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Gaming Mom Trying to Balance Fun and Safety

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Arienna Sat 14-Feb-15 17:05:01

I know the social norm for women today isn’t to step out and say proudly, "Hey, I love gaming." However, it is what I love and what I do. I’ve been gaming 20 years and loving it. Now I’m finding that I’m raising 4 not-so-little gamers of my own. It’s a joy for me to see a family past time where we’re gaming together. I can’t help but feel that the world as we know it today isn’t as safe for my little gamers when it comes to social gaming and games that have online forums.

Yes, the typical expert says that your children are your responsibility to supervise online. I do agree with them. I educate my kids about online gaming, the dangers of strangers, and no, I don’t hide those horror stories from my children. They do need to hear about the not-so-beautiful side of gaming and what happens to children and teens who become prey to adults or other individuals that are their peers.
I often wonder if society ever thinks or feels that we should do more for our children as technology advances, and we become more and more social. It very well seems we introduce them to more and more danger. Who should that burden fall under - companies, parents, strangers, politicians, law enforcement? I’m finding more and more that the old fashioned scare tactics just don’t work for my children or many others. The good experience outweighs the consequence. Curiosity is a strong part human nature. So that led me to start thinking on numerous levels. Does this really have to be just the parents’ problem, or can’t society start requiring companies that target underage minors to be more responsible with the games and social environments they make? I think this is a problem all of us should pay attention to.

I’ll give an example. One my favorite games to play is The Sims. I think this game is generally very popular among teens and children, as well as adults. I find that many times, my daughter wants to sit down and play as a family with me in my game. Recently, Electronic Arts (EA Games) have made this not so family friendly to the point where I feel uncomfortable in letting her play with me. The Sims 4 is EA’s new edition to the Sims series. It has quite a lot of issues that I as a parent take issue with. This game is heavily marketed to minor children under the age of 18. Yet in a recent trailer they had no problem using sexual subjective scenes to market this game to my child. I wonder why a company that clearly markets this game to children is not held responsible for their advertisements.

It makes me feel alarmed. More and more, this company feeds into my feelings this game is not for minors. The new challenge today for this game was to get players to make their sims (virtual people) "woohoo" (Sim talk for "have sex") with 4 million other sims. The game doesn’t show the actual sex act, the animations are just little virtual people tussling under the sheets and that’s about it. However I’m feeling the mental association to this is that sex is some type of sport activity. I don’t like the message that sends.

Even so, I wasn’t comfortable with my 12-13 year old child earning rewards and achievements for making their sim sleep with a vast number of people. It just screamed to me no this is not age appropriate. It’s not that it’s visually not age appropriate, it’s that it’s mentally not age appropriate, and stepping over the boundaries and principals I have for my minor children. This is different from me having a talk and educating my kids. This is entertainment that has influence on my child outside of what I want to teach or feel is appropriate. I don’t feel this game should be advertising and holding competitions like that and yet still have a young player base.

Than we move to inside the game itself. For a long time, parents and players were complaining about a bug in the game that causes incest to occur randomly. Although the makers fixed it eventually, it was very clear it was not priority as it took a very long time for them to rectify it. I’m also not comfortable with the fact the game's teenagers look like adults. While yes, that happens in our society today, it is not appropriate in video game environments. This is because it is difficult to distinguish adults from teenagers. I’m not too comfortable with the fact the game removes teenage innocence. For me, it forces a type of gameplay that parents can only avoid by not purchasing the game. I’m sure no parent on this Earth wants their teen son or daughter to be eye candy to a grown adult. I’m just not happy that this game promotes that kind of mentality. Equally, because the teenagers are the same size as adults, players are finding it easy to modify the adult interactions to the teenagers as well as children. On the "Exchange," your minor children can download Sims off the company servers. Which have pregnant teens and child Sims on there.

I question why EA isn’t responsible for this. Parents are filing complaints trying to bring it to EA's attention and are getting their forum threads deleted as in an attempt to sweep this under the rug. When really there should be some acknowledgement, some responsibility on the company’s behalf. After all, they are marketing their game to my child. I’m not okay with this when it is an adult only environment, I'm even more livid with this when children and teenagers are playing. And it doesn’t stop there.

They have animations for teenagers called messing around, which is the same as the adult "woohoo" animation.
(teen animation for messing around)
(adult animation for woohoo a.k.a sex)

No matter how developers want to play that off, the mental association between the two is the same. It’s just not appropriate for minors. I’m a family-oriented person, and although I know teenagers are having sex, it’s something parents and society have been struggling with. Why is a game that is marketed to minors under the age of 18 endorsing and encouraging these practices? As a parent who has to shop and judge whether these games are appropriate for my teen and preteens, The Sims 4 does not qualify.

We move on to the forum environment, and there are no parental controls for me. My child can start an account at 13, no way of getting my permission, I cannot see who they are talking to or insuring their safety. Any adult can have a conversation with my child, including private messaging, where no one knows what’s being said behind the scenes. Equally, it’s a perfect place for predators to linger. I witnessed this, this past weekend. I saw a child on here harassed by a grown adult who plastered all over the forum that he knew her IP address. He was very angry with her and he had no problem trying to expose her. The danger of all this going on in The Sims 4 forum was that no forum moderator took it seriously. I have always taken threats online seriously. Any time someone says they have the IP address of a minor child that means that adult has that child’s address and phone number. If that is the case, that child is in danger. Perhaps it was just an empty threat, but you can’t take that lightly. Not in a world where our kids and teens fall victim to so many predators.

Worse, the only thing I could do was hit a report button for harassment. I couldn’t contact EA to even speak out or voice my concerns with someone to insure that child was safe quickly and efficiently. Someone like that should not be in any forums around children. How did he get her IP address without her acknowledgement? There just wasn’t any recourse for me. The environment is not secure for my child. They can easily become targets in bully campaigns where moderators may do nothing. I wasn’t even this child’s parent and I felt so helpless. I’m sure her parents would want to know that this happened to her. I just look through all these social chats, forums, gaming sites, online gaming chats and nothing is on there that would send an alert email saying "Hey, this your child’s account, this is what happened on the account, and we’re notifying you, the parent." I want to know these things as parent. I want to know to prevent the danger before it escalates, before I’m scared half to death before the unthinkable happens. Not learn about the danger after it happens, if at all.

So, everyone is telling me it’s my job to parent my kids online, but why are companies that target their games to my kids not making the features and requirements in the game to help me do that? At the end of the day, these companies leave me no choice but to not be a customer, and not buy their games. Why aren't you marketing to me, the parent, who buys the game? I’m not going to buy a game that's advertised with naked people being giggled at by teen girls. I’m not going to find a game that lacks age appropriate criteria appealing; equally, I’m not going to find a forum that doesn’t offer parental options to be a safe place for my minor. I, the parent, am responsible, and I’m not about to pay cash to a company who won’t be.

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