carlokid.jpgLast week I asked, "What's the best age for someone to start playing video games?"

Some say seven is the right age, while others don't think kids should play video games at all. Recently I interviewed two mothers about video games and their children; they each had different opinions. One mom didn't allow consoles in her house, the other said games had a positive impact on her family.

This week, I spoke with two fathers on the subject. See why a gamer dad is uncomfortable with letting his kids see the pain inflicted in "Pain" and how "World of Warcraft" finally made another father put his foot down...

Carlo, 30 year-old creative director at an ad agency from Edison, NJ
Children: Two sons, ages 3 and 5
Systems Owned: VTech, Leapfrog Leapster, PC, DS, PSP, Wii, Xbox 360, PS3
Age OK for Kids to Play Games: Let kids play VTech at ages 2 and 4
Games Allowed to Play: E-rated games
Time Allowed: Up to 3 hours per weekday; more on weekends
Would Never Let Kids Play: "Shooting games with guns, explosions, limbs, blood;" "cartoony" violence

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Why can't "Halo" make me feel what "Passage" made me feel? It's clearly not a question of budget. It's either unwillingness to do it or inability to do it. And I'm not saying that the guys who make "Halo" couldn't do that if they tried. The point is they didn't try -- to me they didn't try.

-- Clint Hocking To MTV Multiplayer, January 15, 2008

farcry2knifeAfter talking to "Far Cry 2" creative director Clint Hocking about explosive barrels, and fears of slumping PC first-person-shooter sales, there was only one more big topic for me to tackle with him: not selling out creatively.

Hey, I know how it is. I work for a big company. I know what expectations people have when you get involved with a big-budget enterprise. Folks begin to doubt that any interest you have in anything that's indie or alternative has no chance of showing up in your work.

So I challenged Hocking on this. He loves indie games, or so I'd heard. How does that square with making a big-budget first-person-shooter. He took me up on it and we wound up talking about emotion and death, and how "Halo," "Gears of War" come up short in a particular way that he says "Far Cry 2" won't.

(NOTE: I strongly suggest you play the five-minute indie game "Passage" before reading on, unless you don't mind Hocking spoiling it for you.)

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mariogalaxyandchildWhat's the best age for someone to start playing video games? That's a question that's been asked quite a bit lately.

Is it seven? According to educational psychologist Jane Healy, who spoke at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, children should be kept away from video games until the age of seven to "allow their brains to develop normally."

The paperback edition of "How Computer Games Help Children Learn" by David Williamson Shaffer hit stores this week, basically explaining how video games can be good for children. We've also heard firsthand accounts from people -- video game legends, even -- who began playing games at an early age, and they seemed to turn out pretty normal (or in some cases, brilliant).

In light of all this, I wondered what actual parents thought. We know what a lot of children's specialists, media watchdog groups and industry researchers think. I decided to ask some parents I knew (and parents that friends and co-workers knew) about their opinions on the subject.

First up, I spoke with two mothers with very different answers.

Who: Alisa, 38 year-old business owner from Boston, MA
Children: Two daughters, ages 6 and 9
Systems Owned: LeapFrog, Mac computer
Age OK for Kids to Play Games: Let her daughter play LeapFrog at age 4, but only web games since
Games Allowed to Play: Pre-approved web games only
Time Allowed: 30 minutes, several times a week
Would Never Let Kids Play: Any violent games or games that let you "beat up or say crude things to a woman"

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screen005.jpgIt's 2008, but I've still got 2007 on the brain.

Back in mid-November last year I received a copy of "Soldier of Fortune: Payback" from Activision.

I had never actually picked up the previous two games in the series, which are based on the military-focused magazine of the same name. After finding "Soldier of Fortune: Payback" among my stack of games that were released around that time, I noticed something interesting advertised on the box ... specifically, a "low-violence" option. The white text, outlined in a red border read:

WARNING!!! Violent Subject Matter. Low-Violence Option Included

Since the "Soldier of Fortune" games have been known for their excessive violence, I was curious as to why they would advertise the low violence option (was it to appease parents or entice gamers?). I e-mailed Activision to see what it was all about, and I got a response from Producer Dan Gniady of Slovak Republic-based developer Cauldron HQ during the holiday break. Here's what he had to say...
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