With all the hoopla about violence in video games following the Newtown, Connecticut shooting and the devastating loss of 28 people, I thought we’d visit this question in this week’s Friday Free-for-All. Should kids play Star Wars: The Old Republic? It turns out the answer can be as individual as the child.
Gaming with your family can be tremendous fun. When I purchased The Beatles Rock Band, I invited my then 69-year-old dad, my sister and her fiance over to game with our family, which includes a teen and pre-teen. We spent the evening trading off instruments, singing, laughing, and enjoying our time together. It will forever be a treasured moment for me. If you have not gamed with your family members, you are missing an extraordinary opportunity to connect with them.
This brings us to the main question–should kids play SWTOR? While the game is rated Teen, some kids can play at a younger age. There are a number of things parents should keep in mind before letting their kids, even teens, play the game.
First, does your child have some underlying health problems, like ADD/ADHD, insomnia, night terrors, anxiety, depression, autism spectrum disorder, or epilepsy? If so, you should consult your child’s pediatrician or health care provider for more advice. My daughter has ADHD, and she needs a good hour and a half with no media prior to bedtime. She has to have the down time or she has problems sleeping. Some people with epilepsy find that a strobe-type flashing in games will trigger seizures. You as the parent might need to play SWTOR yourself in order to screen the game for any areas that might be problematic for your child. Your health care provider will evaluate your child and provide you better advice than anyone else can on your child’s specific issues and gaming. You may have to limit game time to specific hours or days to prevent health problems.
Does your child have problems with specific fears? Let’s face it, while most of the monsters’ appearances in SWTOR are fairly tame compared to some other games, some of them could be very frightening for kids with specific phobias. The Colicoid insects are not exactly arachnophobe friendly, for example.
Can your child handle some of the more mature themes? Some of the choices in SWTOR are pretty black-and-white. Some of the Dark side choices, however, involve committing violence against innocent people, dealing with slavery, and willful killing. While the brutality is not explicit in many cases, it certainly is implicit in many of the Imperial stories, and even some of the Republic storylines. In addition, the Smuggler storyline can include a lot of ‘fooling around’. Sex scenes are never shown, of course, but it’s something a parent wants to keep in mind when deciding if his or her child can deal appropriately with those quest and dialogue choices. Some kids can handle these issues fine. Some are not yet mature enough. Only you as a parent can know for sure.
Is your child old enough to handle the implicit and sometimes explicit violence? Stabbing slaves with lightsabers is not exactly a non-violent activity. Some kids are completely unaffected by this. Some kids don’t have the emotional control to play through those quests. When my son was a pre-schooler, we let him view what we thought were quite innocent episodes of a kid’s show called ‘Bibleman‘. Before you roll your eyes at this, I have to tell you that it’s so campy, it was hilarious for us parents to watch it. Yes, LarryBoy and VeggieTales are still better. Bibleman has some play-acted lightsaber-like battle scenes. The characters never hit each other (the sabers touch only the other saber or an inanimate object) or hurt each other. However, we had to stop watching the videos for awhile when the pre-school teacher told us our son was acting out the Bibleman battle scenes on his fellow pre-schoolers. We waited for a year, and by then he’d matured enough not to whack on fellow students with anything that resembled a sword. If your child can’t prevent himself or herself from re-enacting the fight scenes on others without hurting them, then she or he isn’t ready for the game. Note that teens will frequently re-enact battle scenes with whatever looks like a lightsaber. I used tomato stakes when I was a teen. My friends and I got a fair number of bruises when we accidentally struck each other. The difference was that we tried to control ourselves to prevent injury, and we knew when it was time to call it quits.
Can your child handle the game difficulty when playing solo? We’ve found that my pre-teen gets extremely frustrated when dealing with some of the gold-star mobs. She hasn’t yet developed the strategic thinking skills needed to set up her skill bar correctly, follow a rotation, and do controlled pulls of enemies. She’s a Leeroy Jenkins at heart. When she gets overly frustrated, she has to take a break from the game, regain her cool, and then play with one of us in those sections so that we can work through it together. Sometimes she’ll read up on an article here on TORWars.com or swtor.com to figure it out on her own. We encourage that kind of research for her. She won’t be ready to handle an Operation or a Warzone for a few more years, however. She despises dying, and those parts of the game would drive her crazy.
There are several pieces of advice for parents. First, play the game yourself. That way, you know what your child is getting into. Second, monitor your child’s gaming. Don’t be afraid to turn it off until your child is mature enough to handle the game. It’s not going to hurt them one bit to wait a year or two until they’ve matured. Third, know your child’s specific health needs. Fourth, turn on the chat filters in game. Some of the general chat on the Fleet stations can be pretty raunchy and filled with expletives. You might find it better to turn off general chat entirely. Make sure your child isn’t being abusive to other players, too. Teach them how to speak respectfully to fellow gamers.
Can you as a parent deal with the frustrations that younger kids experience when they’re not successful in a part of the game? Younger kids are going to have problems with parts of the game. If you as a parent can’t work through it with them patiently, spare both of you the frustration and find a game more suitable for their age ranges. There are many great choices available.
Do you have favorite tips on determining whether or not your child is prepared to play a game? Do you let your child play SWTOR? How did you decide they were old enough? Share your ideas here! Feel free to follow me @JaeOnasi on Twitter.