Friday night topic: FPS gaming with kids

It's not an exaggeration to say that FPS games have altered the course of my life. Since my very first experience with Quake back in the day, a game I'd hotly anticipated after reading about it on sCary's Quakeholio and Mr. Wolf's Quake Den, I've been hooked on first-person shooters. Doom and its precursors were great, yes, but the transition to 3D, rapidly followed by the move to OpenGL acceleration and Internet-based multiplayer gaming, was the thing that really captured my imagination. That led to a career change and then another one, ultimately leading to TR as a full-time endeavor.

However, I've not felt entirely comfortable sharing that genre of game with my kids until recently. The trouble is that most FPS games just aren't geared for kids at all. FPS games have established an entire culture centered around blood and gore, profane smack talk, and violent, adult-oriented themes. Try finding a good FPS multiplayer game with something less than an M rating from the ESRB, for instance. I'm glad games like Bad Company 2 are what they are, but just one shooter clean enough for kids would be nice. And not that Nerf game for the Wii.

My two older kids are now ages eight and 10, and my wife and I just recently decided they were ready to be introduced to FPS multiplayer gaming—if only we could find a game that wasn't entirely inappropriate for children. After thinking over the problem, my answer was to use Unreal Tournament 3 with the "reduced gore" option enabled and "auto taunts" from bots entirely disabled. (Older versions of UT had the ability to disable "mature taunts," but it seems to have disappeared from UT3's menus. There's a possible .ini file setting, but I don't think it works.) That combination of settings produces a game that isn't too full of pink mist, bouncing giblets, and cuss words. There's still cartoonish animated violence, but our kids watch Tom and Jerry cartoons, so I figure this isn't anything new.

We have run into problems with UT3 failing to honor our request for taunts to be disabled on occasion. The problem is intermittent enough to be really frustrating. I have no desire to be hearing from a teacher at school about some choice words my son picked up from a video gaming session with his dad. But overall, it mostly works and is more or less age-appropriate.

We're now having dinner-table conversations about deathmatch strategy and how to circle strafe. It's loads of fun to see my kids pick this game up so fast and seemingly appreciate it so much more than the kiddie games they play on the Wii (which are great, too, but aren't at the top of my gaming enjoyment hierarchy). Already, they're begging me to play each night and asking to try out new game types like CTF.

I have to wonder whether game studios haven't missed the boat by failing to produce a truly kid-friendly—or even kid-targeted—Quake III Arena clone. Just being the only one would surely count for a lot.

So here's the question. If you're an FPS fan and old enough to have kids of your own—or just nieces and nephews, perhaps—how have you gone about sharing your appreciation for FPS games with them? Is there any game in particular that you think is a good candidate for kids to play? Do you think an eight year-old playing a violent, gore and profanity-laced FPS is simply No Big Deal? Or should they just be playing with Mario and Princess Peach until they're 17? Any solutions besides our UT3 one that you think merit consideration? Discuss.

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