Friday, April 18, 2014

Parental Guidance with Dark Souls 2 and Titanfall  


Any consumer of media will have heard the term Parental Guidance countless times, but how many moms and dads really give it much thought, wonder what it really implies, or actually put the concept into practice?

To me, Parental Guidance is a hell of a lot more than someone getting their kid a ticket to an R-rated movie and then dropping them off for two hours, or buying them a copy of GTA when the Gamestop clerk says they’re not old enough.  To me, Parental Guidance is an involved, active process that’s about real-time learning from a parent who’s connecting with their child and sharing knowledge.

Let’s take games, for example…  (Shocker, I know.)

As any gamer, I have access to a wide variety of titles that fill different niches. Just like other forms of media, certain things are off the table when my four-year-old son wants to watch me play. For example, he’s dying to try The Walking Dead, but that’s a no-go until he’s older due to its intense and sometimes-graphic nature. No matter how much guidance you give, some of it is just not okay at a young age. So, once we decide on something that seems appropriate enough to not cause nightmares, the process begins.

Parental Guidance at my house means that my son sits right next to me when I'm playing (or vice versa) and we have a constant running dialogue about what's going on in the game, what he’s seeing, and what I’m doing.  If you've never played games around kids, you might be surprised at how much they can pick up in a short period of time… of course, some games lend themselves better to this process than others. One of the biggest successes we’ve had so far is Dark Souls 2.

So what might happen if I go on this bridge? Does it look safe?

My son is already quite interested in monsters and zombies, so the imagery in the game was nothing he hasn't seen a million times before in other games, TV, movies, and books. However, Dark Souls 2 is a great PG game for three big reasons beyond monster appeal.

1> It's a slow-paced, deliberate game. There are very few times when something happens onscreen that's too fast to follow, or when something comes as a complete surprise. This gives my son plenty of time to take in the scene and evaluate what's going on -- he can look around for threats, think about basic tactics, and develop an idea about where to go or what to do. This pace also affords us plenty of time to talk. Once enemies are dispatched, it’s usually safe to simply stand around and break down what just happened. Why did I get hit? What is that sword called? Why did I not use an Estus Flask there?

2> It’s easy to set up clear goals that are simple to grasp. For example, in a certain area I could say that if I made it to the bonfire or got to the next boss, then I’d call that a success. Then we would both have something to look forward to -- will I make it, or won’t I? What do I need to do to get there? The game is naturally broken up into bite-sized chunks between bonfires as it is, so it was never too much to be overwhelming, my son was never lost about what we were doing, and he had a great time analyzing each segment. 

In fact, he did so well with it that after I was done and passed the disc off to my wife, he was doubly enthusiastic about sitting down and watching her -- he was even giving great advice based on the stuff he saw and understood from my playthrough.

(Protip: that scorpion dude is friendly.)

Fighting this turtlebro up close is really tough. How else can we get him?

3> It’s got a good life lesson embedded within in it. Dark Souls shows that tough challenges can be overcome, and that even though your character may die a bunch of times in a row, you don't give up -- you try different things, new approaches, or just do a little bit better next time, but you don't give up. You might need to take a break or do a little FAQ-ing, but you keep pushing on until you do what you set out to do.

While our experience with Parental Guidance in Dark Souls 2 was great, not every game is perfectly situated for the process. For instance, I recently started playing Titanfall on 360, and while my son is incredibly interested in guns and robots, I found walking him through it to be quite difficult.

The biggest obstacle to proper PG’ing here was the speed at which Titanfall plays. It’s an extremely fast game and everything is constantly in motion, not to mention that when players get killed, they respawn quickly with little fuss, Things are constantly running at full tilt. As a result, there's no real time for analysis of on-screen elements, of what just happened, or really, to have any discussion at all

This is a lot of stuff happening really, really fast.
For example, I’d find that when I died, my son wouldn’t know that it even happened until a few moments later, and then he’d ask why I went down. With nothing to show at that instant and only a vague idea of who got me or how, there wasn’t much to teach after-the-fact.

Another interesting aspect of this was that the first-person interface made it a lot tougher for him to follow what was going on in general.

Because he was unable to see either my Pilot or my Titan in third-person view and in relation to the environment, the screen looked like a lot of random motion to him. Since I was holding the controller, I knew that I was double jumping, wallrunning, or that I was dashing backwards to get out of the way of a rocket, but without that agency and the limited field of view afforded by the perspective, it wasn't quite clicking with him. 

A lot more info than you might expect is affected by the perspective a game uses. 

He was certainly interested in the game and he never got tired of seeing "bad guys" get taken down or enemy Titans blowing up, but as a parent, I felt that the time we spent with Titanfall felt less satisfying from an educational perspective.

While both of these experiences were quite different, they did have something in common -- after ending play sessions, my son would immediately want to roleplay what he’d just seen. Acting these things out via real-life play is a great way for kids to process information mentally, so even after the consoles were shut down, we had even more time to learn with (and from) that content.

When playing ‘Dark Souls’ he would pretend to be a bad guy and hide around a corner, or behind the couch. As the player character, I would walk forward and let him pop out and stab me in the back with a plastic sword, or we would circle around each other with weapons and shields, and try to block or parry. He was also very quick to remind me to ‘drink my potion’ every time he had delivered a few hits.

When playing "Titanfall", he would be a Pilot and dash madly around the living room, firing a plastic gun and giving jump kicks to imaginary enemies. After a few seconds (because he knows you can't call your Titan right away) he would draw an imaginary green circle on the ground, and call me in. He then hops on my back and we run around as I take shots with my own cannon. Of course, anyone who’s played the game knows the Titans don’t last long, so he'll frequently "eject" (aka, jump off my back) after a few minutes and then watch me ‘explode’ in a nuclear fireball.

(And yes, I explained nuclear fireballs.)

These play sessions are great not only because they show what he’s learned and how much he understood from the games via his own internalization and subsequent expression, but they also give us another opportunity as father and son to bond over something that we've shared. Parental Guidance explains and gives context to things on screen, but it also extends to what we do in the living room, and how we play together. To me, this shared understanding about content and the shared time together represents the real definition of Parental Guidance, and I find it to be a very effective tool indeed.


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2 comments: to “ Parental Guidance with Dark Souls 2 and Titanfall

  • Jeroen


    eeeehh, Brad. Am I reading this correcto? Are you really letting your 4 year old son play/watch Dark Souls 2?!

    In Europe, DS2 and Titanfall are 16+ games.

    PEGI 16
    "This rating is applied once the depiction of violence (or sexual activity) reaches a stage that looks the same as would be expected in real life. More extreme bad language, the concept of the use of tobacco and drugs and the depiction of criminal activities can be content of games that are rated 16."

    Furthermore I found that:
    "It is important to note that the age ratings 12, 16 and 18 age ratings are mandatory and that it is illegal for a retailer to supply any game with any of these ratings to anyone below the specified age."

    I find this very interesting. I consider myself (and you) persons with a more liberal mindset, yet I would never let my 4 year old see the graphical and bloody violence as showed in games as DS2.

    4 years old, don't you find that that is a little (too) young for this stuff (apPARENTly not), and why not?

    A quick Google search came up with this

    The fact that you're sitting next to the little fella and explaining him what's going on doesn't really undo the potential damage. If you think so, show a hard core horror movie and tell him that it's fake. Then see how he sleeps...

    In my opinion children need to grow up/older before they can really take in the grown ups stuff as violence, and sex. I mean, I take it porn is out of the question for your son?

    There are so many wonderful child-friendly games around (Like Rayman Legends, or a gazillion other titels) that I don't see why this is neccesary or good for your child.

    I do however am curious about your ideas. I find this an interesting thing, since I just have a little 9 month old boy, who might also like to hold a controller one of these days.

    I understand that through my e-amails, I might be considered a priest, or smart-ass who tells you how to raise your kids. None of this is true, I am just interested in your thoughts here. Good people!


    Hey Jeroen!

    Good comment, I definitely hear what you're saying. However, this is the beauty of being an active parent who's right beside his/her child.

    I know my son quite well, and I'm aware of what he's comfortable with, and what he likes/dislikes. I also know what he's seen, and what he sees when I'm at work and he's with his mom.

    So, when we're playing games, I'm actively gauging how he's doing - is he nervous, scared, or is he just fine?

    I also frequently check in with him. "Is this fun? Is it too much?" and the moment he's uncomfortable, we stop and move on, whether that's TV, games, movies or whatever.

    Parental guidance is more than just making one decision and calling it's done, it's an ongoing process throughout the day and through each activity, so we stay in close touch with each other all the time.

    That said, not every child is the same, and some content isn't right for certain kids... That's what akes being an involved parent so great -- you can make the right choice for your situation! = )