As a lifelong gamer who grew up in the 80s, I love all the games. From arcade classics like Joust, Willow, Paper Boy and Rampage, to more current titles like Bullet Storm, Skyrim, Mario Galaxy and Assassin’s Creed II.
One of the problems with being a gamer dad, is that my choices are limited to what I can and cannot play around my kids. As a child, I was raised on 80s horror movies like Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street. Other than overtly sexual content, my parents did not have much of a restriction on what I could take in as a five-year-old. It’s funny that they drew the line on boobs, but Jason decapitating a teenager with an uppercut was A-ok.
Family movie night in the Irwin home
I have to admit that it had a negative effect as I grew up. My fascination with gore and horror grew along with a desensitized outlook toward violence. By the time I was 13, I was renting Faces of Death and other videos that showcased real acts of violence and horrific accidents.
Now, as a parent, my wife and I made the decision to be more protective of what our children intake, and as such, what we expose them to.
Here’s the funny thing: the first game my daughter really started noticing and enjoyed watching me play was Borderlands. The cartoony characters, vibrant colors, the fun gameplay, she loved it and loved helping me “Get the bad guys!” The exploding headshots had zero negative effect on her; no nightmares, no propensity to reenact the game’s violence, and certainly no discernible loss of innocence. Granted, I had to spin some of the details in more of a Disney-esque light, but there was nothing that caused her harm.
As she became more acclimated to the tonality of gaming, it came time for her to pick up a controller and start her journey into this wonderful pursuit. I started her from my beginning, Super Mario Bros. I even color coated a game pad to make it easier to figure out the buttons, and was all set to help her begin her journey. We got 10 minutes in before she was in tears.
It was the emotional impact from falling into the bottomless pits, getting hit by Koopas, and worst of all, the “Game Over” screen that caused her distress. She had nightmares about it. Freaking Mario gave my daughter nightmares! To this day, she does not like it when I play that game or any other game with a definitive Game Over architecture. Mappy, Mario Bros, Street Fighter II, anything that has a clear losing point really freaks her out and causes her emotional distress.
However, Riley loves when I play Assassin’s Creed II, albeit with the blood off. But even without blood, those close up kills are brutal. Yet, she cheers as I yell “Go to sleep!” at the unsuspecting guard getting skewered. She giggles as I pick up his corpse and waggle the analog stick to make it look like I’m rocking him to sleep while singing “rock-a-bye baby” and promptly throwing his dead ass off the roof, sending Riley into a fit of infectious, hearty laughter, screaming at me “Do it again! Do it again!”
It’s a gamble of what I can and can’t play in front of Riley and my son Giovanni, and though I don’t go out of my way to play games like Resident Evil 5, or GTA 4 with them, I also don’t completely filter everything since games like Super Mario Bros, Ratchet & Clank, and even her own Skylanders game can have a profound negative impact on her.
My kids may one day learn to appreciate the challenge of limited lives and crushing difficulties. When that day comes, I’ll wipe the dust off their color coded gamepad and cheer them on. Until then, I’m fine with them helping me get the bad guys and share in moments combining the things I love the most: gaming and parenting. Not necessarily in that order…but sometiiiimmmmes?