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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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