Previous articles from our editor Paul Govan are here.
While advice to protect children from inappropriate games proliferates, there is an eerie silence when it comes to recommendations. GeekDad gamers are ideally placed to bring some great gaming challenges to their family time that aren't limited to the tame Wii family games - but they need to go beyond the BBFC and PEGI rules.
Technology can be scary, particularly for parents facing an array of entertainment and social networking choices not available in their own childhood. Because of this, we spend a lot of time and money informing families of what isn't appropriate.
For video games we have two rating systems in this country, the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) and PEGI (Pan European Game Information), in addition to the States focused ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board). The BBFC rate games that require an 18 certificate, while PEGI apply their system to everything else.
What it doesn't help them with however is in choosing experiences that are well suited to the shape, size and pattern of their family.
Although this can be a little confusing to the newcomer, a little reading of each organisation's website soon puts them in the picture. At times this is almost poetic in its vehement description of on-screen action, as can be read on the BBFC information for the controversially bloody Manhunt 2 on the Wii.
This enables Mums and Dads to keep their children away from inappropriate games. What it doesn't help them with however is in choosing experiences that are well suited to the shape, size and pattern of their family.
The problem is best seen in games which are labelled as 3+ by PEGI. A friend recently brought a game like this, Boom Blox I think it was. They saw 3+ on the box and assumed it would be good for their four year old to play. But, of course, this age on the box actually meant that the game wasn't inappropriate - wouldn't worry, offend or scare - a three year old. Completely different from saying a three year old would be able to play it.
There are literally hundreds of sites filling this gap for hardcore players - the IGNs and Gamespots of this world - telling them all about the games that suite each and every gaming preference. But UK parent's looking for advice will find slim pickings. There are some great US sites that fill this need from different perspectives.
In the UK though, there is less choice.
What They Play offers well informed advice for parents from industry experts. Their focus is on information rather than opinion, that by providing parents with the information about the games their family is playing they will be empowered to make appropriate decisions.
Common Sense Media also offers information about game experiences, but uses this to apply their On/Iffy/Off rating system. They are a little more hands on with their advice and offer suggestions about the age groups for which a game is appropriate.
In the UK though, there is less choice. And because a lot of what makes a game good for a particular age or ability of player relates to the culture and geography of the player the American sensitivities and interests can prove to be quite a miss-match.
One site that aims to connect families to games that will best fit them is www.familygamer.co.uk, where I have been involved developing their Parent's Guides to video games. This takes a little of the What They Play approach of providing authoritative information on what a game is like, but then goes on to offer an opinion about which family members would get the most out of a particular experience.
There are often games, aimed at a hardcore grownup audience, that from serendipity and circumstance end up being great for a much younger audience.
There are often games, aimed at a hardcore grownup audience, that from serendipity and circumstance end up being great for a much younger audience. Wipeout HD on the PS3 for example is a real hardcore game, but because of the 6-Axis tilt steering and strong driver assistance feature it is also a great first driving game for the very young. My three year old son not only enjoyed the bright crisp visuals but could actually complete a race in this fashion. And I got to share the experience with him.
Stories like these have shown me that while BBFC and PEGI ratings do a great job of keeping them from buying inappropriate games, parent's really appreciate some advice about which games are a good match.
The takeaway here is not to be put off from gaming with your family by the ratings systems. You can find interesting and appropriate games in the most unlikely of places - it just takes a little be of exploration and research.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: