Computer Games Without Violence

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This article was published by ComputorEdge, issue #2232, 2004-08-06, as the cover article, in both their print edition (on pages 14-15) and their website.

Games are quite possibly the most popular type of application found on computers in the home (and in the office, depending upon the particular workplace and its morale). Computer users of all ages find gaming to be a terrific way to relax, blow off some steam, blow up some bad guys, and procrastinate on writing articles about computer games.

But it's that penultimate attraction above — blowing up bad guys — that has many people concerned. For better or worse, depending upon one's perspective, the majority of computer games involve violence, in one form or another — shooting terrorists, vaporizing alien spaceships, or even driving stolen cars at top speed in order to win by running over the most pedestrians. But not everyone is a big fan of such violence, particularly parents concerned about what their children are watching and doing on the ubiquitous computer.

This article will explore worthy computer games for various age groups that do not involve violence (the games, not the age groups). Due to space limitations, we can only discuss a tiny fraction of the innumerable games available on the market. But we certainly can consider some of the more promising and entertaining offerings.

Youth and Skill

For infants, and children up to nine years of age, the gaming titles are rarely if ever violent by design. But as children become increasingly adept at finding and installing programs without their parents' permission, it is becoming easier for young kids to obtain and begin playing objectionable games. To combat this (no pun intended), parents can try to limit computer usage (good luck), or perhaps take a more positive approach, by making fun yet nonviolent games readily available for their children, who in turn will be less likely to search online for different games.

This is perhaps the age group for which there are no clear-cut superior commercial products. This is possibly a consequence of children's games requiring far simpler story lines, user interfaces, and imagery, and thus being easier and cheaper to develop — resulting in far more entries. Nonetheless, it is still worthwhile to do some research prior to purchasing any games for this age category. One of the best resources on the Internet is the Download section at Kids Domain. It lists hundreds of game titles, grouped first by age range (beginners, ages 2-5, ages 4-8, etc.), and then by game type (art and creativity, board and card games, foreign languages, math, music, puzzles, science, social studies, thinking games, arcade games, etc.).

Computer games targeted at pre-teens are where one begins to see the alarming violence in games, not all of which is revealed on the product's box. However, one favorite group of games that has withstood the test of time, is the Carmen Sandiego series. The first one, entitled Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?, has been entertaining children for over a decade, as well as teaching them geography and world cultures. The gamer plays the role of a detective pursuing a clever thief through the world's major cities. In the process of finding clues, the gamer is introduced to some of these cities' landmarks, as well as the languages and customs of their people. That sounds far more pleasant then my memories of Social Studies in school.

Age and Treachery

Games intended for teenagers often seem to be more "adult" than games for adults. The killing and mayhem in the most popular games can be rather shocking, especially in the eyes of the concerned and frequently-absent parents. But there are alternatives that can be just as engaging and enjoyable. For instance, InterActive Vision's Search and Rescue allows the teen gamer to play the role of an ensign in the U.S. Coast Guard, in command of a realistic helicopter, with challenging missions to save lives, such as pulling victims out of dangerous ocean waters.

Even though kids at this age level tend to demand high-energy games, wise parents would not allow their offspring to play nothing but adrenaline-surging titles, regardless of how little onscreen blood they involve. Instead, games that tax the thumbs and reflexes should be balanced by games that expand the mind. All of the classic board games — including chess, Go, checkers — are available for computer play. Users can compete against the computer itself, their friends, or even folks anywhere on the Internet. The same is true of card games, which are just as mentally stimulating now as they were years ago, long before the advent of electronics.

For adults, there are innumerable high-quality games that involve dexterity without shooting computer characters, or creating cities without the aim of destroying someone else's. An excellent example of the former is Flight Unlimited, by Looking Glass Studios. This highly acclaimed civilian flight simulator allows the user to fly a wide assortment of aircraft (including gliders and float planes) and to test their computer flight skills against realistic wind effects, propeller wash, turbulence, and landings. Closer to ground, if you find managing an office or a household challenging, try managing an entire city! You can do precisely that, or at least with a simulated city, with the remarkably popular SimCity, which for many enthusiasts is more a lifestyle than a game.

Games Without the Gore

There are countless websites devoted to helping people of all ages find games that lack violence, but not entertainment value. One site worth checking is Download.com, which has a tremendous variety of shareware and even free games. These do require downloading and installing the programs on your computer, but most if not all can be tried at no cost, and uninstalled at any time. If you would like to play some games without having to download any programs, take a look at the games section of Yahoo, which offers card games (such as solitaire and poker), board games (such as chess and checkers), arcade games (including Tetris clones), word games, and even fantasy sports games — at no charge.

If you are interested in learning what game titles are currently available, and reading the reviews of previous buyers, there are websites devoted to specific genres of games (such as Flight Sim Central, at http://www.fscentral.com/) and even specific games (such as SimCity.com). The best way to locate such sites is to use a search engine, such as Google.

To help people more easily identify what games they might find inappropriate for themselves or their children, some rating systems have been developed. They classify computer games according to their levels of violence, nudity, etc. — similar to the rating systems of movies and music media. Most if not all reputable game publishers include Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB, at http://www.esrb.org/) ratings on their products' packaging and websites.

The voluntary ratings are just one of many resources available to prospective game buyers. If you plan to purchase computer games for yourself or your children, be sure to take advantage of these resources, most of which are free. If parents proactively stock the family computer with challenging and splatter-free games, the only conflict might be over who gets to use the computer.

Copyright © 2004 Michael J. Ross. All rights reserved.

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