Over the last month or two I've been churning my thoughts, regarding adult themes in media, and my comfort level with exposing these themes to my kids. At first I thought it was going to be really complicated.
The basic tension is pretty simple for me. Comes down to two things really.
First, is this going to traumatize my kid? I'm not playing Gears of War with my 9-yr-old daughter, I know her well enough to know that it would give her nightmares.
Second, when my kid sees an adult theme in media (games, tv, etc), how likely are they to emulate it in real life?
If you know your kids, the first point is almost a no-brainer. It's so automatic for me that I wasn't even going to mention it at first. Sure, sometimes there'll be mis-steps, but live and learn.
It's the second that has been creating tension in me lately. Why am I completely relaxed when playing Gears of War with my oldest son (and we have a *blast*, by the way), but I get uneasy when watching Big Bang Theory (BBT)? Here's why: in Real Life, my son is not going to carry around a giant gun/chainsaw weapon and mow down 'roided out aliens with it. He may, God forbid, within the next couple years wake up with a hangover and a girl in his bed and think "Oops, what happened?" (a trope in many a sitcom aimed at 20- to 30-somethings..we've seen it in both BBT and The Guild). This is also why I've never let my son play Grand Theft Auto.. the action is over the top, sure, but at it's base, it just some dude on a shooting spree. I've seen that too often in the news to call it fake or imaginary. No thanks.
One more note. Underlying both points is a basic assumption: I know what my kids are playing/watching. If it's a game that's rated M, it's off limits even to my oldest, unless I've played it with him.
What do you think? What litmus test do you parents out there use?
My son Nathan and I have some great laughs watching geeky TV shows together. Nathan is only 13, and most of these shows target an older audience, but have enough geek references that he appreciates most of the humor. Our top 3:
1) Chuck. I've been watching this one since the beginning. Added Nathan into the loop about a year ago (Netflix great for this). Both Chuck and Morgan are great characters, a lot of great laughs in this show.
2) Big Bang Theory. This one has the most adult/sexual humor and situations per episode, I think. But still, the quirky/smart/nerdy characters are a lot of fun.
3) The Guild. Not a TV show per se, but seeing as how we watch a lot of TV through Netflix anyway, the distinctions blur.
All these shows aim for a 20-30 demographic (I'm guessing), so I can't recommend you watch any of these with your kids, that's up to you to decide. With all of these, I've watched first, then allowed Nathan to join me.
It has forced me to think though: Why do I have no problem playing a rated M game like Halo, or even Gears of War with my 13-year-old, but I'm hesitant to let him watch when there's a show with couples sleeping together? I have some answers (for myself, at least) that I'll likely share in a future post.
What's some of your favorite TV that you share with any/all of your kids?
Here's a fun little game you can play with almost any age of kid. My daughter was 7 when we started playing it, and 2 years later she still likes it now and again.
The goal is to get 13 brains. On your turn you draw 3 dice from the cup and roll them. The dice will have one of three results : brain, shotgun blast, or roll again. Get 13 brains and you win. Get 3 shotgun blasts and your turn is over AND YOU LOSE ALL YOUR BRAINS! Variability is added via 3 colors of dice : red, yellow and green. Red has the most shotgun blast sides, green has the most brain sides. Hence, green dice are preferred.
The most enjoyment comes from seeing how far you can push your luck.. Say you have 2 shotgun blasts so far, and 11 brains. Your opponent has 1 blast, 12 brains. Most green dice have been used, so it's mostly red and yellow dice left in the cup. Do you push your luck with one more draw this turn, or hope your opponent pushes her luck and loses all her brains?
It's kinda cool, kinda weird, how much crossover there is between The Guild and Big Bang Theory (my favorite network sitcom). I think Guild came first, had Wil Wheaton as an antagonist first. Then Season 4 last episode has cameo by Simon Helberg (Howard Wolowitz in BBT). Also funny how Wheaton plays as a total jerk in both series, when I hear that in real life he's anything but.
Just this week I and my oldest son found and watched the first 4 seasons of The Guild on Netflix. We'd already been sporadically watching Big Bang Theory over the last 6 months or so. Our nerd tv fandom started (and continues) with Chuck. The Guild is the perfect completion for our NerdTV trifecta!
One of the pitfalls of gaming with your family is that you'll hate a game that the kids love. And so I present Fluxx.. a card game where the rules change as you play cards. Fluxx comes in a myriad flavors. We have Family Fluxx and Zombie Fluxx, and mostly play the latter. There's also Monty Python Fluxx, Martian Fluxx, Eco Fluxx.. bleh.
My daughter likes Fluxx because it's simple to learn. The game starts with one rule "Draw a card, play a card". The cards themselves have either new rules on them (like "Draw 3 cards", replacing the "Draw a card" rule, or a new winning condition, or a new object required to achieve a winning condition. For example, a card called "Stroll in the Park" might have the winning condition "Possess Tree card and Grass card to win the game".
The issue I (and most adults I've played Fluxx with) have is that it's mostly random.. hard to have any strategy. The winning condition constantly changes, the rules constantly change. Last summer I played the Monty Python variant with some adults, and it dragged on and on. Eventually a couple of us were begging the group to end it, and we started collaborating to give the win to someone, anyone, just so we could move on.
To summarize: kids love the randomness, adults hate it.
A month or two ago I played Clue: The Great Museum Caper, where players take turn being the thief, invisible to the other players. Player who steals the most paintings wins. I found the game mechanic of being the thief to be fairly cumbersome. I expect the winner of that particular game didn't actually follow the rules correctly to begin with, not from deliberate cheating but from the complexity required to track movements.
This got me to thinking about a game I played as a kid, Stop Thief, that was somewhat similar, except that a little hand-held gadget handled the thief's movements, while all the players were competing to be the one who collared the criminal. My mom had stored many of our neater games, lo all these years, so last time I was at her house I checked and sure enough, Stop Thief was still there! (She'd also kept Dark Tower.. If only the titular Tower hadn't been destroyed by a corroded battery, but I digress). The kids, grandma, and I have played Stop Thief several times since, it's now one of the new "things we do at Grandma's house", and have found it holds up very well.
Although there are many games our family has played together over the last year, there's one game that, once we started it early spring 2011, we've never left.. Minecraft. It's not so much a game as an open sandbox to explore, harvest resources, and build stuff. We aren't the only ones who love it. The game started official beta at the beginning of the year (oh yeah, it's STILL in beta), and by January 11, 2011, it had already sold more than a million units. Not bad for a little independent developer!
What led us to this game was not the number of users or popularity, at least not directly. Early last year I bought a 4-pack of a game called Terraria. We played the heck out of this game. My son found a wiki on it, and became an expert in the game. We kept reading here and there that it was a spiritual successor to another game called Minecraft. We'd often heard it called "a 2D version of Minecraft", or "a sidescroller/platformer version", etc. Once we'd all maxed out our equipment, killed the toughest monsters in Terraria, we moved on and the rest is history.
I find Terraria a little easier for the younger player, at least initially. It was a perfect progression for my daughter Mary. I think had she started Minecraft first, she might've been overwhelmed. Having mastered Terraria first though, it was an easy switch.
So check them out. Try both, they're two of our families favorite pc games this year.