PAX Prime 2011: Panels Pt. 2- Gamer Parenting

A column article by: Amelia Ramstead

PAX Prime 2011 may be over, but Amelia's still got lots to share. For the next little while, she'll be going through the panels she visited, one by one.

This panel discussion focused on both the pitfalls and challenges involved with being a parent who games, and how to handle specific situations that arise when your child wants to play games as well.

The panelists were Jessica Shea of 343 Industries; Justin Korthof, a community manager for Robot Entertainment ; Jeff Green of PopCap ; Stephanie Bayer, also of PopCap; Jamilah Delambre; and Christa Charter, also known as Trixie 360.

The panel kicked off by discussing the age-old question: Do you censor your children’s games? The panel primarily supported censoring the content in video games. Christa was the only one who did not endorse censoring what her kids play, but her gaming kids are older, 15 and 19. She did say that she censored TV more than games. Justin, who has two young daughters, stated that his children are not allowed to watch him play violent games. Jeff commented that he frequently gets letters from angry parents blaming the video game industry for their children’s habits. He then pointed out, to wild applause, that it is not the industry’s job to parent the child; it is the parent’s job.

This topic was brought up again, later in the panel, when the question became "What do you do when you have set restrictions about what your child can play and they are introduced by friends to games you don’t want them to play?" It’s important for kids to understand the limits and be able to self-regulate. The panel also agreed that there’s nothing wrong with calling other parents and requesting that your child not play those types of games. This was a conversation we just had with our son. He revealed to us that he was playing Halo at a friend’s house. I don’t want him playing violent games, so we talked about it and he agreed that he would look at the box and only choose games that were not rated M.

The panel discussed the benefits of gamers raising kids who play games:

* A chance to talk to your kids about what they are playing
* An instant bond with your child, even if you aren’t playing the same genre of games
* A chance to learn abilities that aren’t taught in school, such as problem solving, spatial reasoning, and learning from past experience
* An opportunity for the child to become the teacher and build confidence

Some unique problems arise when kids game, including the challenge of knowing what’s right for your individual child and knowing when games have become too stressful and it’s time to stop. The importance of following through on limits that have been set was emphasized. We deal with this problem frequently at our house. We tend to use game time as a reward, and so far it has been pretty successful. Since our son knows he can’t play games until the work is done, he is quick to complete chores to earn “points” to play games. I have no problem resorting to bribery.

An interesting question that was brought up was whether other parents or teachers treat you differently when they find out you play games. So far this hasn’t been a problem for us. Many of my friends are also gamers, and the ones who aren’t accept me as a gamer (or at least are smart enough not to make comments to my face!). It’s not something we’ve ever had to discuss with teachers or other adults who don’t know us well. One of the panelists commented that when he gets the stink-eye, it’s primarily from moms. Dads either don’t care or want to play, too.

As a follow-up to this question, the panel was asked if their kids get more attention because their parents play games. I have had the experience with my son having kids over when I am on WoW and having the kids all gather around me to watch me play. It certainly elevates my status as “cool mom!”

Amelia is Much Better Than This Mom

The panel was then asked if they ever feel guilty for playing games around their kids. A few panelists pointed out that they don’t play games until after their kids go to bed. I have mixed feelings about this. I feel like when the kids are up, I should be spending time with them and doing something productive. When a game can be played together with the kids, I’m all for it. Single-player games that require me to tune out (like WoW or Portal 2) are best played when the kids are sleeping or otherwise occupied. Because I have a three-year-old, it’s also a safety issue. I can’t make sure she isn’t injuring herself when I’m immersed in an instance.

The conversation turned to Facebook. Is it okay for kids to be on Facebook for the purpose of playing games? The panelists mostly agreed that for the older kids it was okay to play as long as privacy settings were at their very highest and the kids were monitored. My own son has been watching me play Words with Friends and wants to try it, so I’ve been thinking of making him his own account. I posed the question to my own friends on Facebook. I was surprised by how many of my friends have already done this for their kids – although one pointed out that Facebook realized they falsified the birthdates and shut them down!

This led to a discussion of Xbox Live and other online gaming platforms. Justin and Christa were both concerned, primarily because of the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory. With a wide-open Internet and all the crazy people out there, is there a possibility of your child being in danger? Because both have such open Internet lives, they told stories of people getting angry with them and threatening action to their kids, or wishing frightening things to happen to their children. So far this hasn’t been too big a problem for us, but we do have pretty strict rules when our son plays WoW, the only game where he has access to the online community. Our rules are that he is only allowed to group up with people he knows, like my brother or father, or real life friends. He is not allowed to talk with other people who send him tells. So far, he has been really good about sticking with these rules.

What were the panelists’ favorite games to play with their kids? Justin voted for Angry Birds. He is a self-professed science geek and loves that the game teaches his daughters early principles of physics. Christa voted for Rockband and Guitar Hero, both games the whole family likes to play. Jeff liked Paper Mario and the Zelda games for their lushness and sense of humor, as well an absence of violence. Little Big Planet was also tossed out, as was Katamari. In our house, the family games have been Rockband/Guitar Hero, Mario Kart and Rayman Raving Rabbids. We can have whole parties around these games!

Probably Not the Kind of Katamari Party Amelia Had in Mind

Questions were turned over to the audience. The first question was about the challenge of adding darker content as kids grew older. The importance of paying attention to your children and knowing what they can handle was emphasized. It was also pointed out that this type of conversation isn’t something you just have once. It’s important to continue having the conversation over and over, especially as regards to fantasy vs. reality and what the games really mean.

The next question focused on gender issues. The questioner had two daughters who preferred light saber battles to tea parties (rock on girls!) and his wife, a non-gamer, wasn’t particularly happy about this. The consensus of the panel was to let kids try their own things. If we don’t make gender an issue, it won’t be an issue.

How does the panel handle competitiveness in families? The panel saw competitiveness as an opportunity to teach good sportsmanship. It’s important for kids to learn that sometimes you win in life, but sometimes you lose. It’s also crucial to model the behavior you want your kids to see. After all, if they see you pitch a fit when you can’t make it to the next level, how can you expect them to do otherwise?

I felt like the panel took a really common sense approach to the issues involved when kids game and I agreed with their answers. Gaming continues to evolve, and kids being online is becoming more and more of an issue. It’s important to think about how these issues should be handled before they become a problem. As parents, we need to be consistent in the messages we give to our kids, and continue to discuss the limits. Our kids need to know what we expect.

Tomorrow, I’ll take a look at the other parenting panel. Do you have kids who game? What kind of experiences have you had?

Amelia Ramstead has been playing games since her family first received an Atari 2600, lo these many years ago. She continues to play, primarily on PC these days. An avid World of Warcraft player, Amelia writes about WoW topics for her blog and as a guest poster on WoW Insider. Especially interested in how gamer culture reflects in family dynamics, Amelia herself has two kids, one of whom has two WoW characters and can barely keep his nose out of his DS. Amelia is excited to join the staff of Comics Bulletin and is looking forward to the chance to converse with others on one of her favorite topics! Find Amelia on Steam as ameeramstead.

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