A Parent's Christmas Guide

Shopping For Video Games For Kids

It's December, so that means we can mention the c-word. It's also the time when bumbling parents enter a world they know little or nothing about, only to shriek with horror come Christmas Day, when little Johnny embarks on a mission of mass murder, realised in horrifying detail. Yes, I am of course talking about shopping for games.

Shopping for games is a challenge for the Christmas gift buying parent. Let's face it, it's usually mum's that do the Christmas shopping and your average mum isn't well equipped for the task at hand. For parents about to take the plunge in shopping for games, it's time to do some research.

The games industry always has to steel itself for the New Year, when disgruntled parents begrudge it for making games for adults. Blame is hurled and the industry has to answer to complaints of irresponsible marketing and all the rest of it.

The first lesson for shopping for games is: NOT ALL GAMES ARE FOR KIDS!

Although most adults see games as something for children, the fact is, grown-ups play games too and have more money than kids, making them an important market. Therefore the games industry sees fit to make games suited to the more mature audience. That means there could be sexual references and more than just a bit of ‘mild peril.' In fact, the language could be colourful, to say the least.

The second lesson of shopping for games is: They usually do what they say on the tin!

For instance, ‘Resident Evil' isn't a coming of age tale about a boy and his dog. It is, however, an exercise in horror gaming, specialising in gruesome settings and explicit violence. The clue here is the word ‘evil.' Similarly, ‘Grand Theft Auto: Vice City' isn't about a religious crusade to save souls as an indictment of society's lack of spiritual heart. Do be fooled by the blood splatters and scantily clad women on games' packaging, they're usually big clues as to content.

The third (and most important) lesson of shopping for games is: THE AGE RATINGS ARE THERE FOR A REASON – USE THEM!

You know how kids come in different ages? Well, here's something nifty – so do games. Video games have age ratings. They've been put there to help consumers make responsible and informed buying decisions. If little Johnny is 12, chances are he'll want to play a game suitable for a 16 year old, or maybe even an 18 year old. Your job as the parent is to see through his cunning plan and buy him something more suitable for his age and your personal views.

The fourth lesson of shopping for games is: Read up on the latest games.

Even if it's just reading reviews in the Sunday supplements of the national newspapers, it's time to brush up on your games knowledge folks. Head online and search out game reviews. The BBC and the nationals all have games review sections on their websites for parents who aren't ready to delve into an actual gaming website and be bombarded with in-gags and technical terms.

For UK parents all you need to know is www.askaboutgames.com, which offers advice and explains the PEGI rating system.

For US parents, all you need to know is www.esrb.org/ratings/ratings_guide.jsp, the website for the ESRB, the gaming regulatory body in the US.

I wish all parents happy games shopping and urge them to check the packaging before shelling out on blood, mayhem and murder when all you wanted was a nice puzzle game.

If in doubt, just buy a Wii.

Most played: Fable II

Most wanted: Star Trek Online

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