Confessions of A Failed Gaming Parent

I have a confession to make: My 9-year-old spent about two weeks playing Modern Warfare 2 on the Xbox 360, and I had no idea he was doing it.

My wife and I set up parental locks on the console and on Tristan's Xbox Live gold account, which allows him to play online. But we underestimated just how crafty our son can be.

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Like all children his age, Tristan found a loophole in the rules that I had laid out and that the Xbox 360 was enforcing. He managed to discover a way around Microsoft's fairly robust parental controls: His parents.

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Here's how: My wife and I allow Tristan to create maps in Halo 3, just maps. That means no playing the game. And he's very good about doing just that; not playing, just making maps. For Tristan, Halo 3's map maker is like virtual building blocks.

But we set up Tristan's account to prevent him from playing mature-rated games like Halo 3. So every time our son asked to create a map in the game we had to manually unlock the console with our password. Earlier this month Tristan started surreptitiously switching the game in the console that my wife was unlocking to Modern Warfare 2, getting her to unwittingly unlock the first-person shooter.

Eventually, we caught him in the act.

It's a reminder that as parents we have to remain constantly vigilant. Something Microsoft gets. It's part of the reason, it seems, that the company is rolling out even more robust parental controls come this fall.

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Due out this November, the Xbox Live Gold Family plan will run you $99 for up to four linked Xbox Gold accounts, accounts that normally come in at just under $50 a pop. And if you don't use all four accounts immediately you can always activate them later.

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Upgrading to the Xbox Live Gold Family plan also gives you access to the Family Center, a new area in Xbox Live that includes more ways to monitor your child's gaming habits.

You can, under the new system, divvy out an allowance of points that can be spent on Xbox 360 games, avatars and add-ons. You will also be able to track exactly what all four account holders are doing through an online monitor. The family plan will also include regular discounts geared toward families, like maybe a price cut for a game like Uno on Xbox Live.

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What intrigues me most about the Family Center is that activity monitor, which can show you what games are being played by each account holder and for how long.

While it won't break down what's going on inside non-gaming applications, it can show you how long they're being used. For instance, you can see how long your son was watching movies or TV shows using NetFlix on the Xbox 360, but not what he was watching.

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Microsoft is also rolling out new parental controls to all Xbox Live members, whether they are family plan subscribers or not.

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New features include the ability to lock down all content (movies, games and television shows) on the Xbox 360 by rating. The console can also automatically set up the privacy and activity settings for your children based on their age, if you don't have the time or know-how to do it yourself.

Finally, the Xbox 360 is letting you make exceptions to the ratings rules you set up on the console. In other words, you can choose specific games that your child can play, like Halo 3, no matter what rating you've locked out on the console. That way you won't have to manually enter a code every time you want to grant them access to that game.

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It's a fantastic addition to a fantastic tool for parenting gamer children, one that acknowledges that even the Entertainment Software Rating Board's robust ratings can't satisfy 100 percent of the parents 100 percent of the time.

Jerret West, senior group product manager of Xbox Live subscriptions, tells Kotaku that Microsoft decided to roll out these changes and create a new Family plan because they feel the Xbox 360 is becoming more of an entertainment box than a video game console.

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"A lot of what we announced at E3 are things that will bring a lot more people into Xbox Live," West said.

That includes the Xbox 360's motion-sensing Kinect add-on and the addition of ESPN to the console.

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"Our goal," West said, "is more participation and making the console easier to use."

Both as a gamer and a parent, it seems.

Well Played is a weekly news and opinion column about the big stories of the week in the gaming industry and its bigger impact on things to come. Feel free to join in the discussion.

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DISCUSSION

NightMystic
NightMystic

Man the worst thing is losing your parent's trust. Growing up I had on always found a way to disappoint my parents one way or another whether it be slacking for a marking period in school or doing something really stupid. My cousin once snuck out and bought GTA3 with a friend and played it when his mom wasn't around. She didn't let him play Mature games. Man when she found out, it was over for him.

Some of you might have been playing mature games at young ages, but that doesn't mean everyone wants their kids to do the same. In my opinion I feel like the amount of violence desensitizes a lot of kids. Younger kids tend to imitate what they see.

My sister and my brother in law decided not to have a TV in the house so they could raise their kids in a TV free environment. To tell you the truth after seeing how my nephew has grown up these last two years I've been amazed at how social he is and quickly he picks up on things. The worst is with power tools thought O_o. He tries to help out whenever we work on projects.

The last time he came, a visit that lasted a month (they live in houston, I live in NJ), my older brother and my cousin were playing Wii Bowling in the basement. My nephew wandered into the basement and watched them for a bit. Two weeks later my sister was playing with him in the basement and he went and picked up the the wii remote and started imitating the bowling actions. The image and actions were retained in his memory.

Yea, I know he is 2 and learning, but it goes to show you that images and actions are imbedded into a child's memory. I'm not saying dont let them game or watch TV. I believe a parent should be responsible with how much TV their child watches, what they are watching, and what they are playing. A child's development cycle is very crucial. Don't let it go to waste.

I applaud Crecente for setting up parental controls. Kids will always try to find a way around it. Believe me, all of us on this site have probably found ways around our parents restrictions. Crecente, you are not a failed gaming parent. Your son just caught you off guard.