So on the train trip up to Napanee for March school break Oliver and Catherine ended up overnight in a train car filled with sophisticated Ontario kids returning from their school break. And they all had handheld video games, which captivated Oliver. They didn’t actually share, but that seems to have only heightened his curiousity.
Now given that Oliver already has unfettered access to 100 Prince Street iMac, and his own $100 laptop, it seems a bit absurd to be debating the ethics of bringing a Nintendo into the house — the bridge over the Rubicon away from a peaceful electronics-free childhood was crossed long ago.
But we wrung our hands nonetheless. And ended reasoning that the “being a regular kid” upsides of the pro-Nintendo argument outweighed the “buying into a lifetime of brand-focused consumer entertainment” downsides (I realize that the same arguments can be made in favour of teen smoking).
And so on Saturday we got in our car, went out to Future Shop, and plonked down our (my) $139 for a brand new Cobalt Blue DS Lite. And with $20 off the first cartridge included in the price, we spent an agonizing 20 minutes poring over the selection before picking out Dora Saves the Mermaids (Dora at least has the “he’s learning Spanish!” sop for we theoretically brand-averse parents).
Reasoning that we might as well dive in completely, we stopped in at microplay on the way home and rented a couple of additional games so that we could get a better lay of the land.
And so, after 7 years of parenting, I was forced to confront the Entertainment Software Rating Board, the body that video game publishers outsource their “content ratings” to.
On the surface I should appreciate the help: one of Catherine’s provisos when agreeing to open our home to the Nintendo was a blanket “no war” policy on incoming video games, and sometimes it’s hard to tell from the game title or box alone.
The ESRB tells us, for example,that the DS title The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, contains “Fantasy Violence,” which they describe as “Violent actions of a fantasy nature, involving human or non-human characters in situations easily distinguishable from real life.” Hmmmm. Does that mean Mr. Tumnus gets his still-beating heart ripped out by Maugrim, or that cartoon Aslan goes down to the White Witch on an animated Stone Table?
While I don’t necessarily begrudge the information the ESRB provides, as you scratch beneath the surface of their self-described “concise and impartial information,” you quickly realize that their rating system and “content descriptors” reflect a particular world-view and set of “inappropriate” behaviours.
So we can find out whether a given game has “Use of Drugs,” “Use of Alcohol,” “Use of Tobacco,” or even “Comic Mischief,” but there are no descriptors for “Strong Religious Themes” or “Imperialist World View” or “Extreme Anthropomorphism.”
Browsing through the Nintendo DS titles, it was hard to find any that weren’t Rated E for Everyone — it is, after all, a device that tilts at a younger demographic — and so ultimately the ESRB was of little help in finding out which games were any good.
So far, even though it involves the most reading, and is somewhat hard to figure out, MySims has been getting the most gameplay. Dora and her Mermaids, which is simple to figure out, and requires no reading, is getting almost no play at all. And Over the Hedge seems to have a 3D environment that Oliver, at least so far, finds a little dizzying.
I’ve a feeling this is only going to get more challenging from here…