Games and Censorship

All forms of entertainment – including books, magazines, movies, the Internet and video games – include a subset of content that is unsuitable for children. Exactly what is and is not suitable is a matter of opinion, although it is widely accepted that parents should shoulder most of the responsibility for monitoring what their children are exposed to. I can think of several reasons why you might deem a game unsuitable for your children.

Some games feature violence, usually implied rather than portrayed graphically. Conflict simulations (war games) are just one example, in which casualties are inevitable, even though victory is usually judged on other criteria. In some games, such as those featuring gangsters or the Roman republic, player advancement may require transactions of violence (hits or assassinations). As long as the violence has thematic relevance, I have no objection to its inclusion in a game. I cannot think of any violent games that my children have played so far, but I imagine Bang! would be an excellent game for a 7 year old.

Games about horror or the supernatural might draw objections from parents with strong religious beliefs or those concerned about scaring their children. My fellow contributors here at Father Geek enjoy zombie games and, like them, I see such games as harmless fun (although I have to admit, at the risk of being shunned by my colleagues, that I personally do not care for the genre that much).

Depending on religious views or moral code, some families might object to games featuring gambling, prostitution, or illegal activities. Just this last weekend, I introduced my 6 year old son to Vegas Showdown, an auction game in which players compete to build the most successful casino. I consider this a great game, in which the theme and mechanics match perfectly. On the other hand, I would draw the line at a game such as Pimp: the Backhanding, a card game about managing prostitutes. While I am not suggesting that the game paints prostitution in a good light, it is clearly not a game for children!

Racism and sexism appear in some games, although generally in a way that acknowledges discrimination without glamorizing it. For example, slavery is a feature of Puerto Rico, Vinci and Endeavor, but is also historically relevant. Wench! and Anima: Shadow of Omega include cards with caricatures of scantily clad women and hence also qualify for my not-for-children category (or at least, they would if I owned those titles).

On a related note, stereotyping (by gender, race or religion) is reinforced in games, such as some with special player powers. Again, sometimes this is historically relevant and accurate: for example, in World War II games, the military forces of different nations usually have quite different characteristics. I am not suggesting that all stereotyping is wrong, but sometimes it can encourage lazy thinking and faulty assumptions.

Does this really matter? Let us examine that classic, The Game of Life. While some of the details have no doubt changed over the years, in the version I played in my youth, the following rules applied to the game:

  • It was better to attend rather than skip college
  • Doctors earned the highest salary
  • All players married a partner of the opposite sex
  • Most couples were blessed with children (the more the better)
  • Victory goes to the player with the greatest wealth/status

So is The Game of Life a bad influence on your children? I very much doubt it. Whatever your views are on materialism, marriage and contraception, I very much doubt that playing The Game of Life had much to do with shaping those views. Unless, of course, your entire life experience was limited to playing games. (Here at Father Geek, we encourage gaming, but everything in moderation, folks!)

While we should strive to protect our children, uncomfortable realities like sex, prejudice, and violence cannot be avoided forever. If a game (or book or movie) features an issue that prompts me to initiate a challenging discussion with my children, then so much the better.* I would rather “get in on the ground level” before their minds are contaminated by half-baked ideas from other sources.

Final Verdict

All things considered, I believe it is exceptionally rare for a game’s theme to influence its suitability for children.

*Stated with the absolute confidence of a father whose children are nowhere near adolescence.

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About Meng

Board Game Fanatic, and Father of Two, Meng is an Australian who became hooked on board games at high school, with such classics as Talisman and Diplomacy. Years later, he rekindled his interest while living in the United States, both immersing himself in the local gaming scene and also taking advantage of mail-order to expand his collection to some 300 items. After returning to Australia in 2008, and with little time left after work, study and travel, the majority of his gaming nowadays is with his two young children. Hoping one day in the distant future to teach them to play a rollicking game of Die Macher, in the meantime he provides more age-appropriate fare and tries to discuss some life lessons along the way. Meng goes by the handle meng on Board Game Geek.

5 Responses to Games and Censorship

  1. Cyrus says:

    An excellent article, Meng. It amuses and fascinates me how much the The Game of Life has and has not changed over the years.

    Monopoly is still all about the $$$ (ka-ching!), Risk is still about world domination through force, and Checkers is still as abstract as ever with its strange underlying theme of racial dominance. Still, these themes are all implied in some and the core mechanic of others. This gives us Parent Geeks a good deal to chew on and fret over in the quiet of the evenings as our children sleep soundly in their rooms. I would argue one could easily be over protective and somewhat paranoid to believe that a game theme could do great amounts of psychological and emotional damage to your Little Geek, but why put them in harms way if you don’t agree with the either blatant or subtle message the game communicates?

    And for the record, the rest of the Father Geek staff will not shun you for disliking zombies as far you will know.

    • Meng says:

      Yes, but I have a feeling that if the bunch of us are being chased by zombies, somehow I’ll be the one to “accidentally” trip and fall, allowing the rest of you to make good your escape.

  2. Trent says:

    Great article and good thoughts.
    There are definitely games that I wouldn’t play with our kids. But I like to think of it as discernment rather than censorship. We make choices throughout our lives on what we will watch and read, what we’ll play, who we’ll associate with, what we’ll let into our homes and such. I believe it’s all a matter of showing our children that we’ll act on what we believe. We teach our beliefs through our choices and our kids will pick up on that.

    • Meng says:

      “Censorship” is an emotive term, often viewed in a negative light. What I have tried to highlight here is that as parents we screen and restrict content in the same way that governments, schools, churches and other entities do. Even though the motives and outcomes may be different, the similarities are clear. My position is that censorship can be good or bad, depending on how and why it is implemented.

      Thanks, Trent, for your comment and for your excellent website.

    • Cyrus says:

      “Censorship” does have negative undertones. I think it is more times than not viewed as coercive method intended to hide the truth, to trick, or to purposely mislead.

      And yet, parents censor their children from the outside world all the time, every day, every hour. It is part of the “parental protective nature”. Parents naturally want to shield their children from negative things.

      But, if you censor too much, are you overprotecting your child? Hmmm…a fine grey line, that one.

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