When it comes to videogames, my parent's generation had it made. They didn't play the things, but their monitoring of what I played must have been so easy in comparison to the minefield that I face. And I can't imagine how difficult it must be for parents who don't play videogames themselves.
Growing up, my parents had absolutely no idea what I was playing - and this was absolutely fine in most ways, as pretty much all games were made for me. The question of suitability was one that never even occurred to them because there wasn't really a game in existence that wasn't suitable for me - their consideration of my gaming habits extended as far as knowing how much games cost (too much, according to my Dad), making sure I'd done my homework before turning on the Nintendo (my Mom, mostly), and tolerating the relentless onslaught of chiptune music emanating from the TV in the dining room - the one the NES was hooked up to. The only game I ever really recall causing any debate in my house was Mortal Kombat - my parents had seen it in an arcade and refused to believe the SNES version had the blood edited out until I showed them screenshots in a magazine. Ah, those were the days.
My son wants to play Fortnite. I don't particularly want him to - he's 9, it's rated 12, but more than that I concern myself with the kind of behaviour he'll encounter in an online game that's so fiercely competitive. It's a tricky balance though - in spite of letters home from school, a lot of his friends continue to play it. Hell, one of his mates has a little brother who plays it. That kid is 6 years old. I can only assume the parents of that kid either a) don't know about the content of the game, b) know but don't care, or c) don't know, and don't care and are thus blissfully ignorant. Either way, that kid isn't my problem - my son, however, is. I'll admit to feeling a bit sorry for him - I know about games, understand PEGI ratings, and generally try to steer him away from stuff. He'll probably be the last kid in his class playing Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto. My desire to limit his exposure to games that aren't suitable often feels like a battle I face alone; an uphill struggle in the face of endless marketing, peer pressure, playground conversation and fucking YouTube videos.
I can only imagine it's how my own parents must have felt when I decided I wanted to watch RoboCop when I was ten.
The constant requests to play resulted in an uneasy truce - I let him play for an hour or so with his friends each weekend, eyeing his XBL party like a hawk for gamertags I don't recognise. In the meantime, I search for age-appropriate games for him. This is the part of being a GamerDad that no-one talks about. The apparently endless pressure to try to find things for a kid to play (with or without my involvement) that aren't going to end up with a letter being sent home from school when an overzealous teacher gets wind of it. Minecraft is a staple for him, but generally has to be instigated by his older sister. The various Lego games have been played to death since he was younger - and I've got no doubt that letting him sit at my side while I play other, more adult games is having the "I want to be like Dad" effect. He just seems to have absolutely no interest in anything that's aimed at him - he'd rather play a shitty Roblox first person shooter than a fully featured title that's aimed at him. His attention span for games at 9 is way less than I remember mine being. I'd play The Legend of Zelda or Super Mario Bros for hours on end, quite happily. If I'm lucky, he'll settle down for a couple of hours at a stretch.
So, finding games for him is hard - but I'll be damned if I'll let that stop me from looking for 'em though. I have a couple that I plan to either try, or give another crack at the whip over the next couple of weeks. The first of these is Starlink: Battle for Atlas. It involves cool toy space ships that attach to a joypad which are then replicated in-game. There's flying and shooting and exploring, and a story that might even hold his attention for a minute or two. I've had a go at it myself - and it's pretty cool; I might even see it through and finish it. He's enjoyed the bit that he's played so I'm going to see if I can get him to stick with it a little longer. Also, as it came out a while ago and apparently didn't sell very well, you can pick up the starter pack and some of the toys for not-a-lot-of-cash if you look around. Children's entertainment is all good... but when it's a gamble, a cheap gamble is always better.
The next one I'm going to try him on again is Rocket League. We've got history in this one - we played the hell out of it for quite a while and even got as far as playing in online matches together. It remained popular for a good period of time before it fell by the wayside for both of us, but I'm hopeful that if I fire it up and invite him along, the love affair will be re-kindled. He used to love this game so much that he'd play games of it with his Matchbox cars on his bedroom floor - so my hopes are high.
We've been playing Sea of Thieves together for a while as well, and I can't see that changing. I know, I know... it's also rated 12 - just like Fortnite. So why am I happy for him to play that, but not Fortnite? Well, there are a couple of reasons, but it's an easy enough question to answer. Firstly, he plays it with me - he doesn't play it alone, and he never ever spawns into a random crew. I'm there with him every step of the way - and while I can't manage the content of the game (which is all suitably cartoon-ish anyway), I can explain the context of it to him as we play. Secondly, and this is probably the bigger deal, I've got his settings set to mute all other crew members. Other people can hear him, subject to their settings, but he can't hear them. I don't need to worry about him crossing paths with some of the... less pleasant... members of the community, as there's nothing they can say to him that will make any difference. He's such a staple part of my crew now that I honestly can't imagine playing that game without him being along for the ride - even if I wish he'd spend less time changing his clothes and slightly more time arranging the sails into the wind.
With eyes to the horizon, I'm thinking I might see if I can get him to play Super Lucky's Tale and head back to LittleBigPlanet 3. And there's always Tunic.
Let the experiment begin, anyway. I might even let you know how it goes.