Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Xbox: Why every Parent should own one!

   If your Representative or Senator is suggesting that "Hollywood and video games" are a leading cause of gun violence, they either haven't watched a movie or gameplay in a long while or they are afraid of the repercussions regarding the big "P" word...Parenting. I'm a rookie, a noob, a greenie...I play Black Ops and I sold my rifles years ago and have no desire to buy a new one. I play Black Ops II with my pre-teen boys. Now, put the lighter fluid down and let go of your hair because there are hundreds of thousands of younger gamers (as evidenced by the higher register in their voice). If your child has an Xbox, they have most likely played Black Ops on more than a few occasions. That aside, my boys understand that they are playing a game where winning and losing is not a matter of life and death, and not a measure of self-worth. But I'm really getting ahead of myself, so let's review a few flawed premises.
   The most common perception of gamers in the "violent games" debate is the young male, generally an underachieving loner in school, that spends countless hours in the "basement" (or his room with the door barricaded) filling himself with Cheetos and endless fantasy of revenge. 
   Another scenario is the "double-life". Good student with plenty of friends becomes addicted or obsessed with the "violent game" and steals his parent's gun(s) for a fantasy-driven assault.
   Both of these situations would make a decent plot for a B movie designed to cash in on the "fear" being ginned up, but it seems fairly obvious that neither "plot" would get very far without disengaged Parents. There's also the nagging reality that actually shooting a REAL gun is far more likely to actually stir fantasy of destructive power. But, of course, the underlying assumption is that "kids" don't just go out and shoot guns, they're supervised! Continuing the imaginary debate between the gun "nut" and the game "nut", exactly why are video games assumed to be unsupervised? Why aren't parents involved? The average Parent is most likely unaware that Black Ops and most shooter games make statistics, individual player stats, not only relevant but central to the gaming experience. While "kills" and "deaths" are certainly the language of violence, they actually represent "tags" and "back to home" in classic game terminology (in this case the game of tag). In addition to mind-numbing stats regarding "usage", there is the very important number of hours played and last time online. That's right, a built-in "monitor". Video gaming is extremely easy to supervise if the Parent is engaged. The "set up" of the system itself includes all of the Parental "control" you could possibly imagine would be necessary. If you're a Parent with absolutely no interest in computers or gaming devices...well, I might then assume you have little interest in your child's ability to compete among or relate to his or her peer group.  Sounds pretty harsh, but this World is running on technology now. If you're big on supporting "free markets" and Capitalism, how can you ignore an industry that is generating Billions in revenues and profits? So many tangents, but I'll "soldier on" and wrap this up...
   While it isn't necessary to "own" an Xbox just for Parents, it's a lot easier to discuss video games with your kids when you've actually attempted to play them and you've experienced the "online crosstalk". Online communications should be a far greater concern than the actual content of the game. But there are simple and easy to understand filters or "rules" you can apply in set up to block unwanted communication from strangers. Ask your child to show you his/her "account information" and you'll see Parental Controls are readily available. Review these settings periodically, just in case your child is particularly curious and ingenious at discovering passwords. There is also the very convenient and well-monitored ability to report ANY Xbox Live participant for a Terms of Service violation. Obviously, inappropriate conversation with children IS a violation, as well as "open mic" vulgarity to all players. Lastly, individual "gamertags" (other Xbox Live accounts) can be blocked at any time with the push of a few buttons. I provide a little detail here to point out the wide array of defenses against intrusions into what should be a fun, energizing and spirited competition that includes teamwork as a fundamental value toward "success". Ironically, this "destructive" game can actually provide a great platform for strengthening your bond with your kids, as long as you can willingly subject yourself to humiliation and "pwnage" while you learn the techniques and develop your "skill set". This basic rule applies to any game you share with your kids, by the way. In my case, NBA2k13 is a consistent source of humility and grace under pressure, in addition to COD games.
   Other advantages to owning an Xbox 360 and Xbox Live membership? You can chat with your kids in "regular conversation". You gain credibility when explaining the downside to addictive or obsessive gaming (time flies, missed a great show, eyes got blurry or maybe a headache in example). You can be introduced to your child's friends and better understand "who's who". And in all the chatting, you have the opportunity to set the "tone". You can keep it lighter with humor and take the focus off of "deaths" and "kills" with quips like "he'll be back" or "go to the end of the line, buddy". You can also correct any objectionable talk, of course. You can choose to be on the same team and teach teamwork, or on opposite teams to demonstrate sportsmanship, as well. Of course, the whole "helicoptering" parent thing can become a real drag for your child if you overdo it, so keep that in mind if you sense some irritation. You can still monitor hours played and what game is played with a few button pushes. By the way, there is "Private chat" and "Party chat", so you can request his/her private attention for certain discussions (like homework?) that might make them uncomfortable in a Party setting.
   I started this piece focused on Black Ops and Black Ops II, the best-selling first person shooters from the Call of Duty franchise, because there are whispers anew that these games should be "regulated". My point is to say they actually ARE regulated and the only missing piece of the puzzle might be Parental involvement. With regard to the 24 year old loner with a closet full of guns, are you really suggesting a video game put them "over the edge"? What motivated the purchase of those weapons? Was it a video game that in no way translates to "target practice" or planning a scenario? It's not as if there's a "Schoolyard" map for the game. But then, you'd know that if you tried playing the game. And you just might get closer to your kids if you do.