Keeping gaming healthy in the family isn't an easy task. Children always are inevitably attracted by the allure of more mature experiences. Playground chatter and children's toys based on adult game franchises like Mega Bloks' Assassin's Creed, Halo and Call of Duty fuel this latent desire for what are often violent experiences.
Many suggest that parents simply need to get better at saying "No" and read the age ratings on the box. The reality isn't as simple as this though, particularly if you want your children to develop a positive relationship towards video-games rather than simply ban them from the home.
I'm happy to categorically not allow my kids to play certain games until they are old enough, but I'm also keen for them to discover the rich experience games can offer. This has taken us on a journey that challenged my presumptions about what was a healthy experience for them and turned games into more of a shared activity in our household.
Nintendo games, predictably, have been a big part of this. Games like Nintendo Land, Mario Kart 8, Zelda: Wind Waker and Zelda: A Link Between Worlds were not only safe havens of non-violence but also great gaming experiences that got every member of the family playing together. But more recently I've appreciated the wide range of exuberant Nintendo games with a slightly older age rating.
At times this has even reversed the way these things usually go, with me suggesting slightly older games I think the kids would get a lot out of and them being a little cautious. Trying to persuade my young players to try something older isn't what they expect Dad to be doing — but it's really made a big difference.
Most recently, we've been enjoying Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate on the 3DS. This wasn't a game on their radar and when I suggested we invest some time in, it they weren't so sure. For starters, my son is a little squeamish and didn't like the idea of killing the monsters. Also he was a little confused by the scale of the world and all the options for developing weapons and characters.
Having convinced him to give it a go we started into the main adventure together. He would sit next to me while I looked after the controls. But then we discovered the multiplayer part of the game and he was keen to start his own character so we could quest together.
Multiplayer can seem like a minor feature, and local multiplayer is often overlooked in favour of an online offering, but for my family playing together in the same room is invaluable. Having the feature in Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate was a good way to ease the family into some of the more complex aspects of the game.
It seems that it's not just me. Brad Gallaway, editor of Game Critics and father of two boys 5 and 13, told me about Monster Hunting in his family:
I've been playing Monster Hunter as a series for over 1000 hours, and got my oldest into it when he was 10. It was a very positive experience, as we were able to get into the co-op and work together towards defeating each new monster and making the weapons and armour. He took to it once I explained how the systems worked, and soon had gained mastery of the combat, only needing a bit of advice from me as to how to max out his stats, or what tactics to use.
My youngest took to games much earlier than his brother, and was quite curious to get into Monster Hunter after seeing the rest of the family play, including mom. He does not like playing himself as it's a bit too difficult for him solo, but he loves joining the family and playing a support role, or gathering items while we fight the beast on hand. He leaves the rough stuff to mom and dad, but he's right there with us picking up the tricks and learning the ins and outs of the game. It's also been a great source of reading practice - within a few days, he was able to read the names of the items and menus, and so on.
This approach has helped me avoid becoming the "bad cop" parent who simply polices what games are played, and says "No" a lot. By finding great experiences and taking an active role in the game choices things are very different. No more "Mr. Bad Cop" - if I do say no, it's followed with "How about this game?"
That's my recent story with games in the family but it would be a big help to find more games that work well. What would you suggest or what have you found works well for you?