Sunday, October 29, 2006

Video Game Tips for Parents  

I want to talk a little about a couple of lessons that I've learned from several years of experience with my daughter and video games.

If you haven't done so already, I'd also recommend reading these other tips from an earlier post, where I describe the things I went through trying to figure out which PlayStation 2 games would work for my 6 year old daughter.

Here's what I've learned:

  • Never, EVER buy a game without reading a review first. It's just a bad idea. That brings us to our second rule:

  • Never, EVER buy a game without reading a review first. Seriously. I mean it! If you're new to video games, you might assume that most games are all about the same and it doesn't matter what you buy. Not a chance. Would you say the same for books and movies? There are some steaming pieces of trash out there which have been slapped together with spackle and duct tape, and they still sell a few copies because they're put in the store with fancy box art.

    This rule has several corollaries. Here's a list of very bad reasons to buy a game "cold" (i.e., without reading a review) that people can fall victim to:

    Bad Reason #1: It uses the name of some great game that you remember. Many classic video games have been resurrected into horrible zombie caricatures of their former greatness. Frogger is one of the worst offenders.

    Bad Reason #2: It's a sequel to a game you or your child liked. Often the sequel changes the gameplay. And sometimes the rights to a game are transferred to another studio, and when that happens the second studio usually does a ham-handed job with the sequel. (Movies are the same way. Consider Grease and Grease 2.)

    Bad Reason #3: It's a TV or movie tie-in. TV and movie tie-ins are very often poorly made. Sometimes they just whip them together with no concern for gameplay or difficulty. There are some terrific games which are exceptions to this rule, of course -- many of Nickelodeon's games are pretty good -- but you won't know unless you read a review.

    Bad Reason #4: The box art and description makes it sound interesting. Um, yeah. Every game is a "great adventure" and "exciting" and "fun" by the time the marketing people are done with it. The box has no relation whatsoever to the actual game.

  • Look for the Greatest Hits titles. This is one place where the box can actually tell you something about the game. Sony's "Greatest Hits" are titles that have sold particularly well -- they are the gaming equivalent of a record going platinum. The nice thing is that the games get a lower price when this happens. So even though these games cost around $20, they're often much more fun than newer games which cost $50. Of course, brisk sales don't necessarily mean the game is age-appropriate, so you should still check reviews.

  • Don't be afraid of older games. Quality is far more important. The age of the game really doesn't matter: a fun game will always be a fun game. It doesn't matter if the game is "new" or not; it will still be new to your child! Any parent who's watched their kid get hooked on The Cosby Show or Full House or some other unexpected sitcom will understand how the same logic applies directly to games. Younger kids aren't hooked on fancy graphics and don't care about what's latest and greatest; they just want a game that's fun. As an extra bonus, older games are cheaper -- often by a lot!

  • Buy games used, and trade in old games. Most dedicated game stores, such as EB Games, offer used games for sale and offer you store credit on trade-ins. This is a great way to save a lot of money. The used games will be literally as good as new. Trading in is also a useful lesson for your kids; I've made it a point to help my daughter pick which games she wants to trade in. We keep some old favorites around because she still plays them, or because they are good for sleepovers, but most eventually go back. Then we shop for new games, trying to see how much we can get without spending more than $10.

  • Consider renting games. It's up to you to decide whether this approach works for you. I don't do it with my daughter, because she simply doesn't play games enough to justify it, but some people do. It can be a fun way to try out a game without making a $40-$50 commitment. Just watch out for late fees! These days you can avoid them completely. Blockbuster now offers no-late-fee rentals (online and in-store) with their GamePass service, and there are a ton of NetFlix-like online rental services, including GameFly, GameLender, GPlay, and others.

  • Swap games with friends. Your child might not even consider this unless you suggest it. Loaning games to friends is a nice way to socialize and it saves money, too. And it gives the kids something else to talk about!

  • Play the games with your child. Especially with younger kids, but even as your child gets older this is important. It's a lot like reading a book together. It's a way to have fun and share an experience. When your child is particularly young, you might find that he gets stuck and gives up on a game quietly without really saying anything. If you help get past the tricky spots, he can go on having fun for longer. Or perhaps your kid will be like my daughter, and get (happily) scared when you reach the big, intimidating "boss" monster together, and she'll shove the controller over to you and want you to take over for a while. I usually play just long enough to show her how to do it, and then pass it back to her to try. Sometimes, if she asks, I'll get her past the hard part to the point where she wants to take over again. It's fun for both of you, and can be a great confidence builder.

  • For big games, consider a hint book / strategy guide. Don't do this all the time, of course. But there are some larger games (such as Kingdom Hearts) where I found it to be very useful. What's great about these guides for kids ages 5-7 is that it can encourage their reading skills. My daughter wasn't really motivated to read much when she was 6, but the game strategy guide really got her going! It sounds silly, but it worked.

Any tips that you want to share?


  • Richard said...

    I started using a game trading site to save money on games for my kids. They only charge $5 per trade and they validate each game.