursts of content that isn’t appropriate for kids. The games that are mostly fine but then suddenly a scene gets just a little too violent, or someone gets just a little too undressed, or the language gets just a little too foul. I’m not saying that every game has to be all or nothing with its mature content. In fact, I think even mature games are better served to not be constantly barraging us with “maturity.” But that’s a different discussion.
To be clear, I’m not the kind of parent that feels I have to shield my kids from even the slightest hint of violence or sexuality until they are 18. Like most parents, we’ve let our kids watch horror movies that they probably were a few years too young for, or have had on movies or TV shows that had swearing or even some partial nudity while they were still milling around in the area playing with their toys or whatever. We don’t just outright let them watch that stuff necessarily, but they’ve heard an F-bomb or two and have probably caught glimpses of basic cable-levels of naked flesh. And I can’t say with 100% certainty that our 9 year old has never played a Teen-rated game, though she isn’t technically supposed to be “ready” for those for a few more years. So our children certainly don’t have virgin ears or eyes, though we definitely draw the line in plenty of areas. So what about those things – be it video games, TV shows, movies, etc – where the line between mature and not isn’t so clear cut? It might not seem like a big deal for your kids to be in the room playing on their Kindle while you watch some show on FX or AMC 99% of the time, but then all of a sudden there’s some out-of-the-blue bad word or gory death scene or naked ass or borderline softcore-porn sex scene. When you’re an adult watching that show, as I was when I was playing games before I had kids, that transition doesn’t seem like a big deal. You’re a grown up, so what does it matter if a show throws an unexpectedly mature curveball at you? It’s when your kids are around for that curveball that things are a little more difficult to manage. That type of thing also seems to be worse with video games. Most of the time, a TV show is about as racy or violent as its ever going to be within the first few episodes (though certainly not always). With games, you can be playing a game for 15 hours before that first ridiculously underdressed and overdeveloped character suddenly comes bouncing her way into the game and nothing that you had seen in the game up to that point would’ve lead you to believe such a character would be in there. And as many of us know, that moment seems to be the exact second when your kid/mom/significant other happens to walk by (and then you are desperately trying to explain to them that most of Final Fantasy VII really is nothing like that 5 second scene of Tifa spilling over that rail, which of course they don’t believe).
You might be thinking that the solution is just to not watch or play anything that even might have a mature element to it when the kids are around. But as I’ve said, that is easier said than done. As anyone with kids knows, there are only so many 100% kid-free hours in a day, and you can only fit so much TV watching and game playing in those precious few hours. On top of, well, you know, you’re also doing those other things you have to wait until the kids are in bed to do. Wait what? I was talking about picking up their toys…I don’t know what you were thinking. In all seriousness though, just having kids shouldn’t have to mean spending the next 18 years only watching Nickelodeon and The Disney Channel and playing Mario Kart and Disney Infinity except for those few hours between when the kids pass out and when you do. We have a right to also watch and play “borderline” shows and games. I just wish there was some way to know in advance when someone is going to unexpectedly be showering or cursing or exploding in an otherwise partial nudity- and foul language- and gore-free game (or TV show) so we can at least tell our kids to go have some ice cream for a few minutes or something.
Any other parents out there who can relate and want to share some of your experiences with this?