Review: The Long Dark (PS4)

Survival.  No zombies.  No jump scares.  You against Mother Nature.  Nothing more, nothing less.  That’s not to say The Long Dark won’t scare the bejeezus out of you.  You’re slowly plodding through the Canadian wilderness trying to figure out where that cabin you’ve been holing up in was, alone, cold, hungry and miserably lost, when suddenly you spot two wolves walking in front of you.  You are encumbered, injured from a fall and too tired to mount a decent escape; you have no weapon…the wolves see you!  It was nice knowing you.

The Long Dark

The Long Dark was in alpha status through Steam Early Access starting in 2014.  For non-gamer parents, that means it was still being developed, but they released it to the public to test for bugs and areas that needed improvement.  Finally, Hinterland Studios released an official version on August 1, 2017.  It’s undergone some changes along the way, including the addition of a story mode.  For those that played early on in the alpha, the core sandbox game is the same, but with improvements.

The Long Dark General Information

Mommy and Ninja Rating
Available PlatformsLinux, Microsoft Windows, OS X, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
Available FormatsDigital
Platform Reviewed onPS4
GenreSurvival
DeveloperHinterland Studio
PublisherHinterland Studio
Release Date(s)Steam Early Access: Sept 2014
Xbox One (Alpha): June 2015
Official Release (all platforms): August 1, 2017
RatingsESRB: T
PEGI: 16
USK: 12
ACB: M

Parent’s Information

If you are a parent here looking for whether or not your child should play this game, here’s the place to look.  Not taking into account the quality of the actual game, here’s what you need to know.

Here in the US, the ESRB rated this T for Teen for the following reasons:  Violence, Blood and Language.  Click here for details.

In Europe, PEGI rated this as appropriate for 16 and older.  They stated the following:  It contains: Realistic looking violence.

In Germany, USK rated this for 12 and older only.  In Australia, the ACB rated this M, which means 15 and older for: Violence and Coarse Language.

Would I let my child play this?  Not really.  The depiction of violence in the game doesn’t really strike me as too much for him to handle, but he’s only 5.  He can’t read well, which would make this difficult game that much more difficult for him.  If William could read, I honestly wouldn’t stop him from playing it.

This is not an easy game.  If your child is easily frustrated, this may not be the game for them.  The violence and blood that they are referring to is when you attack wildlife (deer, rabbits, moose and bears) or are attacked by them.  After the kill, you can harvest their hide, guts and meat.  You do not kill other humans as you are quite literally the only survivor of the apocalypse; you do, however, find the occasional frozen corpse in the wilderness or inside of buildings.  There is no sex, simulated or implied.  There are no drug/alcohol/tobacco references.

Teen is certainly an appropriate rating here.  E10+ might even have been a good choice.  The game is about survival, not killing.  Though, your survival will eventually mean killing wolves, deer and doing some fishing.  The violence depicted is far less graphic than most offerings in the shooter genre.

***Click here to get more on what the ESRB ratings mean.***

Dialogue and Voice Acting in The Long Dark

The voice actors for sandbox survivors are Jennifer Hale and David Hayter.  Jennifer Hale’s voice may sound familiar to those who played a wide variety of games or watched cartoons since 1993.  She has a filmography that is quite long.  Her recent game industry work includes For Honor and World of Final Fantasy; her recent cartoon voice work includes Star Wars Rebels, Rick and Morty and the new DuckTales.  David Hayter will be a familiar voice for Metal Gear fans.  More recently he was the voice of the Mudokons in Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty!, which is kind of interesting.

They are a little irritating after the few few hours of same the same handful of phrases over and over, ad nauseum.  They are, however, well spoken lines.  The voice acting is quite good.  If I ever hear someone say “I hope nobody needs this anymore” after opening a cabinet in some random cabin in the Canadian Wilderness, I might shoot them…if I’ve found a rifle.

Controls/Overall Functionality and Gameplay

We’ll start with the not so great:  I’ve had several CTD (crash to dashboard) incidents since I started playing.  I’ve logged probably 75 or so hours up to this point.  Beyond that, I’ve seen no glitches or exploits.

As far as the controls go, once you figure out what everything does, you’re golden.  They are pretty simple.  The game has absolutely NO tutorial.  There won’t be a pop-up window telling you how to shoot your rifle (if you find one) or how to jump.  You actually cannot jump.  It took me a while to admit that there was no jump button.  I thought it was maybe a combination of buttons that I just hadn’t tried yet at first, but finally I was able to admit that you cannot jump.  I won’t tell you how to shoot the rifle because finding the right buttons is part of the adventure in The Long Dark.

When you’re first starting out this game is hard.  It’s supposed to be hard.  It gets easier as you grow accustomed to the controls and your surroundings and grow a little stockpile of supplies.  But, those supplies won’t last forever.  Hopefully you’re luckier than I am and get a rifle early on (or at all).  In my current playthrough, I have about 15 rifle rounds and no rifle.  I also have a simple arrow, but no bow.  Once you run out of scavengable supplies, which you will as they do not respawn, you will have to live off the land.  You’re going to have to kill deer, wolves, rabbits, moose and bears for their meat.  You can also fish for your food.

The harder the difficulty you choose, the harder your game will be.  That goes without saying, right?  Not really, but that’s an argument for another day.  Pilgrim difficulty is quite easy.  Wolves won’t even attack you.  It’s way too easy and actually pretty boring.  If it were me, I would start on Voyageur and work your way up to Stalker or Interloper.  Voyageur is a good difficulty to start at for those that are new to the genre or the game and still want a bit of a challenge.  I believe that one of the most beautiful things about The Long Dark, is the sense of impending doom because of lack of survival skills needed to proceed.  Voyageur will give you that.  When you stop feeling that sense of impending doom, it’s time to move onto Stalker.

Being ill and dying in The Long Dark

Becoming ill in The Long Dark is very easy, but also very avoidable.  Don’t stay outside in the cold too long.  Treat your wounds from wolf/bear/moose attacks.  Don’t eat uncooked meat.  These are all good tips to maintaining your overall health if you don’t want to freeze to death, die of infection or get food poisoning.  If you insist that you are invincible and don’t listen, you could very possibly die unless you come to your senses.

When you die in The Long Dark, it’s over.  There is no respawn.  Death is permanent, final.  You can die from a handful of things, but most are avoidable and you have ample time to get to safety and correct the situation, barring a double (or triple) wolf attack or inadvertently scaring a bear.  If you are freezing to death, you should have time to get to safety, unless Mother Nature decides she hates you.  When you die, you are shown your stats and are returned to the main menu where you will have to start a fresh game.  You could reload your last save, but in this game that almost seems scummy.

Graphics and Performance

The Long Dark doesn’t push the limits of the PS4 graphically, but I don’t think it should.  This is a “feel” game, not a “see” game…if that makes any sense.  The game is gorgeous even though it’s not graphically up to par with some of the AAA fare out there.  It’s not about the graphics (which are still more than adequate), it’s about how the game makes you feel.  Not mushy sentimentality, it makes you feel cold, it makes you feel lost in the woods.  Sometimes, games don’t have to push the limits of a graphics card to be freaking awesome.

The game’s performance has been good thus far.  I have not experienced any noticeable frame rate drops.  Aside from the CTD’s, I’ve had no issues at all.  The load times are decent.  It sometimes gets annoying when you are trying to leave the house for the day and realize there is a bear waiting for you, so you turn around and now you have another load.  This is a minor annoyance.  The game saves upon entry to an internal location, so every time you enter a building, your game will save your progress.

Final Thoughts

The Long Dark is a beautiful game that truly makes you feel like you’re wandering the Canadian wilderness after a freak geothermal event caused an apocalypse.  It’s a rewarding experience, but you will have to earn each and every one of those experiences.  And that’s a good thing.  If you’re into survival games, you have to try this game.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Comment below and let me know what you think.  Can you survive the Canadian wilderness?

Overall Mommy and Ninja Rating 
Overall Gameplay
Story/Plot
Sound, Dialogue/Voice Acting
Graphics
Controls
Pros
Cons
Bottom line

The Long Dark Review

 

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Review: The Boss Baby (Dreamworks)

The Boss Baby

Today, we’ll be taking a look at The Boss Baby.  William found this on Netflix this week.  I have his profile set to Netflix Kids and I told him that he can watch anything he can find there.  He typically watches Pokemon, Yo-Kai Watch, Skylanders Academy and a handful of strange shows he’s discovered.  Occasionally, he will go looking for something different.  What he found was The Boss Baby.  I remember seeing the trailer and thought it would be cute, but never actually went to see it.

The Boss Baby
Image Credit: DreamWorks Animation and Fox Movies

Premise of The Boss Baby

***Low/Moderate Spoiler Alert*** The Boss Baby is a universal story showing how a new baby coming home impacts a family.  The story is told by Tim, The Boss Baby’s older brother.  He is an adult now and tells us the story of  of his 7 year old having wild adventures with The Boss Baby.  He has a wild imagination and often times his narration shows us a little embellishment to the original story.  The “big bad” in the movie is puppies.  Yeah, that’s right…puppies.  Cute, adorable puppies are the villain.

The Boss Baby was sent to the Templeton house to gather intel about Puppy Co.  Puppies are getting more love than babies and Baby Corp wants to know why.  The two begin their adventure.  I won’t go into further plot details in case you want to watch the movie.

The Good Things about The Boss Baby

There are quite a few good things here.  The animation itself is beautifully done, exactly as one would expect from a studio like DreamWorks.  The attention to detail when Tim goes off into one of his crazy imagination scenes is just superb.  And the switch back to reality is not a jarring experience.

The voice acting is top notch.  Alec Baldwin voices the Boss Baby, 7-year old Tim is voiced by Miles Bakshi and adult Tim is Tobey Maguire.  All three of them are absolutely fantastic.  Steve Buscemi is the CEO of Puppy Co., Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow are Tim’s parents.  I couldn’t say anything bad about the voice work if I tried.

There are some good lessons here.  Working as a team, the boys learn, is far more efficient that trying to go alone.  In the beginning of the movie, the boss baby tries to accomplish his mission on his own.  He soon finds out that working with Tim is a far better option.  Predictable, but a lesson is a lesson.  There is enough love in a family to go around; new babies don’t mean your parents love you any less.  Excellent lesson for those older siblings struggling with this.  Tim uses his imagination constantly, which is awesome.  He actually reminds me a lot of my son, who has an imagination about as wild as Tim’s.

The Bad Things about The Boss Baby

Just because you have good things, doesn’t make it a good movie.  The biggest issue I have with The Boss Baby is the lack of actual wit and humor.  Now, that’s not to say that I didn’t chuckle or snortle a couple of times.  Yes, I just made up a word.  Deal with it.  William was downright tickled at a couple of points.  More often than not, the humor is above the heads of children and far too one-note to be more than mildly amusing for adults.

 

The premise is solid.  It’s actually based on a children’s board book by Marla Frazee unsurprisingly called The Boss Baby.  I’ve not read the book, only reviews of the book after learning that the movie was based on it.  My son is a little past the board book phase.  The movie simply didn’t take into account that what works in a 36-page board book might not work in a 97 minute movie.  The story just wasn’t good enough to keep an adult’s interest.  That’s a shame, because any parent can relate to the premise.  The baby comes home and he (or she) is the boss.  They cry, you come running.  They poop, you change them.  The baby is in charge.

Image Credit: DreamWorks Animation and Fox Movies

 

What should parents know?

 

I’m not one of those helicopter parents or a parent that thinks her child should grow up in a bubble.  William likes what he likes and there’s not a whole lot I can do about it.  Now, I do stop him from watching obvious things like Nightmare on Elm Street and Family Guy.  But, he knows exactly who The Simpsons are.  Mind you, it’s not because he’s ever seen the show…he plays Lego Dimensions, which they are featured in.  He loves to watch videos of Five Nights At Freddy’s on YouTube.  He’s going to be a horror videogame fan, for sure.

All of that being said, I’ll share what I believe some parents will want to know.  There is infrequent potty language. Note the wording there, words like “doody” and “fart.”  insults made by The Boss Baby include “you went to community college” and “brat.”  Tim’s imagination runs wild and is sometimes what some children may find scary…maybe creepy is a better word.  Tim and The Boss Baby hit/slap each other, but there is no extreme violence.

Overall, this is very much child appropriate.  Having watched it with William, I would definitely say most (if not all) 5 year olds can distinguish the difference between what is real and what is Tim’s imagination in the movie.  There are moments of peril or danger, but they aren’t scary.  Older children still won’t get the adult jokes and the heist theme that is geared toward parents, but may also find the movie less interesting than their younger counterparts.

The Future of The Boss Baby

A sequel is planned for 2021.  Alec Baldwin is in.

On December 12, 2017 there was an announcement that there will be a Netflix television series based on the movie.  It is to take place after the events of the movie.  The show is to premiere in 2018, but no release date has been published as of this writing.

What do Mommy and Ninja think?

Mommy:  Well, it kept William’s interest enough to watch it back-to-back…that’s a win 8 days a week!  It’s really not a good movie.  I wouldn’t recommend this to adults without children.  I chuckled a few times, but rolled my eyes more.  DreamWorks gave us a dud this time.

Ninja:  “I like it, because it’s awesome and it has a boss baby and he can talk.  And he’s making a plan against an evil villain, which are puppies.”

The Boss Baby Details

RatingPG (Mild rude humor)
GenreAnimated
Kids and Family
Comedy
StudioDreamWorks Animation
Runtime97 Minutes
Box Office$498.9 Million USD
Mommy and Ninja Rating
With a 2.5 out of 5, this should go without saying, but this is not a good movie. William enjoyed it thoroughly, which is why it rated as highly as it did. The humor just fell flat here.

The Boss Baby~

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Review: Omega Quintet (PlayStation 4)

I’ll start by saying this:  I wanted to like Omega Quintet.  It is certainly an interesting game, but for all the wrong reasons.  In a perfect world, all of my video games will be absolutely captivating, with stories that make you love the hero/heroine and hate the villain and battle systems so fantastic that your 80th hour is no more tedious than your 1st.  Well, I don’t want to be the one to have to break your bubble, but we don’t live in a perfect world and Omega Quintet is proof of that.  Let me go into more detail on several aspects of the game and explain myself.

Omega Quintet (PS4)

 

Omega Quintet General Information

Mommy and Ninja RatingYin_yang 50x50Yin_yang 50x50Half Yin Yang 25x50
Available PlatformsPS4
Available FormatsDigital
Retail Disc
Platform Reviewed onPS4
GenreJRPG
DeveloperGalapagos RPG
PublisherIdea Factory International
Release DatesJP - October 2, 2014
NA - April 28, 2015
EU - May 1, 2015
RatingsESRB: Teen
PEGI: 12
USK: 16
ACB: M

***Disclosure:  This is a videogame review and while I make my best effort not to include spoilers, sometimes it happens.  Consider yourself warned.***

Parent’s Information

First, let’s talk about Omega Quintet and the young person that may be asking for this.  If you’re a parent here looking for whether or not your child should play this game, here’s the place to look.  Not taking into account the quality of the actual game, here’s what you need to know:

Here in the US, the ESRB rated this T for Teen for the following reasons:  fantasy violence, language, partial nudity, suggestive themes, and use of alcohol.  Click here for details.

In Europe, PEGI rated this as appropriate for 12 and older.  They stated the following:  It contains: Non realistic looking violence towards human characters – Sexual images and/or sexual innuendo – Mild bad language.

In Germany, USK rated this for 16 and older only.  In Australia, the ACB rated this M, which means 15 and older for Sexualised imagery.

So, would I let my child play it?  Well, he’s about to be 6…so, no.  Is this game appropriate for a 13 year old?  I think Mature would have been extreme, but I think Teen is a little light.  I actually think it falls somewhere between the ESRB ratings of Teen and Mature, but that’s just my opinion.  If William were 13, I would probably not let him play this.

A few things to note about Omega Quintet:  Japanese Idol Culture markets these young girls (not women, girls) as sex objects.  This idol culture creates over-sexualized images of teen girls (and boys).  This game is a satire about this culture.  That being the case, young girls are over-sexualized.  There are several scenes with the girls seen in their underwear.  You are actually able to up-skirt your character while walking about the world and when you do it, she plays like she’s modest and tells you to stop.  If your characters’ clothing gets damaged in battle (which happens over time anyways), it begins to fall apart eventually leaving the girls in their underwear.

***Click here to get more details on what ESRB ratings mean.***

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Review: Vintar Motion Sensor LED Toilet Light

I know what you’re thinking.  Toilet light?  Why on Earth?  Well, for anyone with a little boy (or in many cases a man) living in your home, you want this little light.  I never even thought about a light inside the toilet until I was browsing the Amazon Deals of the Day one night and happened onto this little guy:  Vintar 16-Color Motion Sensor LED Toilet Night Light. (<–Affiliate link)

The light itself is bright enough to illuminate the bathroom, but not so bright that it hurts your eyes in the middle of the night.  It is battery operated and fairly compact.  You won’t even know it’s there during the day.  You can see it on the outside of the toilet, but it’s not garish.  It can actually be an interesting conversation piece.  My uncle was so amused by our light, William got him his very own for Christmas this year.  He loves it.

This particular toilet light is LED and has 16 colors.  The light simply rotates through the colors one-by-one, gently changing between them every 4 seconds or can be set to one solid color.  There is a setting to change the brightness of the light, there are 5 possible levels of brightness.

 

The view in the dark
The toilet light in action!

What is a motion sensor toilet light and why do I need one?

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First Cosplay Experience for the Ninja

So, William and I both nerds.  Poor little guy couldn’t help but be a nerd with me as his mother.  A few months ago, we went to Wizard World Chicago.  For those of you that don’t know, Wizard World is one of the biggest Comic Book Conventions around.  I tried to convince William to cosplay.  We had purchased a tuxedo for a wedding in which he was Ring Security and I wanted to get another wear out of it.  I told him he could be James Bond, which was the look we were going for for the wedding.  Nope, he wanted to be William.  I even tried to convince him to be one of the Men In Black…he wasn’t going for it.  I tried everything I could think of.  He didn’t want to wear his tux.  He just wanted to be William.

Bruce chillin' in the Batmobile
Bruce Wayne in the 1960’s Batmobile

Before we left the house to drive to Chicago, he decided that he wanted to take his Batman cape and mask so he could be Batman.  It was then that he decided he was going to wear his Ring Security uniform.  He wanted to do both.  I figured, whatever it takes to get one more wear out of that tux.  He actually wear the whole tux (including the dress shoes) all day.

The 1960’s Batmobile was a Wizard World this year…so it seemed a perfect opportunity.  This is the point that he decided he was dressed as Bruce Wayne.  I’m not sure why Batman would wear a tux inside the Batmobile, but…

He told people for the rest of the day that he was Bruce Wayne; he even entered a costume contest for kids and told the announcer that he was Billionaire Bruce Wayne.  The kid even hammed it up with several other cosplayers for photos.  We have Bruce Wayne and a Ghostbuster with Slimer, Bruce Wayne with Buzz Lightyear himself!  And Bruce Wayne with the Hulk and Iron Man.  We even caught a picture of Bruce chillin’ in the Speed Racer car.

Bruce hanging with Slimer
Bruce Wayne with a Ghostbuster and Slimer

There was a group of cosplayers that actually asked William–I mean Bruce–for his picture.  They were dressed as Beast Boy and two Ravens from Teen Titans.  The picture came out a little fuzzy, so I won’t be sharing it here, but that made his day.  He talked about the fact that they wanted his picture for a solid hour afterwards.

I believe we have the birth of a cosplayer; I may have created a monster.

So what does this mean for Mommy and Ninja? 

Well, after Christmas, I’ll have all the stuff I need to start foam fabrication.  I figured I’d start with the stuff that isn’t sewing.  I’m going to make him some weapons first, then move onto bracers, chest pieces and helmets.  I’ll be sharing my successes and my failures here on Mommy and Ninja occasionally.  Cross your fingers that I don’t slice a finger off with an X-Acto knife.

Bruce hanging with Buzz
Bruce Wayne has a friend in Buzz Lightyear

For my first attempt, I’m going to be making a simple sword with a very basic hilt.  William, however, is expecting a keyblade from Kingdom Hearts.  It’s going to be an experience, for sure.  I’m betting there is a steep learning curve, but we have to have foam props for our costumes.  My cousin is into all of this stuff, so I’ll be making her the guinea pig for some pieces of body armor.  Once I have foam fabrication started…sewing will be next.  I’ll be posting some reviews of items purchased for foam fabrication, which are useful in many other crafting hobbies.  Stay tuned for the hilarity that I’m certain will be my failures.

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Review: Middle-Earth: Shadow of War

We’ll be taking a look at Monolith Productions’ Middle Earth: Shadow of War.  Should you buy this game?  Should you buy this game for a child?  This is a long one.  I’ll have a TL;DR table of information at the bottom in case you need it.  Scroll all the way to the bottom of the post; it’s just before my disclaimer.

***This is a videogame review and while I make my best effort not to include spoilers, sometimes it happens.  If you have not completed Shadow of Mordor, there may be a spoiler contained in this review.  You have been warned.  This post contains affiliate links.***

Shadow of War General Information

Mommy and Ninja RatingYin_yang 50x50Yin_yang 50x50Yin_yang 50x50Yin_yang 50x50Half Yin Yang 25x50
Available PlatformsPS4, XBOX One, PC
Available FormatsDigital
Retail Disc
Platform Reviewed onPS4
GenreAction Role-Playing
DeveloperMonolith Productions
PublisherWarner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Release Date(s)October 10, 2017
RatingsESRB: M
PEGI: 18
USK: 16
ACB: MA 15+

Parent’s Information

If you’re a parent here looking for whether or not your child should play this game, here’s the place to look.  Not taking into account the quality of the actual game, here’s what you need to know:

Here in the US, the ESRB rated this M for Mature for the following reasons:  Blood and Gore, Intense Violence  Click here for details.

In Europe, PEGI rated this as appropriate for 18 and older.  They stated the following: It contains: Extreme violence – Violence towards defenceless people. (They spelled defenseless wrong…)

In Germany, USK rated this for 16 and older only.  In Australia, the ACB rated this M, which means 15 and older for: Strong violence and online interactivity.

Would I let my child play it?  Well, he’s only 5…so, no.  He has walked into the room while I was playing and expressed a distaste for the way the orcs look.  He said he wasn’t scared, but he said they were scary and gross.  Anyways, mature is a good rating for this game simply due to the extreme violence shown.  You are quite literally chopping the heads off of orcs for much of the game.  In the Fight Pits, your orc may even hold up the severed head of his now dead opponent to show it to you.

If you’re totally okay with extreme violence and you just want to know what else you should know:  there is no foul language, no drug references and while Shelob (an important character) is very sexualized compared to the original media, there is no sex, simulated or implied.  

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Understanding the ESRB rating system

Who and What is the ESRB?

The Entertainment Software Rating Board is a non-profit, self-regulatory body–BLAH, BLAH, BLAH.  Essentially, it’s a group of people who review the content of games (and, as of 2015, apps) and determine the recommended age for playing such content.  All of the ESRB raters are adults who have some experience with children (parents, educators and caregivers).  To prevent influence from outside sources, the raters remain anonymous.

The ESRB works with retailers, big and small, to ensure that your children are not purchasing these games.  The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that video games are a constitutionally-protected form of expression, and that laws restricting their sale or rental based upon violent content would be unconstitutional.  These retailers, like GameStop, Best Buy, WalMart and hundreds up hundreds of others are voluntarily restricting the sale of M and AO rated games.

What do the ratings mean?

esrb_content_descriptors

 

You will see images like this on the back of videogame boxes.  This particular one is rated E for everyone and lists two factors leading to the rating.

 

There are 7 possible ESRB ratings that you may see:

Early Childhood Rating

 

Early Childhood – This content is intended for young children.

 

Everyone Rating

 

Everyone – This content is suitable for all ages.  It may contain carton/fantasy/mild violence and even some use of mild language.

 

E10 Rating

 

 

Everyone 10+ – This content is suitable for ages 10 and up.  It can have minimal suggestive themes.

 

Teen Rating

 

Teen – This content is suitable for ages 13 and up.  It can contain things like violence, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and some strong language.

 

M Rating

 

Mature – This content is suitable for ages 17 and up.  It may contain strong violence, blood and gore, sexual content and strong language.

 

AO Rating

 

Adults only – This content is not suitable for children under 18.  It can contain prolonged intense violence, graphic sexual content and real gambling (with real currency).

 

Rating Pending

 

Rating Pending – This is exactly what it sounds like, the rating has not been assigned yet.  It will be replaced with the appropriate rating once assigned.

 

There are many additional descriptors that can be used with these ratings.  Many are self-explanatory:  Alcohol Reference, Animated Blood, Nudity, Real Gambling.  There is no real question what these mean.  Others can be more ambiguous:  Mild/Moderate/Strong Language.  The word mild (according to ESRB’s own website) is intended to convey low frequency, intensity or severity.  Others that can be used include Sexual Content, Strong Lyrics, Partial Nudity, Use of Alcohol/Drugs/Tobacco and Violent References.  This list is not all-inclusive, but just offers a few of the warning descriptors you may find while browsing through the videogame section.

 

How do you decide if you should buy the game?

Those additional descriptors listed on the box are there to help you in making the decision to buy or not buy a game for a child.  Sometimes games are rated Teen, but they are suitable for some younger children.  You cannot lump every 12 year old together and say “NO!  You can’t play that game!  You’re not 13!”  Some children can handle things earlier than others and some cannot make the distinction between real and fantasy.  These ratings are not the end all be all of ratings; they are a guideline and should be used as such.  It very much depends on the child, which is where you, the parent, come in and make the final decision.

Games like Grand Theft Auto V and Middle-Earth: Shadow of War are rated M for a reason.  If you have a 15 year old asking for an M rated game, do your research before you rush out and buy it for them because “Victor’s mom bought it for him!”  Maybe Victor’s mom doesn’t know what it is…or maybe Victor’s grandma bought it for him because Victor told her it was totally okay for him to play it.   My mom wouldn’t have a clue if my son wanted a game that wasn’t age-appropriate; she would buy it for him because he wants it.  Me being a gamer makes it pretty rough for him to sneak anything past me when it comes to games.

Hit up YouTube for a gameplay video, not a trailer.  Remember that trailers have to be suitable for all audiences or they wouldn’t be able to air them on basic cable.  If the game isn’t out yet, you will have a harder time finding content.  If the game is out…believe me, YouTubers are playing it and posting videos.  There is a kind of video called a “Let’s Play” video that is literally just some YouTuber playing the game.  YouTube is your friend.  Google is your friend.

Now, I know what you’re thinking…I don’t have time for that, right?  This could be the difference between your kid playing a game that condones the player killing cops and not playing that.  Take 15-20 minutes to make sure that you want your kid playing the game you’re about to buy.  Beyond that, ASK.  Asking the sales clerk at the store can sometimes tell you all you need to know.  Sometimes they’re useless and don’t know anything about the game, but if you go to a place like GameStop…they’ll know.

Online Interactions

One thing to note when purchasing a game is the online functionality.  I know, we’re getting into the deer in the headlights look territory for non-gamers…but stay with me.  Online interactions are not rated by the ESRB.  What does that mean?  It means that your kid could be exposed to who knows what online.  In this generation of gaming, people use headsets to communicate online.  Some of those people are not nice people.  Don’t ban all games with online-play; that’s not the answer.  Just pay attention.  Mature rated games will have much rougher online scenes than Everyone rated games just based on the median age of the players drawn to that type of game (there are some exceptions).

 

The Bottom Line

The bottom line on this is simple.  Educate yourself.  Know what the ratings mean and pay attention to the descriptors.  You are the only one who can decide if your child is mature enough to handle the situations in a game.  I cannot say it enough, education is the key here.  This should go without saying, but if you feel that your child is too young to play a game, it doesn’t matter what Victor’s mom thinks.

The ESRB has a Parent Resources Center that you should check out if your child has a console that you know nothing about.  The consoles have built-in options to help you restrict what your child can and cannot do and play on the system.  It varies by console, you should definitely give it a look.

Got a kid asking for a game and you aren’t sure about it?  Drop me a comment and I’ll do my best to help you out.

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How scary is Google?

Google is Scary

Flashback a year and a half:  I’m reading this random article I found while article jumping around the internet and I find some crazy links to different aspects of Google.  Evidently Google was invading our lives much more than some of us realized.  This Google tracking is nuts.

Fast forward, now, to the present:  People still do not realize how much Google knows and keeps track of.  They keep your search history for up to 9 months.  Why?  I suppose there could be a variety of reasons that Google could use to justify this.  It would be awesome if there were a way to determine that someone was crazy and about to blow up a building, right?  Sure, but let’s be honest, the people who are blowing up buildings are not going to sit down and pull up Google to search for directions on how to make a pipe bomb.  They might hit up the dark web, but not Google.

What is Google tracking?

Two of the ways that Google learns about you and what you do are Google Timeline and Google History.  These are both linked to your Google account and all of the devices that you use said Google account on.

Google Timeline  They know exactly what roads I take to drive to and from work.  And they know when I stopped at the McDonald’s outside of the store I work at!  They track what time I leave (and arrive), how long I drive and each stop I make along the way and how long I stayed.  Now, the GPS isn’t perfect; when I picked my son up from pre-school last year, Google thought I was going to some Yoga place.  It doesn’t know me as well as it thinks it does…I would die before visiting a yoga place.

Google History  This one can tell me what videos I’ve watched on YouTube, what I’ve entered into the search bar on YouTube, what applications I used on my phone (possibly only those downloaded from the Play Store, uncertain), when and with what device I connected to my Google account, what I’ve searched Google for and what I’ve searched Google for using the voice search function on my phone!  I can even see that I sent text messages…not the content or the receiver, but that I used the messaging app.

What Can I Do?

This stuff is far from new, but you would be amazed how many people do not realize exactly what Google is doing while they innocently search and browse the web or drive to work.  The world that we live in has changed so drastically over the last couple of decades.  The idea of privacy today is very different from when I was a kid.  So, what can you do to protect your anonymity online?  Well, there are a lot of things you can do.  Here are just a handful of tips to get you started:

  1.  Tor Browser:  Tor is a browser that enables anonymous internet browsing.  Essentially, it routes your traffic through encrypted layers to obscure the origin of the traffic.  Does the average person need Tor Browser?  Not really, but you have every right to browse anonymously.  What you do while you are online is your business, not the NSA’s.
  2. Do Not Track:  This is an option that should be found in the privacy settings on your browser.  This only works if the web server is set up to accept Do Not Track messages, but it doesn’t hurt to turn it on.  Extra security is extra security.
  3. Block third-party cookies:  This is something that everyone should do.  This is how advertising companies track your browsing.  It by no means makes you anonymous online, but why let the advertising companies snoop on your every move.  Every browser has an option to block third-party cookies.
  4. Blocking Location Data:  Many sites have now begun to ask to use your location data.  The main purpose, in most cases, is to shove targeted advertising down your throat.  Most browsers will have an option to turn off location data.

There are tons more things you can do, depending on how badly you want (or need) to hide your identity online…some are easy and free, others are more difficult and cost money.  I’m not going to get into the more advanced stuff, but searching Google (lol) will give you the information you seek.  As an alternative to Google, you can use DuckDuckGo.  This is a search engine that stores no personal information and doesn’t track you.  Google results are typically better than any of these types of engines, but for most browsing DuckDuckGo will be more than sufficient.

I’m not one of those crazy paranoid people that thinks Google cares what I search for online or that the NSA even knows I exist, but privacy is continuing to become a rarity in this world.  These are just a couple of ways to hold onto a little bit of it.

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