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By: Jenna Duetzmann, staff writer

According to mainstream media, screen time and video games are the root of all evil. Computer and video games turn average children into monsters. Computer and video games are as addicting as drugs and alcohol. Computer and video games will rot your child’s brain. And of course, these media outlets can pull out reams of anecdotal evidence to support their claims.

We here at Engaged Family Gaming disagree with these claims wholeheartedly. Not only do we know plenty of upstanding citizens who have been gamers all their lives, but we have also spent hours and hours searching for and analyzing research that disproves all of these claims.

Last summer, The New America Foundation hosted a panel discussion about technology and games in early education with the following featured speakers:

Joel Levin– “The Minecraft Teacher,” Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School, Co-owner of TeacherGaming, makers of MinecraftEdu

Annie Murphy Paul– Bernard L. Schwartz Fellow, New America Foundation, Author of Brilliant: The New Science of Smart

Scott Traylor– Founder of 360KID

Alice Wilder– Co-Creator and Head of Research and Education for “Super Why!” on PBS

Lisa Guernsey– Director, Early Education Initiative, New America Foundation, Author of Screen Time: How Electronic Media—From Baby Videos to Educational Software—Affects Your Young Child 

You can watch the entire 90 minute panel here:

http://futuretense.newamerica.net/events/2012/getting_schooled_by_a_third_grader

But, if you’re as busy as we are, you might not have that kind of time. Here are some of our brief take-aways from the event that really highlight our perspective. This topic is one of the critical reasons that this site exists. We hope to dispel the myth of computer and video games as evil with real and timely facts! The people in this panel are experts in the educational field. There is no political agenda behind the panel. That’s why we are choosing to share it with you. (Additionally, if you’re looking for educational websites, apps, and games for your kids, the first montage in the video has DOZENS)

Take-away #1- Minecraft is a phenomenal educational tool!

Many parents already knew that, but here is a brief overview. Minecraft is a game that allows players to build constructions out of textured cubes in a 3D world. The game includes activities like exploration, gathering resources, crafting, and combat. You can play in survival mode, which requires you to gather resources to maintain health and prevent hunger. You can also play in creative mode, where players have an unlimited supply of resources, the ability to fly, and no health or hunger at all. Many schools have integrated Minecraft into the curriculum to help teach collaboration, planning, building, and digital citizenship (tune in next week for a more detailed discussion on digital citizenship).

Take-away #2- Be vigilant with your digital media choices. As a parent, you still need to be involved in your child’s decisions. Some games are better than others. Some can be learning tools that both you and your children can utilize together. Some are just ‘chocolate covered broccoli’ and not very valuable at all. Nothing is as boring as a cheesy skin over the same old educational drilling. As a parent, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the myriad choices. Be informed, test the games yourself, and stay engaged.

Take-away #3- The gamification of learning and new educational technology tools work very well to provide challenges to your child as well as inspire an intrinsic motivation to learn. Playing games with appropriate level challenges that react to your child’s specific skills can raise the learning bar far better than traditional rewards and punishment. Anne Murphy Paul expanded her thoughts from the event on her blog. You can read it here:

 http://anniemurphypaul.com/2012/08/do-video-games-have-educational-value/#

Take Away #4- Bringing games into the field of learning can help re-spark a child’s intrinsic love of learning that has been lost in today’s test score centric educational environment. Games are often a large part of a child’s home life. Many aspects of their imaginative play is based on something seen in a game. If we acknowledge and support those experiences and turn them into learning opportunities, we are actively engaging the child. We are using something fun and familiar to the child to educate them.

Take Away #5- There is a reason virtual world games and MMO’s (Massively Multiplayer Online games) are increasingly popular. They provide a relatively safe place for parents and children to play together, as well as a place where your child needs to read and write in chat to socialize with other players. Games like Wizard101, Poptropica, and Herotopia are booming right now, and kids bring their discussions about them to school. Are they the most educational games out there? Academically, no. But, they teach your child quite a bit about socialization and are an ideal place for children and adults to play together.

This panel was only a small drop in the ocean of information that supports computer and video games as a learning tool. We think it’s a great first resource for parents looking for facts about the virtues of gaming. There is quite a bit more information out there, and as we see interesting stuff, we will share it with you. Keep your eye on Engaged Family Gaming on Mommy Mondays for more articles like this!

 Looking for more games and math and education? Check out more articles here!

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By: Kelly Allard

Way back when I was young and sans kids, my friends and I would stay up until the wee hours of the night doing nothing but table-top gaming.  Dungeons & Dragons, Call of Cthulhu, Vampire the Masquerade… basically whatever we could get our hands on that went well with a 10-pack of tacos from Taco Bell and 64oz of Mountain Dew.

Now that we’re parents, our nigh-continuous gaming has mellowed to a semi-monthly laid-back game of Pathfinder that ends shortly after our children’s bed time.  Early on, we thought we could let the kids have a movie and we’d play while they were off relaxing in their own world.  We were quite mistaken!

While normally Simba’s harrowing tale of triumph in the face of danger would hold kids enthralled for its entire action-packed 90 minute run, it is apparently FAR less interesting than what the grown-ups are doing.  To save on frustration, we let our little ones join our table.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m excited for the day that my daughter gets the idea of playing a character in more than the “put on a costume and preface my name with princess” kind of way that pre-schoolers have.  However, we aren’t there yet.  We needed a way to make the game fun for her while letting us still play the game.

So, as any table-topping gamer parent knows, there are two incredibly interesting things about gaming for kids (and cats): dice and minis!  We would let her roll for us.  At first we’d call out the numbers, but as time went on, she’d tell US what she rolled.   It was a great way to help her recognize numbers to 20.  Also, as time went on, we could tell her which dice to roll instead of giving her a specific die.

Giving them their real names (in addition to what we call them) is helping her understanding and relation of 3 dimensional objects.  Having one person call it a tetrahedron, while someone else calls it a 4-sider helps her relate the shapes to their make-up.  You can also point out the shapes that make up the flat side, like the pentagons on a dodecahedron (d12).
Now, where things get dicey is modifiers.  My daughter LOVES to be right and isn’t really a fan of being corrected.
Here is an excerpt from a recent gaming session:
Her – “19!”
Me – “Ok, That’s a 24 for me!”

Her – “It’s a 19.”
Me – “Yes, that is a 19, but then I get to add this 5 to it, and it makes it 24.”
Her – “This ‘dice’ says 1 next to 9, that’s 19 not 24, mommy.”

To aid in her understanding of the additive nature of our rolls, we now have a small white board to write the result AND the modifier on.  So, 19 + 5 = 24, for this specific roll.  This gives her an opportunity to see how numbers operate together in simple addition.  Also, it gives her a familiarity with addition notation and an early recognition of symbols associated with it.
Another fun thing to let your little “knowledge sponge” do is count movement squares.  Explain that every square is 5 feet and tell them how many to go – as they count by 1s, you count by 5s.  This will start to give them a basis for “skip counting” and an early foundation for multiplication.  They can move the mini to the final destination but they have to count the path (save double diagonals for a different day, once they’ve got general movement down) and see if it takes more than the number the character CAN move to get to the end.
This teaches them varying quantities and allows them the ability to find their own ways to the answer.  Also, it teaches the basics of the concepts of more than (greater than) and less than.  If you are feeling particularly adventurous, you could even write their movement total on a white board, comparing the movement total to the character’s allowed movement (e.g. 20 < 30), laying the groundwork for eventually solidifying their understanding of the concept.

The thing to keep in mind is that whenever you add a child to your game, no matter the age, it is going to take longer.  The amount of time it takes to do something simple seems to be inversely proportional to their age (provided that they are over 6 months or so.)  Or to put it in simple terms: For n>0.5, t=1/n.  Just be patient with them, answer their questions and teach them what’s happening.  Table-top roleplaying games have some amazingly simple math and fantastic gaming concepts.

The math learning is great, but you will also be helping your child learn the skills of playing an open-ended game, with variable results. They will also become familiar with turn-based strategy, roleplaying and working as a team in a (mostly) cooperative environment.

 

Looking for more games and math? Check out more articles here!

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Mommy Monday!

By: Jenna Duetzmann

“Summer is here. Yay! No school, no homework, no sports! We can do anything we want!”

Did you hear something similar from your kids a few weeks ago? Did they have EPIC plans like Phineas & Ferb at the beginning of the summer? Did all of those epic plans get foiled by the recent monstrous, oppressive, humid heat wave? If your kids are like mine, I’m pretty sure they begged to stay inside all day with your iPad, their Nintendo DS, their PS Vita or whatever electronic game system they could get their hands on.

I’m not going to deny it, I was tempted to give in and let them play games all day. And why not? The games are fun and fast paced with exciting challenges. And it would have kept them still and relatively quiet. But then my rational brain kicked in. We all know that when children and teens spend an excessive amount of time in front of the TV, computer, or hand-held games, it takes away from the time they could spend playing, exercising, and learning.

This is not to say that electronic gaming is all bad. We should not completely cut off a child’s access to these activities, but help our children find the balance between playing games and spending time in independent activity, outside time, and exercise.

So, what should we do?

Simply pulling the plug and banning games is silly. It leads to anger, frustration, and endless confrontations. I know I don’t look forward to seeing my own stubbornness reflected back at me from my child’s face.

Here are a few of my favorite tricks to bring balance back during the summer. Each and every tip helps you engage with your child so that real life outside of the game becomes as much fun as the game itself.

Play a video game with your child:

Have your child pick their favorite video game and give it a try with them. You may find the game fun, or challenging, or completely inane. But, you are playing with your child and building a relationship with them and acknowledging that their interests are important to you. You are engaging them. You are spending time with them. Remember, building trust encourages their willingness to respect you and listen to you.

Create a long term project/activity for your child (even better if it’s based on their favorite game):

My two older children LOVE the Angry Birds franchise. We’ve come up with a summer project that involves arts and crafts, building, and physical activity. We are currently building an Angry Bird course in real life. The project involves painting shoe boxes and cardboard boards and foam pieces to represent the bricks, boards, and other obstacles. Next we are going to create a sling shot and some paper mâché pigs. We’re going to use stuffed birds in the sling shot, and…you get the idea. My kids are super excited to work on this project!

Bring out the old fashioned board games & card games:

Sometimes it is just too hot or rainy to play outside. If I don’t want to be outside, I can’t blame them for wanting to stay in the house, right? This is the perfect time to pull out family favorite games like Monopoly and Clue. Or, you can find modern favorites like Hide and Eek and Headbandz. Or, you can even teach your children Rummy and Poker. There are many educational lessons to be learned in these types of games. They include Interaction, Cooperation, Numeracy Skills, Literacy Skills, Patience and Gamesmanship. There is a reason you loved these games as a child. Introduce them to your child and watch them fall in love too. It’s amazing how much fun stimulating your mind can be.

Play outside:

Please don’t simply tell your child to “Go outside and play!” While the imagination of a child is wonderful and amazing, it needs to be stimulated. Make sure you provide something for your child to do outside, or they’ll be bored and resentful. Have plenty of sports equipment available like a football, whiffle ball and bat, basketball and soccer ball. A used sports equipment store or children’s consignment store can be a great resource. Teach your child to play badminton, volleyball, horse, or around the world. Draw a four square court or hopscotch game with chalk on your driveway. Have plenty of sidewalk chalk available. Make up a simple scavenger hunt. Create a beanbag toss out of cardboard. Fill up water balloons. The options are as endless as your own creativity or Pinterest will let you be. And, most importantly, join in whenever you can. This will show your children that you value outdoor play as well

Go to the library:

Most libraries have a summer reading program complete with contests, games, special events and prizes. If that’s not fun enough, search for books to read to/with your kids about their favorite games or cartoon characters. You would be surprised to see how many early readers their are about Super Mario, Pikachu, Marvel Heroes, Lego Heroes, Sonic, and Spyro. A good Children’s Librarian can point you in the right direction.

Play a game with their favorite video game as the subject:

We all remember playing ‘avoid the lava pit’ games with sofa cushions, milk crates, cardboard, or whatever else was handy. Why not turn this kind of play into your child’s favorite platform game? Make a Super Mario, Donkey Kong, Mega Man, Ratchet and Clank, or Little Big Planet theme. Just do some quick Wikipedia or Google research about the main characters and obstacles and you’ll have the knowledge to use the appropriate lingo to make these simple games way more exciting and relatable to your child. Now, another BIG option under this subject is to find a game that has toys built in. There are 2 relatively new and major games that have this feature. The first is Activision’s Skylanders franchise, and the second is Disney’s INfinity franchise. Both games are video games that include action figures for your child to play with. The action figures interact with the games and can be used as stand alone toys. We’ve had many adventures with block forts and Skylanders in our household. These games allow your child to bring their imagination to life.

 Actively helping your child to spend less time playing video games requires more engaged and hands-on time from parents. This isn’t is easy with today’s time commitments and schedules. But, the best way to bond with our children and get them the balance they need is to spend more time with them and play with them.

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My son is in his mid teens, and I am ok with him playing M rated games that have violence and foul language, but I would still rather not have him playing games where he plays as a criminal like Grand Theft Auto. Can you suggest anything for me?

There is a common misconception that all M rated games are made equal. The idea has gotten out there that if a game has an M rating on it then it is automatically a murder/crime simulator with no redeeming qualities.

The good news is that this could not be further from the truth. There is a wide spectrum of games within the M rating,

Simply put: Just because you feel they are able to handle violence and language doesn’t mean that you have to jump to extremes and open the content floodgates. You have the option to pick and choose.

Avoiding games built around blatant criminal activity is relatively easy to do. It really comes down to context. M rated games will almost all have violence, but the context of these games makes a big difference.

Here is a list of games that are worth looking at.

Tomb Raider:

Players are left with two options for characters when they choose not to play the criminal: The victim and the hero. Tomb Raider gives them a chance to step into both roles.

This year’s reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise was a grim look at the humble beginnings of one of the most well known video game characters there is. It tries to explain how a young woman could be transformed into a cold, calculating, treasure hunter.

If you are fine with violence but would prefer that there be an interesting narrative attached to it, then this is a great option.

The Assassin’s Creed Series:

This series is a sprawling narrative built around a conflict between two warring factions that has been present throughout most of the major conflicts in our world’s history. Players take on the role, depending on the game, of one of three assassins at different points in history.

The hook, and the predominant reason why I am listing these games here, is that the developer took great pains to recreate these historical periods as accurately as possible. Assassin’s Creed II, for example, takes place during the Italian renaissance. The cities in the game are rebuilt so accurately that if you get lost during game play it is perfectly acceptable to look up actual maps of the cities to find the locations of certain points of interest.

The most recent game in the franchise takes place during the Revolutionary War and is one of the most impressive realizations of colonial American life I have ever seen.

Also, despite all of its violence, the game actively rewards players for being careful and not killing indiscriminately.

The Walking Dead Season 1:

The Walking Dead game is based in the same world as the popular television series. In this case, violence is all about context. This is a game about survival, but it is also a story about discovering what it most important in this world.

Players are put in terrible situations and forced to make meaningful decisions that have consequences that ripple through the rest of the game. Every dialogue choice can have an impact on the way other survivors treat you. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that dividing rations amongst a group of survivors was the single most heart wrenching game play decision I have ever made in a game.

The other advantage to this game is that it is told in the ages-old point and click adventure style. This makes it more than ideal for people to play together and discuss. I know that I can’t wait until my boys are old enough to play this game with me. The discussions that will inevitably come out of it will be great!

Call of Duty/Battlefield Series:

These military shooters get a bad rap because of their popularity, but almost all of the violence in these games is performed within the context of military action. It is not the most accurate depiction of military combat, but the games themselves are engaging and fun.

It is worth noting that the online multiplayer component for these games is often the real draw. If you aren’t interested in letter your kids play online, then there is better value to be found in other shooters. These games tend to be very light on the single player experience. 

The Last of Us:

This is a tough one. I am listing it here because it is one of my favorite games right now. The Last of Us tells the story of a two people in a world that has been destroyed by a mind controlling fungus that mutated and became able to infect humans. The end result is something very similar to a zombie apocalypse.

The reason this game is wroth noting is that the developer (Naughty Dog) has done a masterful job of creating a believable world for these characters to inhabit. If your teenager has an appreciation for storytelling and can handle mature themes then this is a game to keep on their radar.

Also, even if you AREN’T a gamer, I highly recommend that you watch the first 15 minutes of this game. The prologue is a perfect illustration of the kind of emotional impact that a modern video game is capable of having.

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Editor’s note: Mondays from here on out are going to be “Gamer Mom Mondays.” Check back every week for some fresh perspective and advice from moms who love to play games with their kids. First up: Kelly Allard. 

By: Kelly Allard, Staff Writer

Being a gamer mom of a preschooler, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to find the value in the games we play together and to figure out just what I am teaching my child.

According to popular media, anything outside of Monopoly or a friendly game of Scrabble is detrimental to your child’s ability to grow into a well-adjusted adult.  While the common thought is that adults don’t play games, the latest generation of adults has begun to prove this wrong.  So, we move forward: gaming in front of our infants, rocking them to sleep while one-handedly playing WOW and attempting to entertain them with our fabulous Rock Band antics.  But what happens when they are old enough to WANT to play with us?  What can they learn from these games wrought with so little value, according to our parents?

The first games we started playing in our house were board games: Candy Land, Cootie and the like.  While these games really have very little parental value, they give a great basis for the future of your little gamer.

What value does the monotonous quest to liberate King Kandy from the sticky denizens of Lord Licorice have for you and your child?  Candy Land is a game we probably all played as kids, and its staying power is a testament to its skill-less play and endless fun for little ones.  Candy Land is a level playing field; there is no strategy, no thought-provoking turns, and no need to read, add or do anything else that a small child can’t yet do.  Perhaps mommy might make her way to the Candy Castle first only to be thwarted by the fate of drawing Plumpy (who now has been replaced by The Duke of Swirl or some-such character, depending on your edition), or maybe not.

It teaches them the basic dynamics of taking turns and identifying where to go next.  There is a simple objective and drawing cards and moving allows that to happen.  It gives future gamers a concept of losing turns and being set back, and gives the idea that progress isn’t always linear.  Color identification, counting and even pattern recognition are all strengthened by this simple game.

Cootie, another game cherished by my daughter, is another simple turn-based game. Roll the single die and try to build your silly bug faster than everyone else.  The catch with Cootie, as my husband is well aware, is that you can’t start to build until you’ve rolled a 1. Rounds can get extra, extra long when one person has a multicolored crazy roller-skating cowboy Cootie and the others are still striving for that elusive single pip.

This game teaches kids to recognize number groupings on a die, which lends some more concrete skill to the abstract numbers they are asked to recite when counting.  They learn the important gamer skills of rolling dice, turns that lack results and variable endings.  Cootie gives kids some time to be creative, allowing for over 4 million permutations of bizarre bugs – they can be different every time!

Each game is varied in what it teaches, but there is one thing they all have in common: they teach your kids how to win proudly and how to lose graciously.  It’s a difficult lesson to teach a competitive child, but by playing games with them you show them how not to be a sore loser and how to just pick up and try again when you fail.  If you want your kids to be the kind of gamer you’d want to play with, you have to start early and start simply.  Of course, this is just the beginning of the games kids can learn from, and ways they can be taught.  If you’re creative you can do all sorts of things – play “dress up Candy Land” and give your characters back-stories and names and purpose.  Set your Cooties on adventures when they’re complete, ask your kids what they enjoyed about the game.  There are so many places to start and so many ways they can be engaged.

Looking for more games and math? Check out more articles here!

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Games with this rating are a significant step above games rated T for Teen. They often contain more/more realistic gore. They may also have more significant sexual themes and/or vulgar humor. These are the games that we hear about on the news for pushing the boundaries of “appropriate.” Some of the more significant examples that have reached the mainstream media are games like those found in the Mortal Kombat and Grand Theft Auto series.

Many major retailers have internal policies that bar the sale of games with this rating to any person age 17 or less without parental consent. But it is not illegal for them to do so. The state of CA had passed a law making it illegal at one point, but this law was been deemed unconstitutional by the SCOTUS. It is possible that other states may attempt to pass similar laws in the future, but this ruling makes it less likely.

A lot of parent’s ask me questions at what age rated M games are appropriate. I always answer the same way: “It depends entirely on the maturity level of your child, and what you feel comfortable letting them experience.” Some parents feel comfortable watching slasher flicks with their young kids. Others wouldn’t dream of watching anything other than Disney films until their children are ten. Video games are the same way.

I would like to say that many rated M games are rated as such because they tackle serious issues and require a more mature perspective in order to really understand them. But, I’m not going to smokescreen you here. The vast majority of M rated games are patently inappropriate for most tweens and young teenagers because they are mindless examples of violence and sexuality. That’s not to say that they are never good games (many of them are excellent), but a lot of them aren’t substantially different from something like Scary Movie.

There are a few that are legitimately thought provoking. They can be used as tools to help discuss very serious subjects with your son or daughter if you feel they are mature enough to handle it. My favorite example of this is the level “No Russian” from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. The players take on the role of a US agent who is deep undercover with a group of Russian terrorists. As the level progresses the player accompanies the terrorists as they assault a Russian airport that is teeming with innocent civilians. The player is not required to fire a single shot over the course of the mission, but they are forced to slowly walk through the airport while terrorist gunmen fire on, and kill, hundreds of civilians. The media immediately attacked this level as soon as it was discovered for glorifying violence and allowing children to virtually commit heinous crimes against innocent people. They were technically correct, but missed the point. I have played through the level and I felt suffocated. I was immersed in the moment. I imagined myself in that airport and wondered what it would be like near those victims. The level doesn’t glorify acts of terror. Instead it shines a spotlight on what they mean. I can’t imagine any other form of media giving as complete of an image as a video game. These are prime opportunities to discuss these types of events… if you are talking to someone who can really understand it.

Some excellent examples of games rated M for Mature are:

Bioshock

Bioshock Infinite

Spec Ops: The Line

Fallout 3

Red Dead Redemption

Grand Theft Auto IV

Metal Gear Solid series

 

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E3 is something you’ll be hearing a lot about in the very near future. If you’re anything like most parents (or my wife), you’ve probably never heard of it.

However, if you’re a gamer, it’s a HUGE deal.

So, what is it? It is the Electronic Entertainment Expo, commonly known as E3. It’s an annual trade fair for the computer and video game industry created by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA). It is used by many video game publishers and accessory manufacturers to preview their upcoming games and game-related merchandise.

Most of you will never attend the show. Many of you will not even be a tiny bit interested in attending. But, the media coverage of E3 will be extremely useful to many of you. Why? Well, it gives you 3 valuable benefits. New gaming console previews, new gaming title previews, and buying advice. This is THE source for gaming news to prepare you for the upcoming holiday shopping season.

Typically each of the 3 major video game console manufacturers and several of the major game publishers have a media conference. During these televised and streaming conferences, they introduce any new hardware (a console or handheld system) and launch titles for their most popular games. They are basically hour long infomercials. They’re filled with lots of information that is often difficult to disseminate. But, that’s our job.

You can log in to EFG all week for our continuous coverage of E3 that is applicable to family friendly gaming. We will give you the information you need to ENGAGE with your child and the newest games and systems.

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That sounds pretty tricky, doesn’t it? When it comes to video games, it’s actually not. Teenagers love video games, and we want to make sure their voice is a part of our EFG world.

Here at EFG, we know there are numerous negative stories about teens and games. We’ve heard them all. And, while some of them may have merit, we’re going to debunk the myth that games are all bad for teens. We will discuss both the positive and negative aspects of gaming and teenagers with the goal of making you, the parents, have an active role in your child’s gaming choices. We will help you ENGAGE in gaming with your teen.

Not all of the games we discuss will be rated E, family friendly games or T for Teen games. Your teen is mature and has had a lot of real world experience. That experience will definitely lead to interest in games with mature themes and content. We will discuss some of those games and help your family learn to talk about the content in games with them.

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These days when talking about console gaming systems there are three main options; PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Nintendo Wii. (Editor’s Note: We know about the Wii U, we promise. We will discuss that system in a next generation comparison.)

Each console has its own history, niche, and style to bring to the table. When choosing a console it really comes down to knowing what interests you and your family the most. If you are not sure how to answer these questions, you do not have to buy the newest system on the market. There is something to be said for looking at older systems and what they offer. Keep in mind that Nintendo, PlayStation and Xbox all have an extensive history, and if this is your first walk down the console path, it is best to know what your interests are and what you will get the most enjoyment from. Are you interested in high end graphics and games that look like movies? Are you interested in iconic character games that your family will immediately be comfortable with? Or, are you interested in extensive online gameplay? Each of these interests will point you to a particular style, and it may be cheaper to investigate some consoles and games that have been out for a few years to find out what your family will really enjoy before spending the money to be at the current tech level. This is particularly important heading into the next few months, as new consoles are expected to be released by both Sony and Microsoft, possibly at a very high price tag.

With regards to the current popular systems, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 are really very similar in capabilities and are marketed to similar types of gamers. Both systems have high graphics, speed, and memory capabilities. Both systems have additional capabilities beyond gaming. They are both capable of playing DVDs and have the ability to stream Netflix. The Playstation 3 can also play Blu Rays. They both can connect wirelessly to the internet and have subscription networks. They are capable of online play and offer the ability to download game content. Only Microsoft charges for their online subscription. It is important to note that even though the two systems usually offer the same game titles, you cannot play with friends online unless you have the same system.

Players who enjoy sports games and first person shooters are typically drawn to the hardware offered by Microsoft and Sony. The HD graphics, downloading speed and internet capabilities are all key for these systems. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 tend to have more mature rated games because of their graphical fidelity. Likewise, you won’t typically find mature titles on the Nintendo Wii. Although most of the games released for these two systems are playable solo or through some form of story mode and cooperative play, the most popular games offered for these systems are online multiplayer games. Both systems support a vast online community complete with online profiles, friend lists, and the ability to chat via microphone while connected and playing online. Much of the online gameplay is highly competitive and can require a decent time investment to get a sense of accomplishment or to complete achievements.

 

While it is true that the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 systems do have titles that are written for a lower age bracket and even some multi-player/party games, the selection is not as vast as the Wii with regards to titles of this nature. Overall, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 are systems that appeal to an older demographic. Many titles released for these systems require a higher level of game play ability and time dedication.

The Nintendo Wii systems are more typically geared towards kids and families. Most of the Wii’s popular titles are built around adventure platform games or in house multi-player gaming (not usually online multi-player). The Wii uses wireless controllers and promotes active gaming. The Wii has become known for mini-game copllections and party games that can be highly entertaining for any age group. The Wii also features platform games that appeal to a broader audience than the more hardcore games that the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 are known for. These games have a relatively short learning curve and are far easier to pick up and put down at leisure then some of the first person shooters and online multiplayer games that the other two systems are known for. The Nintendo Wii’s biggest draw comes from iconic characters that are well known and loved like Mario, Donkey Kong, and Link.

The Wii system hardware is vastly different from the other two systems. It connects to the internet and can stream Netflix (It does not, however, play Blu Rays or DVDs). There are many good retro games available on their Virtual Console as well as some WiiWare software and games available for purchase in the Nintendo eShop. While the Wii can browse online, it is less than user friendly then the other systems and it cab be difficult to use the Wii controller to navigate. Overall, the Wii is a great system that appeals to families.

Before making a final decision on which console to purchase, keep in mind that consoles have a technology cycle of about 5-10 years, but your system’s actual life cycle can average 10 years or more. Many gamers still have systems that work from 10-15 years ago or more. In fact “retro gaming” is a big passion for many of us who still have our old systems or access to the old software of some of our favorite games. Just because the next generation of system is coming out does not necessarily mean your system is obsolete or near the end of its life.

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Games with this rating may contain content that is suitable for people age 12 and older. It is worth noting, however, that there is no restriction for children under the age of 12 from purchasing these games without an adult. The content in these games is a step above games rated E 10+ in that they have a stronger impact and often contain more intense violence, suggestive themes and crude humor (like in a Simpsons or Futurama episode). These games can also include simulated gambling. These games are rated similarly to moves that are rated PG 13.

 

Many parents dismiss games rated T for Teen by the ESRB outright, and I don’t think that is necessary. Many of these games are perfectly acceptable for young children with parental supervision. The “More intense violence” descriptor places most games that involve any sort of combat to this category. I am a father with a 7 year old son and there is a wide selection of games that are rated T for Teen that I will play with him. Some specific examples are Marvel vs Capcom 3, Ratchet and Clank: a Crack in Time, and Spider Man: Shattered Dimensions. The key here is to make sure you focus on the content descriptors and make sure that you only exclude games that include content you find questionable.

 

Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

Sin and Punishment: Star Successor

Okami

Muramasa: The Demon’s Blade

Monster Hunter Tri

Super Smash Brothers Brawl

Metroid Prime Trilogy

Trauma Center: Second Opinion

Valkyria Chronicles

Final Fantasy XIII

Batman Arkham Asylum

Batman Arkham City

Super Street Fighter 4

Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3

inFamous

ICO/Shadows of the Colossus Collection

Dance Central (Kinect)

Dance Central 2 (Kinect)

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