Even in a game as innocuous as Skylanders, sharing the gore has a way of minimizing its impact
I probably don’t need to tell you at the top that we’ve never played Assassins Creed, Black-Ops, or even Super Mario Brothers (aside from the original game on the original Nintendo box many moons ago when I was a boy.) The benefits of this way of life for a young family should be fairly obvious: my young daughters are not playing shoot ‘em up games of pretend, they rescue, not crush, worms on hot blacktop, and still have a sensitivity to exposed blood. The primary downside of our lack of gaming cred is sheer confusion at Comic Con.
But then on the 7th day, the gaming gods created Skylanders. As anyone who has played either the original Spyro’s Adventure or the Giants version of the hit Activision game knows, there isn’t a lack of cannon fire, blade work, fire play, and evil undead characters lurking within. Maybe I am slipping in my advancing age or was charmed to pieces by the Skylanders launch party I attended in the fall of 2011, but I didn’t think twice about introducing this game, and the idea of gaming itself, into our home. Fortunately, what my wife and I did think about was to make our virgin foray into video games, and video game violence, a family affair.
We have played Skylanders roughly 75 times, and on every single occasion all four of us were actively involved in the fun. While only two characters can be on screen at any one time, we accomplish full family gaming by allowing our youngest daughter, age 5, to be the ‘portal master.’ She keeps an eye on the energy levels of our characters and is in charge of swapping out weakened allies for healthier alternatives in the nick of time. Her older sister, age 9, and I handle the shooting and movement of one of the characters, while the wifey controls the other on her own.
This is how we have managed to place a natural limit on the exposure to, and time spent in front of, games and the violence contained inside: their mother isn’t home when school is finished for the day, and I am not available while making dinner each night. The result is simply: we end up not playing often, maybe once a week on average, and yet the kids are still cool with this arrangement, never panic-begging to play solo. Not only does the rarity of gaming keep the violence to a minimum, it also results in more of a special event atmosphere when we do play, and serves as family bonding time, too. Granted, it is bonding over slaying baddies, but still, bonding nonetheless.
The violence in Skylanders, while decidedly cartoonish is still extreme in spots, yet has never been shocking to my girls. When the goons are exterminated you don’t step over their bloodied corpse, they simply vanish. This softens the destruction in a similar way of me, as a child, watching Wile E. Coyote never actually perish at the hands of his always-malfunctioning ACME products. It is innocuous, not gratuitous violence.
My daughters go as far as to refuse to consider an exhausted Skylanders character “dead,” preferring to think of them as resting up until we make it to the next chapter in the game, which is, technically speaking, an accurate representation of their fate. The personal relationship they have formed with the Skylanders and their unique personalities (real and imagined,) offline and on, has served to cushion the blow of what basically amounts to mass video game murder on our part.
Skylanders brought gaming violence into our home, but I’d be lying if I said this was our first time dealing with the ripple effect of, in movie language, characters in peril. My oldest daughter, when she was age 4 or 5, would cower into my armpit or run out of the room completely during cinematic moments where she felt ANYONE was in ANY kind of danger. The funniest manifestation of her fear for fictional folks in family films was the not at all frightening pie-in-the-face scene in Singin’ In The Rain. This was her first-ever favorite movie, but when Kathy Seldon smashes a cream pie into Lina Lamont’s face, as she was want to do, tears would flow and the flick would be paused until emotions and order were restored on the couch. And then there’s the time I punched my baby in the face, a sentence I surely never thought I’d type upon becoming a father. My brother had just gotten Kinect for his Xbox and the combination of a wayward drifter of a child and her overzealous heavyweight champion dad nearly brought a call to Child Services. Is there a worse kind of video game violence than actually connecting with an uppercut to your 4-year-old daughter’s chin?
See, we’ve always done video game violence together as a family, only now we use Tree Rex’s fists, not our own.