With the holiday season upon us, I thought it'd be nice to come up with a little guide to help parents as they descend upon the mall in search of gifts for their kids, most of whom are no doubt asking for at least one of the hot new releases that have come out over the past month or so. With everything from Modern Warfare 2 to New Super Mario Bros. Wii to choose from, a lot of parents are probably feeling overwhelmed by the whole affair. Gaming may be mainstream but that doesn't mean that there aren't a whole hell of a lot of people out there who have no idea what their kids are yammering about.
Naturally, the best guides are the simplest ones, so I've tried to distill this one down to its essence. No complicated talk about system requirements, no worries about pre-ordering special editions, no wondering about which guitar controller works with which game; just a simple set of recommendations that anyone can follow and that's guaranteed to make this holiday season a smoother ride for all involved. Ready? Here it is.
Read the goddamn ratings.
Seriously. Just look at them and take the half-second or so you need to digest and comprehend them, and things will go better for everyone. You can't miss 'em, they're right on the front of the box: Big bold letters that give you a pretty good idea whether or not 11-year-old Timmy should be popping it into his game box whatchacallit thing on the TV. Interested in more? Flip it over! Details abound: This game has sex, this game has violence, this game has drugs, this game has some or all or none of the above. Armed with this information, you as a parent or legal guardian can make some sort of informed purchase, rather than just stupidly throwing your arms in the air and mumbling about how your pre-teen daughter knows so much more about all this stuff than you do.
Aside from maintaining a veneer of dignity and parental respectability, you do a lot of other good when you check the ratings before you agree to buy your child a game. The clerk behind the counter won't have to gently suggest to you that maybe the game your kid just bullied you into buying isn't appropriate for someone his age, which is of course another way of gently suggesting that you have the parenting skills of a stray dog. It could save you and/or your significant other some future aggravation when you witness the game in action and realize that high body counts rendered in lush, lifelike visuals is a central facet of gameplay, not to mention the inevitable blowup that will occur when you leap out of your chair with a cry of, "Jesus Christ, boy, you ain't playing that!" And you might even save some lives by helping ensure that your child doesn't grow up to be a psycho thrill-killer trapped in an endless fugue of game-fueled unreality.