Bonding with your kids over video games isn't like enjoying a "Halo" deathmatch with your buddies. First of all, you'll only be playing family-friendly games together until they're old enough for headshots and stealth kills (which will be a while), but that doesn't mean you're going to be stuck playing cooperatively through the interactive equivalent of an episode of "Sesame Street." There are plenty of family-friendly games in virtually every genre, and finding them is as easy as checking the rating on the back of the box.
Yes, games are rated, but don't look for the G through R guidelines you're used to seeing on the back of DVD cases and at your local movie theater. Video games are rated by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), a self-regulatory group that was established specifically to assign video game ratings and enforce advertising guidelines, so your youngest won't see an ad for "Halo" or "Call of Duty" while watching morning cartoons, for example. Ratings typically range from Early Childhood (EC) to Mature (M), and they're just as easy to understand as those given by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).
The ratings are:
- Early Childhood (EC): suitable for ages 3 and older
- Everyone (E): appropriate for anyone 6 or older
- Everyone 10+ (E10+): ages 10 and older only
- Teen (T): designed for those 13 and older
- Mature (M): not suitable for anyone under 17
Once you've familiarized yourself with the ESRB's rating system, it's easy to find games that are suitable for your family. Ratings are placed prominently on the back of every game's box, so you can quickly find titles that meet everyone's interests and that are age-appropriate.
There's a huge variety of fun, family-friendly games available, so you're not just stuck with titles that include the word "Mario" in them (not that there's anything wrong with gaming's No. 1 plumber). Platformers, music-based games -- assuming you play and buy kid-friendly tracks -- and adventure titles are usually safe. Most sports and racing games are also rated E or E10+, so you can feel secure with the knowledge that the only thing inappropriate will be your language after your child scores the winning touchdown or wins a heated race.