So Rock Band 2 was released yesterday. Anand picked it up and I'll certainly be playing it as some point in the near future. But the release sparked a debate between my wife and I about age appropriate gaming.

Sure, it might not be a good idea to expose children to lots of murder, rape and explicit language. Not that all that stuff shouldn't be allowed in artwork and entertainment, but young children don't have the ability to understand the context of the work. As adults we have the capacity to differentiate between our own lives and the type of activities we see on TV, hear in our music, or interact with in our games.

As parents we have the responsibility to make sure our children understand reality and are able to function within the context of our current society. While children are still building the foundation of their understanding of the world, concepts ideas and images have a much higher impact on them than on adults. Beyond this, very young children tend just to repeat and imitate a lot and that can cause problems on its own.

For instance, I don't particularly have a problem with language. Any word we use has a meaning and can be effective in conveying an idea. "Bad" "dirty" and all that I believe to be misnomers. Sometimes people feel ways about stuff and need to relate that to others. Sometimes the f-bomb is the best tool to do this. But, for societal reasons, many people are offended by the use of certain words. It is thus inconsiderate for me to go around using words that other people may not be comfortable with hearing. And while I don't care if my child wishes to use any word she wants, there is the problem of her not understanding appropriateness at the ripe old age of 2.

So, while teaching someone the appropriate use of language and disallowing them the knowledge of something both result in the same outward appearance, age appropriateness of the proper parenting technique is necessary. For now, we try not to allow our daughter to learn words that she might inappropriately use to the detriment of others. This is in the same way we would not give her a knife until she comes to the point in her life where she is able to learn that stabbing herself and others with a sharp object is not a good idea without having to try it out first. It is not that knives are bad, it's just that until a certain age children are not equipped to lean how to use them well.

Yeah yeah, learning about killing and rape and cursing is bad (especially for really young ones). But there is a further issue at hand. While my wife and I (generally) agree on all the above, we diverge when it comes to some Wii games and Rock Band / Guitar Hero in particular.

Will exposing young children to games that closely imitate reality while dumbing it down and providing immediate gratification and simulated praise make children less interested in or apt to learn specialized skills like playing baseball, tennis or musical instruments? Should the interface to a video game also have an age appropriateness attached to it?

I say no. Laura says yes. Here's our point / counterpoint with me up first.

Derek's Thoughts:

I think playing games is playing games. Sure, my daughter might see me jamming out with a 5 buttoned guitar like object with a glorified light switch to "strum." She'll also see me racing a cartoon go-kart with a disembodied wheel while yelling at my wife. That's not going to make her not want to learn to drive. Doing the thing in real life has a function, and that function will have a value of its own outside the video game.

I can swing my Wii-mote at a screen and hit baseballs, but until we get holodecks (opening up a whole other debate), reality will always offer a different experience than video games. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, but they don't replace each other. There is room for both.

Adding to our specific situation, our daughter already loves guitars. She sees us play them and hears them on the radio and gets really excited. She loves plucking the strings and hearing the sound. But, of course, if she wants to play music she'll have a lot to learn. Lots of time and frustration will be part of the experience. While many have argued that Rock Band or Guitar Hero could inspire some children to want to learn an instrument, that doesn't apply here.

So could introducing Rock Band as a concept to our daughter fulfill her love of guitars enough to the point where she doesn't want to learn? Would she be so gratified by the cheering of fake crowds and the ease of pressing buttons while hearing a song spew forth that she would never want to pick up a real guitar?

I don't think so.

In fact, I believe that learning the basic ideas behind playing guitar that you can't take away from this type of game will go a long way to helping her learn guitar for real. The movement of your fingers between the buttons does help get your hands used to the types of movements you need to make when fingering a real guitar. Strumming, even though the strum bar is nothing like real strings, will absolutely teach you rhythm and timing.

My sister always wanted to play guitar. She took lessons for a long while but had a real hard time with strumming. She couldn't get it down until someone came along and was able to really teach her what it feels like to play songs the way they need to be played. I think music games can do that for people in ways that teachers often are not able.

I also don't think the cheering crowds have much to do with it. In the end there is a satisfaction we get from playing a game, and that is doing well at the game. Pleasing some digital fan isn't satisfying in the same way that pleasing a person is, but if pleasing a digital fan is part of the game then doing so still has its use.

Honestly, if we locked our daughter in a room and all she had to satisfy her was video games then I think we would have a problem. But I don't think that there is any age in which we need to worry about her replacing real experiences with video game experiences as long as we expose her to the spectrum of possibilities in the world. She will pick doing the things that she likes doing based on the things we expose her to. As long as she has access to varied experiences, she'll end up being the person she is supposed to be. If that's a rocker playing guitar, that's fine. If she ends up being a professional video game player, I think that's fine too. And I don't think they'll ever be mutually exclusive activities.

Laura's Thoughts:

Imagine a sink full of dishes. Splatters of yesterday's spaghetti have crystallized on half of the bowls, someone thought it might be a good idea to leave the peelings from lunch's cucumber experience all over the place, and an unidentifiable smell is emanating from what can only be described as the bowels of the drainpipe. And it's your turn to clean up after the meal. The usual method involves scalding hot water, copious amounts of dish soap, sore arms and a noisy dishwasher. But let's do it differently today. You pick up the first dish and run it under the water, all of the hardened food suddenly vanishing as if the faucet spews forth a magic crud-busting liquid. You place the dish into the washer and a massive crowd of young, busty teenagers screams your name. They want more. With each dish the voices swell, blinking lights indicate that you are washing a perfect load. You come to the end, shut the door, turn on the dishwasher… and a rainbow shoots out with the surge of the cheering crowd.

I don't care who you are, you will never want to wash dishes the old way again. But the joy of some tasks just isn't part of the doing. It's part of the result. And while learning how to play an instrument is not exactly like dishwashing, there are times when it will feel about as fun. When you're done, however, there's nothing quite as rewarding as having gotten that solo bridge guitar part perfectly, note for note… or the smell of lemony cleanness and a spotless kitchen.

I'm not afraid my daughter wouldn't want to pick up a guitar once she sees how fun it is to play Rock Band 2. But I would be amazed if she persevered with the real thing in the same way after experiencing the misleading rewards of the video game. I can honestly say that if you offered me an afternoon of golf or a Mario Golf disc, I'd choose the one that requires less walking. If I was told to either go join the army or play a round of Counterstrike, I wouldn't slap on a helmet. And if running the country felt at all like playing Generals or Civilization, a lot more people would be interested in the job. (Don't freak out, I know I probably crossed a few of the general publics' comfort boundaries with those last two sentences).

Not all game examples are like this, but it seems to ring true with a concept as tangible as learning an instrument. There's also so much good in learning to appreciate the joy of a task before watering it down. If my daughter wants to practice guitar and starts to really find a passion for it, there's no reason to continue to censor her video game guitar experiences.

As far as other aspects of Rock Band go, I'm not sure she should be subjected to some of the lyrics involved, either. Even if the game cuts out curse words (which I'm actually not a fan of, modifying art for the purpose of mass distribution and making money is the definition of SELLING OUT) it's still my job as her parent to not subject her to imagery like "come and drink it up from my fertility" and "drink my juice young love chug-a-lug me."

I won't apologize for having standards. As a matter of fact, if more parents had higher standards the game venders wouldn't have to be telling you what you can and can't buy according to a tiny rating box some suit slapped on the cover. I won't have to shield my kids from the ways of the world for long, but I'd be a bad parent if I didn't give them a slow exposure over their young lives.

Wrapping it up:

We won't be getting Rock Band 2. Sure, I believe what I believe. But part of good parenting is compromise. My wife feels strongly about this issue, and our policy is generally to respect the wishes of the more cautious parent at any given time. Since we both come from different backgrounds, I think this helps us cover a lot of bases.

I think our daughter's life will be just as fulfilled without Rock Band 2 in it, so it is no loss there. Plus I'll still get to play it at Anand's house, so I'm not missing out on anything either.

Certainly we aren't trained in child psychology or anything. But as parents we still need to consider all this stuff. As more and more technology enters the home, the impact this has on young children will only become more relevant. We don't have all the answers, but we do try and carefully consider these issues.

But what do you guys think?

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  • skace - Monday, October 6, 2008 - link

    To believe what Laura is saying undermines a lot of what human beings are and what we do. Why would Michael Jordan strive to be the best basketball player when he could just be decent? Why even be in the pros when he could playing amateur? Why play amateur when he could play in the backyard with family? Why play basketball when he could play nerf basketball? Why play nerf basketball when he could just play basketball on a console with a fake crowd cheering him on? Why play on a console when he could just watch others on TV play the sport for him? Why watch it on TV when he could just close his eyes and dream about playing basketball?

    Why? Because we are a competitive and challenging race. We like knocking down barriers, we like being the best, we like proving we can do what nobody else can do, paving our own individuality. Guitar Hero won't challenge your child for long and eventually they will want to build on that - to take their skill and apply it to something more difficult.

    If you want to introduce your kid to basketball, you don't wait until he's 16, hand him a ball and then tell him to dunk it. You start sooner than that, as soon as he can roll any old ball along the floor. Then some day maybe he can dribble or shoot a nerf ball into a hoop or play catch. You play the games on TV and let him listen in on it. Everything related becomes a part of that. Working out, exercising. It all becomes necessary building blocks.

    If you want your kid to play an instrument the first part is making sure they enjoy music, listen to it, dance to it, enjoy it! Guitar Hero is just another window into music, spurring their imagination forward and creating dreams of what they could become. Everyone who dreams big needs that reminder of what they are dreaming for. More accessibility into music, in any way shape or form is not a bad thing. It only becomes a problem when your child refuses to learn a guitar because they enjoy guitar hero too much. And when you come to that point you have to really ask yourself if your child even wants to actually play a real guitar or you have to ask them that. Heck, show them the videos on youtube of all the young kids who can play real video game music on their guitars. It's always, always 100x more impressive than the guitar hero videos.

    Sometimes we focus too much on the end result that we forget all the building blocks along the way that lead to it. That's why sometimes the most skilled individuals have so much trouble being teachers, they've forgotten where they started from.
  • SgtJonson - Wednesday, October 1, 2008 - link

    You compared Guitar Hero to playing an instrument. Guitar Hero does not equal playing an instrument. When you are done playing Guitar Hero that is it, it does not translate to doing something in reality.

    Your dish scenario implies that the magic is real and the end result of each process is the same. So obviously you would choose magic cleaning dishes to hard cleaning dishes if the end result was clean dishes.

    You can choose Guitar Hero, but the end result is different. Hope that makes some sense.
  • 1jdan - Tuesday, September 23, 2008 - link

    Just wondering if either of you has changed your thinking after reading any of the replies?
    Cheers, John
  • v12v12 - Monday, September 22, 2008 - link

    I was about to post a long post about wtf I think this sort of topic doesn't at all belong on the front page(s) of AT. But... I think I'll wait it out and let my anti-Derek side cool off. Man I really do wanna slam the hammer down though... Parenting-101 on AT? Lmao, guess I'll swing over to and see what bias-injected opinions their lousy Ed has to say. Least Xbit labs knows where the meat is at... Ciao.
  • wvh - Saturday, September 20, 2008 - link

    I think I agree with your wife. Children need to learn to work hard and invest time in at least some of the activities they do. I have no problem with TV, internet and computer games, but children also need to learn to focus and persist.

    I have played guitar since the age of 7-8. I originally became interested in music because as a toddler, my parent gave me a (real) keyboard, flute, miniature drum kit, that sort of things (I'm not sure what I would have done if my parents would have given me a game console and these games instead). I've studied classical guitar and music theory for 10 years, and I play electrical guitar for hours each day. As a result, I'm quite good at it. For some reason, people always want to challenge me to play these games, because somehow, it seems to validate their "skill", if they can win from me, they can imagine to play on a real stage in front of a real crowd, too. I find it terribly embarrassing how people try to relate to real musicians and rockstars, not because I'm so damn pretentious, but because they equate their plastic toy with years of blood, sweat and tears, and shitloads of time invested. If even adults have a slight perceptional problem here, I can see how it might have a negative influence on children.

    If children "learn" art with some computer program that draws perfect paintings for them, music with some plastic controllers and fake crowd sounds, or sports with some pitiful simulation, they basically learn nothing and will have no real skills at a later age. What's more, depending on the rest of their education ofcourse, they will have no persistence and never have learned to work hard for something.

    I'm not saying that it's wrong for children to play these games per se; not if they have other, real-life activities that help them to develop and find out things to do in life. Next to TV and computer games, there should be time for real sports, music, drawing or whatever hobby that develops skill and persistence. And some social skills, perhaps. This balance is important, and I think children have too much "useless" entertainment these days.

    Anyway, I'm grateful that my parents motivated and supported me to take up music and sports – they always said you can do anything you want, but you will do something. If you are like that with your children, I don't think it matters much if they play these games in their spare time.

    And to wrap things up – I don't get the attraction of this game, it's basically little more than an arcade sort of game which bears no relation to actually playing music at all. I can understand how one would like to play games with lots of shooting, violence, rape and other things that are not erm... advised in a real life context, but twiddling a plastic toy guitar with a fake crowd cheering is beyond me.
  • ristal - Friday, September 19, 2008 - link

    I haven't read all the responses, so if something similar has already been said I apologize.

    That said, I have a couple of observations to make.

    First being, it sounds to me like you're planning on not purchasing the game solely because you don't think it's appropriate for your daughter. She's 2 years old! So you keep it packed up and on the top shelf of a closet somewhere and only play it when she's sound asleep or out at the grandparent's house or out at the park with Mom or whatever. I'd be surprised if you don't own a single movie that you wouldn't want her watching any time soon... as a fellow 'grownup' I personally must say I can only take so many cartoons and/or so much 'edutainment'. So if this is your only significant argument for not buying the game, I disagree. It's not like we're talking about keeping a porn collection or something. If you keep it put away properly when the child is around, I doubt she'd be getting into it any time soon, not to mention I'm not sure how many
    2yo's could manage to get the game, put it into the appropriate gaming system (all the while ignoring the interesting components like the 'drum set') start it up and find something inappropriate to listen to without someone noticing, if she can then either she's one gifted child or you guys seriously need to consider some parenting classes, in particular ones that focus on being observant :) (Just to avoid any unintended insult this is intended as a sarcastic statement, personally I've found that most people who would fall into such a category would not be having a debate such as this)

    For the sake of argument, let's address the issues against your daughter playing the game.

    Let's start with the 'taking the joy out of real life activities' concept. Beginning with the dish washing example. That sounds like a great game, I'd rush to copyright the idea if I were you. But kidding aside, say such a game did exist, sure after playing the game you might never want to wash dishes the old way again, but guess what: A) you've still got a sink full of dirty dishes that needs washing the old way. And B) Guess what? You never wanted to wash them the old way to begin with, I mean come on, who WANTS to wash dishes? So did playing the game REALLY influence your view on washing dishes, I doubt it, there's even a remote chance, if you've got a good imagination, that playing the game could give you ideas as to how to enjoy actually washing the dishes (well, ok, not enjoy but at least make it less tedious... "Finally, the perfectly clean dish is dried and placed into the cabinet! THE CROWD GOES WILD!!!!!!!!" But anyway the point is, that unless there is some amazing leap in virtual reality technology games will not replace reality during our, or even your daughter's lifetime. IMO this particular objection is ridiculous.

    When it comes down to it, there are two basic components to doing things in life. There's talent, and training. One without the other is pretty much useless. However, especially when it comes to artistic things like music, talent is by far the dominant of the two. Even if your daughter has no talent for piano, sure you could start her on piano lessons at 2 or 3 or 4, and force her to practice for the next 12-16 years give or take and she might become a fairly good pianist, it's unlikely that she'll ever enjoy it, and there will always be some 4 year old prodigy out there that can blow her out of the water no mater how hard she practices. The point is, just as you said, there is something much more satisfying about achieving something real in real life.

    What it comes down to is this: Will there be more kids giving up on playing guitar since games like guitar hero and rock band have come out? I strongly suspect the answer is yes. But I also suspect, that the reason is not that the games themselves will make them give up, I believe that more kids will be quitting playing guitar because more kids will be tempted to TRY to play guitar, and I believe that is a very good thing. I think it's insane to believe that the next generation will miss out on any of it's potential great musicians because they gave up because it wasn't as fun as playing Rock Band 2. I'm not an expert but I believe that when someone has a talent for something, they enjoy doing it, sure even the best musicians get tired of practicing from time to time, but they persevere, not because they never played rock band :) but because they enjoy playing, and playing well.

    OK, another issue, your wife says something to the effect that if she decides to learn to play guitar and is passionate about it then it would be ok for her to play. Well there is a major flaw in that idea. What if she never becomes passionate about playing guitar? I enjoy playing some of the Karaoke games from time to time, has that inhibited me from becoming a singer? I doubt it. More likely it's the fact that I'm a mediocre vocalist at best. But I have fun playing anyway, and I still have the sense not to go out to bars or restaurants on karaoke night. Our daughter plays clarinet in school, she started out trying to play the flute, but wasn't able to produce the notes properly. The band teacher was able to find an alternative (the clarinet) and she plays quite well at this point in my highly biased opinion. She's been playing guitar hero for around the same length of time, and sadly has surpassed my own abilities by a fair margin. We've always had to push her to practice, but never beyond what I believe to be normal for her age. Practicing is like washing the dishes, it's not the most exciting thing in the world but it has to be done from time to time, and so far we've managed to keep her going without starting any major world or household wars. Also since she started playing guitar hero she's become more interested in taking up playing real guitar. We just don't have the resources to invest in that venture at this time, but hopefully it's something we'll be able to pursue in the (relatively) near future.

    I agree with your wife that most parents should have higher standards, I just think her arguments in this case aren't realistic.

    As with anything else, is it possible that in a few isolated and rare instances her scenario will play out as she fears, sure. But I believe in nearly all cases any kid that picks up a guitar after playing guitar hero and quits, would have quit anyway, assuming they would even have made the attempt had it not been for GH/RB/etc.
    I feel the same way about 'violent' games, I played street fighter, and mortal kombat, and various other games that pushed the boundries of reality and gore when I was a teenager, did I ever for a second think it would be a good idea to chop off someone's head or blow them away with a double barreled shot gun?


    Ok, there may have been one time...

    really, no, never.

    Is it possible that even one of the kids that has committed a violent act since those games came out might not have done it had they never seen violence... maybe

    Is it likely? I seriously doubt it.

    Sorry got slightly off topic there... as for the lyrics issue, let's look at the facts again... your daughter is 2! I don't know how much she'd be able to play RB at 2, but even if she could and you were going to let her, I'd hope you would be supervising her when she was playing, so you only allow her to play songs you feel are ok.

    Anyway, I could go on, I haven't even brought up the internet, it's out there, with lots of good and tons of bad, and sooner or later she's probably going to be using it. But anyway I've rambled enough. I just want to say, that although I disagree on this point, it's great that you're being an active and informed parent (even if I believe you're misinformed on this issue :) Good luck, and keep up the good work, there will be a long time where she wont appreciate it, but eventually she'll understand :)
  • Laura Wilson - Friday, September 19, 2008 - link

    thanks for the (thorough) comment. :-)

    i just wanted to tell you that my first guitar literally cost $65 and it was shipped to me at my apartment when i was a sophomore in college. there are also used instrument stores with cheap but really great guitars. you might be able to afford the expense for your daughter's sake if you look around a bit. i'm just a sucker for a child's interest in creative outlets, and i'm also a believer in the power of learning music. scientists say it is even linked to mathematical comprehension, and i'm a walking example of that (reading music since childhood, applied mathematics degree in college). it's really cool that your daughter wants to play guitar, i hope she gets the chance to learn!
  • 1jdan - Thursday, September 18, 2008 - link

    Hey guys,

    I went back and read all the posts. Their is something about music. When you play it for very little children they move.
    I bet your daughter will play because you do, not because she is told or programed to like one of the guys is trying to say. And their is a big difference in playing music and MAKING music. Their is no art in RB or GH. We all read, but not all of us truly write. Trying to see if your child can create, well, thats worth a little push.

  • Finally - Saturday, September 20, 2008 - link

    That's interesting!
    A few days ago, there was a celebration with live music on the street I live in. A big festival of the whole quarter. The band played hand-made music, a bit in the style of the Doors.
    I have a window in direct view of the street, so I just stood there and watched the people, kids and dogs walking by.
    Then there came a mom with her children. Once they were in range of the music, the children started moving like a superior force had attached strings to their feet and pulled it in the rhythmn of the drum. They really looked like marionettes, but the expression on their faces was great job.
    Hearing music + moving feet = natural reaction, it seems.

    What a pity, that they will grow older and "cooler".
  • Finally - Saturday, September 20, 2008 - link

    job --> joy

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