The New Switch = Your Kid Gaming Everywhere!

Desmond Brown pic
By Desmond Brown

Parents, have you ever thought “Well, at least they’re not gaming here in the (car, restaurant, doctor’s office, bathroom, …)!”

Kiss that thought good bye. Maybe you’ve heard of or have a Nintendo Switch. It’s built to be portable, but mostly people still hook it to their TVs. However, Nintendo is about to release its Nintendo Lite. It cost $100 less, and it’s really meant to be portable. It doesn’t hook to your TV and it maintain’s its high graphic quality on the go.

But now you’re thinking, “Well, what’s wrong with that? Mario Bros.? Zelda? Donkey King?”

Nintendo has that game?

But did hear? Nintendo is growing up. Yes, that’s right. Nintendo now has games on the Switch like Batman, L. A. Noire, Doom and Skyrim. All dark cop or monster type games. And they even have South Park: The Fractured But Whole.  Want your kid walking around Wendy’s repeating lines from that TV show?

Of course, you don’t have to buy those games for them. But see our other gaming blogs to learn how easy it is for kids to get games.

The New Switch Lite

So how does the Switch Lite differ from the regular Switch? As well as being smaller, it is lighter, has a more traditional directional pad, has a slightly longer battery life, and does not have the HD rumble or IR features. It will come in new shades of yellow, grey, and turquoise. The Switch does use cartridges but it can also download games straight onto the system from the Nintendo E-shop.   The Lite will be available worldwide September 20th this year.

The New Nintendo Switch coming out Sept. 20th, 2019

It’s important to recognize that these systems have far higher fidelity graphics than even a decade ago. You’ll want to set up the parental controls on your child’s Switch in order to limit what your child is able to play or see.

And remember, the trend of high-quality 3D games being played on the go is not going to stop – it is only going to grow.

Useful Links:

You can see more Switch details here.

If you want to explore what’s available, you can find games for the Switch on these sites:

https://www.nintendo.com/games/switch/

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=switch+games&rh=p_89%3ANintendo&dc&encoding=UTF8%3F&qid=1562883628&rnid=2528832011&ref=sr_nr_p_89_1

Maybe Your Kid Is Not Ready for The “Barstool”? (“Barstool Sports” that is!)

By Seth Woolcock

I first came across Barstool Sports during my freshman year of college. Thankfully it was then, and not sooner.

Barstool Sports logo

Parents, while you may not know very much about Barstool Sports, you may have come across their logo (seen above). Maybe you’ve seen their memes, like “Saturdays are For the Boys.” (By the way, that slogan is so popular, Barstool’s founder, Dave Portnoy, trademarked the slogan in 2016. At one point he even threatened to sue the NFL because “they jacked our slogan” when they used a similar phrase on a t-shirt design. Story is here.)

What is “Barstool Sports”?

Barstool started as a print publication in 2003. Then it focused on gambling advise and fantasy football projections. However, it was relaunched in 2007 as an internet blog that Portnoy filled with entertaining content that some found to be “rude, crude, sexist and often mean-spirited,” said Entrepreneur contributor Jason Ankeny in this article.

After selling a majority stake to the Chermin Group in 2016, the company continued to make headlines. Despite a controversy around a 2010 blog written by Portnoy that purportedly encouraged a “rape culture”, and hosting “Blackout Tour” parties in Boston where they were accused of promoting and allowing excessive and underage drinking, Barstool didn’t stop exploding.

So, ESPN jumped on the bandwagon. In October of 2017 they debuted “Barstool Van Talk”. However, the show was cancelled after its first episode because several employees, including NFL Live host Samantha Ponder, pushed for the show to be cancelled.

Are they important?

To be fair, the company does promote some charitable causes. It helped raise $250,000 after the Boston Marathon bombings. It teamed up with a Cleveland Browns quarterback last year to benefit Special Olympics Ohio.

Currently Barstool ranks number 4,700 in global internet engagement websites according to Alexa. This means it sure is popular.

The real issue is not whether the content is in poor taste or even rude, but rather what does this content mean for your kids, especially boys? Many argue this site finds it acceptable and even encourages vulgar behavior. It personally reminds me of a 6th year fraternity brother who lacks respect for women and any authority.  Is this what you want your kid exposed to?

Here’s my problem…

And though Barstool, I argue, certainly fosters just plain old traditional problems, like sexism and binge drinking, it’s also big on the new problems, like vaping. In fact, Barstool Sports blogger and personality Tommy Smokes appeared on Fox News last year supporting the overwhelming favorite vaping device for teens, JUUL. (See our recent blog post here about vaping and your kid.)

Hey, the world is full of digital influencers. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t evaluate some of them and help your kid make intelligent choices. Sure, Barstool might be fun for some grown up men – though I’m not endorsing it.  But you may want to keep your kid off of the “barstool” until they get some real life experiences under their belt. I mean, you don’t HAVE to act like a jerk just because you watch something on TV, the movies or the Internet. But if you watch it nearly every day? And your buddies are all watching it? And no one tells you not to? 

Well, what do you think happens?

Useful Links:

Jason Ankeny article: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/229401

Story on “Blackout Tour” parties: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/barstool-sports-rape-joke_n_1293328

Article on ESPN cancelling show: https://www.si.com/tech-media/2017/10/23/barstool-van-talk-cancelled-espn-one-episode

Influence of Barstool Sports: https://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/barstoolsports.com

Where is your kid purchasing their video games?

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By Desmond Brown

You may know that video game consoles are not the only machines that games can be played on. PCs and Mac computers can also play many of the same games available on PlayStation or Xbox. However, the most popular places to buy games for computers are not the typical places that you might know. Over the past decade, gamers like myself have purchased thousands, if not millions of games through the online game distribution service known as Steam. Steam is owned by video game publisher and developer Valve and is the primary source of game purchases for the PC or Mac.

When I was 12 years old, I would chat with friends on Steam’s voice chat system late into the night. I had my own account and my parents had no idea what Steam was. I asked for gift cards and bought games to play with my friends. This included mature games that I would have had to show ID for if I were buying it at GameStop. So, this is something you’re going to have to look out for.

Steam is not only home to AAA (big budget and marketed video games like Call of Duty or Madden) but also independent video games – indies for short. Indie games are usually made by smaller, lesser-known developers They like having full control over their games and don’t have any need for a big publisher if they sell directly on Steam.   Steam is popular because it has a wide variety of game types. Some of these are exclusively sold on Steam. But through just Steam these developers can reach thousands and thousands of players.

screen grab of a page from the Steam store
Screen grab of a page from the Steam store

Steam and “indie” games

However, if you purchase an indie game, there is a risk. These games can be crass, crude, or a variety of other things not appropriate for a pre-teen/teen. However, indie games can also be some of the most creative and imaginative games on the market. I think you’ll have to do some research on each game before you decide if you want your kid to purchase. Though not all of these games show up on the ESRB rating system (see our blog about that system here), Steam does have it’s own rating system.  It requires extensive vetting of both the game itself and the intentions of the developer.  This means each developer has to explain the type of content that the game will contain.  Steam/Valve then places a specific age rating on the game when it releases. Steam restricts access to these games by asking the user to verify their age.  Truthfully, it’s not too hard to lie at this step. (Though I’ve read that Steam will track if the user is under 18 and will block any further attempts at accessing games of that nature. I don’t know how it does this.)

Screen grab of Steam age verifier
Screen grab of Steam age verifier

Family-friendly Steam(?)

As I mentioned, Steam has chat functions, friend lists and other social functions that can connect users worldwide. However, these options do not have explicit parental controls. Even on games with age restrictions, these functions might still work.

Thankfully, Steam does have a parental control you can put on your account called “Family View”. There are step-by-step guides for parents to follow when accessing this feature. From Family View, parents can set parameters for the content their child can access. This includes specific items like gore or violence, games with chat functionality, profile pages, access to the game catalog, and much more. You can even use the Family Game Library to restrict access to specific games for your kid to play on that account. Each of these features is PIN protected.

Screen grab of Steam "Family View"
Screen grab of Steam “Family View”

The Epic game store

Steam is not the only place PC and Mac games are distributed. Last year, Fortnite developer Epic Games created the Epic Games Store, a platform similar to Steam but without a lot of the social media and chatting features that Steam possesses.

The reason I even bring up the Epic Games Store is that if your tween plays Fortnite on a computer, they already have the store installed as well. Epic included the store with the launcher for the game.

Screen grab of the Epic game store
Screen grab of the Epic game store

 The Epic Games Store has no parental controls whatsoever. There is no way to keep your kid from accessing a mature game. However, there is a significant difference in the availability of games on the platform. There are less than a hundred games up for purchase on the Epic Games Store and many of those are still not available to play yet. However, Epic has offers for free games twice a month, giving access to potentially inappropriate games at no cost to your pre-teen/teen.

Also, every game on the platform has an ESRB classification. This means Epic doesn’t have a rating system…yet. In order to protect your kid from playing a game you feel inappropriate, it is best to view more information about the game yourself like you would if they were buying it in a store.

So, my recommendation is to get the “Family View” account set up before you let your kid get on Steam, do not give them gift cards or a credit card to make their own purchases (you should purchase each game individually), and monitor their use of the social media functions of Steam. If they are purchasing through Epic there are not as many indie or mature games (yet), but you will still want to monitor every purchase.

If you do all of this, you should be good. And, hopefully, you’ll join in on the games. Video game playing can be a great way to bond with your kid. But more on that another day.

Here are some useful links:

Steam information:
https://store.steampowered.com/

“Family View” on Steam: https://support.steampowered.com/kb_article.php?ref=5149-EOPC-9918

Epic game store: : https://epicgames.helpshift.com/a/epic-games-store-and-launcher/

Read out review of the ESRB system: http://www.decodingtodaysyouth.com/do-you-understand-the-esrb-video-game-rating-system/

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Do you know the ESRB? And how it relates to your tween’s video games?

By Desmond Brown

Have you seen these images on your kid’s video game box? It is the symbol for the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) rating system. Like movies and television, video games have a rating system. It signals to everyone which games are “age-appropriate” for various ages.  

In the United State, games are given ESRB ratings before they are sold. The ratings are based on the content. Below I explain the various rating categories.

But before I do, allow to me explain that this system is pretty much voluntary. With one exception, the rating “AO” that means essentially “pornography”, stores don’t have to check the ID of a teenager or restrict sales of games because of the ESRB rating.  The courts in the United States have ruled restricting video game sales is the equivalent of restricting free speech. So, in theory, your tween can “buy” a violent, mature-only video game. Fortunately, all national retailers voluntarily restrict sales to minors for “M” games. This is probably because they would suffer a severe public backlash if they didn’t. However, any tween that really wants a game, and can play it without their parent’s knowledge, can just “aquire” it from someone older.

So, here’s the rating system:

E – For Everyone

These games are for everyone and are typically family or party-type games. Think Wii Bowling or Super Mario Cart. Common descriptions include Comic Mischief, Mild Fantasy Violence and Mild Cartoon Violence. “Cartoon Violence”, by the way, means the artwork looks very flat and cartoony. “Fantasy” means the artwork is more realistic.

E 10+ – For Everyone Ten and Up

This means the game is more suited for children aged 10 or up. These games typically have: Crude Humor, Mild Violence, Suggestive Themes, and Mild Language.

T- For Teen

“Teen” means “13 or higher.” These games feature Crude Humor, Mild to Moderate Violence, Mild to Moderate use of Language, Suggestive Themes, Sexual Themes, and Mild Realistic or Animated Blood.  Please note, these games are allowed to feature the use of tobacco or alcohol. As I said above, tweens are still able to purchase these games without the presence of an adult.  Most stores won’t check for an ID if the customer looks like they are in their teens.

M – For Mature

“Mature” games are typically the most controversial games because of their violent and suggestive content. Games like Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty are associated with the “M” rating. They feature Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Sexual Themes, and Partial or Full-Frontal Nudity. Parents or someone above 17 are typically required to be present when a “M” rated game is purchased. However, websites usually require just a button is pressed that “certifies” the purchaser is over 17.

A – For Adult (or AO – Adult Only)

“Adult” rated games are the most severely rated games by the ESRB. These games are only available for people 18 or older and often have pornographic content. Very few games today are given an “A” rating and very few stores like GameStop or WalMart even sell these games.

While the ESRB rating system is important for parents to know (the ESRB provides its own “parent discussion guide” here), parents should also consider going online to look at how other parents view a particular game. Try “Google-ing” the game name and “parents” or “parent reviews”.

You should also know that another important element of games that many manufacturers will display is the Interactive Elements of the game. These can include In-Game Purchases, Users Interact, Shares Location or Unrestricted Internet. Unfortunately, these labels might not be detailed enough. Does “In-Game Purchases” mean buying skins for a character, buying loot, adding powers, or turning off annoying features?  Does “Users Interact” mean only text chatting, or is voice added? Or video? Parents will have to do additional research whenever they see these markings.

You will also want to know if a game is an online multiplayer game. In many cases, game manufacturers do not filter the online connections by age group, so your tween could be playing a game with a complete (adult) stranger, if you are not careful. Dr. Lauber told us a story of walking by his tween playing an online game and hearing, through the kid’s headset, several adults swearing. He immediately changed the “game playing while online” rules at his house.

I don’t want to imply that all game playing is harmful. I don’t think it is. I’m an avid video game player myself.  But, I’m not a tween, and many of today’s most popular games were not around when I was young.  Parents, you must be careful. Not “every game” is for “everyone”.

Links:

For more information on ESRB’s policies and how they rate games, you can visit their website at http://www.esrb.org/

To see what the ESRB has to say directly to parents, try

https://www.esrb.org/about/familyguide.aspx

To see the Federal Trade Commission’s discussion on what parents can do to limit the access of children to video games, try

https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0270-kids-parents-and-video-games

The Family Online Safety Institute also offers this advice: https://www.fosi.org/good-digital-parenting/tips-help-manage-your-kids-games-and-apps/

“8th Grade” Movie Review: Every Parent of a Tween Should Watch It

By Seth Woolcock

Ever wonder what it’s like to be an eighth grader in today’s world?
Let Bo Burnham show you. Usually known for his comedy and music, Burnham explores the crazy world of junior high in his 2018 film “Eighth Grade.”

Kayla Day (Elsie Fisher) is just like any 13-year-old girl today. She’s self-conscious, lives on social media and strives to be a YouTube blogger – which means she gives kids her age her advice. But off camera, Kayla is crippled with anxiety. She can’t take any chances. The movie follows her through the ups and downs of her last week of classes in the eighth grade.

Kayla’s dad (Josh Hamilton) may be a lot like you. He’s a single parent who loves his kid and would do anything for her, but often finds himself out of touch with his daughter. He believes she lives in a world where people are more disconnected from each other than ever before. Throughout “Eighth Grade” Burnham paints a picture of eighth grade as it is TODAY for American teenagers.

So, I’m a guy in my early twenties – much closer to that age range than you, probably – and I can tell you the accuracy of the movie is unreal.  It has a lot of good messages for both parents and teens. But through conversations with others, I’ve been surprised by how many grown-ups don’t know half the stuff in this movie.  School-shooting drills, Instagram, “finstas”, and Steph Curry jerseys, a lot has changed since you’ve been in middle school. I think it has good information for any parent today, and it provides it wrapped in good story-telling.

The movie talks about (shows) themes like being yourself, putting yourself out there, discovering confidence and growing up – all things every teen/tween deals with, but they are a different challenge in today’s 24/7, hyper-connected world.

Fortunately, “Eighth Grade” also reminds us that things do get better. At a high school shadowing program, Kayla meets Olivia (Emily Robinson), who becomes the first person to really put her arms around Kayla. It foreshadows that high school might just be a bit better for Kayla.

Maybe ironically, I found the music in the movie really worked for me (you’ll hear what I mean when you watch it.) With a run time of only an hour and 24 minutes, and a 99 percent critic score on Rotten Tomatoes, this movie really is a must-watch, especially if you are a parent of a teen or tween today.

“Eighth Grade” is available to steam for free on Amazon Video if you are an Amazon Prime account holder. It’s also available for rental in the iTunes and Google Play store.

Links to other movie reviews of “8th Grade”:

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/eighth_grade

“8th Grade” the movie by Bo Burnham

New York Times movie review of “8th Grade”

Today’s Pop Music: What’s it really saying?

By Seth Woolcock

Today, Americans spend an average of 32 hours per week listening to music. That means your kid listens to more than 69 days-worth of music per year.

Maybe they’re getting some benefits from music, like lowered stress, improved health, better rhythm. But every generation likes a new style of music – perhaps one (particularly one?) their parents don’t understand. 

So what are kids listening to today? 

Let me break it down for you.

A short while ago when I was in high school, every Friday morning I had more spring in my step because it was “New Music Friday”. I really looked forward to Friday because I love music and I couldn’t wait to hear new tracks.

You see, Friday is the day most artists release their new music.  It’s also the day Apple Music and Spotify, the two most popular music streaming services, update their top charts.

I was able to start my day with new tunes by Maroon 5, Fall Out Boy, Wiz Khalifa, Mac Miller, Thomas Rhett, Florida Georgia Line and many other great artists and groups. The music was relatable, and I felt motivated listening to those new tracks.

Over the years, since I’ve come to college, I’ve found it a bit more difficult to get out of bed on Fridays. I still use music to motivate me throughout the day, but I find myself reverting to the same music I’ve been listening to since 2014. I’m not excited about today’s new music.

Why? Because the music has changed.

Yes, top charts are now completely flooded with rap and hip-hop music, but that’s not it. I’ve always liked some rap and hip-hop. But today it’s not the same rap and hip-hop. It’s “trap” music. “Trap” refers to places where people make drug deals. Maybe you’ve heard of “trap” houses? The lyrics in today’s hit songs would shock you. Go ahead. Google some. 

For example, Apple Music’s chart currently says number seven is “Drip Too Hard” by Lil Baby & Gunna. The second line in the song goes, “I gave ’em the drip, they sucked it up, I got ’em on it”. Only two lines later, Lil Baby says, “Takin’ these drugs, I’m gon’ be up until the mornin’.”

After a quick google search, “the drip” refers to the point where cocaine drips down your throat after snorting it.

Other songs in the Top 20 have drug references right in their name. Future’s “Crushed Up” and Lil Baby’s “Pure Cocaine”. 

Others songs objectify women.  Number 10 on the Apple music chart is Blueface’s “Thotiana”. Another quick google search… Well, let’s say any father of a girl would literally turn blue in the face.

 I’m not saying Apple wants people to listen to this music. These tracks are simply on the charts because they are the best-selling songs of the week. 

And while there are still some artists making good music about good things… it is getting harder and harder to find these songs. If your kid is listening to “just what’s popular today,” it may be time to introduce them to maybe some of your old music. Say from the 1990’s?  

Course, I recommend 2014.

Awww… the good old days.

Some Useful Links & Research: 

https://www.ashford.edu/online-degrees/student-lifestyle/how-does-music-affect-your-brain

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3004676/