“Grow your following of fans, assimilate rival crowds and become the coolest kid in school!”
That’s the quick teaser for Popular Wars, an online game that encourages kids to collect followers and show opponents “who’s boss.”
But, there’s a lot this description omits.
In fact, once you dig into the game, it becomes much darker.
Much to my shock, the goal of the game is to run through school, killing your opponents in order to become the most popular student.
Listed as “Appropriate” for ages 12 and up, there are already more than 3 million ratings in the App store for Popular Wars.
What’s incredibly disconcerting as a parent is that nowhere in the initial information about this game does it mention any violence.
What happens when kids play violent video games
Children and adolescent psychologist Dr Hu Kim Le told Australia’s A Current Affair: “Persistent daily habitual exposure to violence in video games can have short term and long term desensitization to violence in real life and it can affect the way you think, feel, and ultimately the way you behave.”
This alone should be enough to convince parents to oversee what game their kids are playing, yet of the 3 million who rated it, I’m positive many are kids.
So, how can parents know whether an online game is violent if the descriptions are misleading and don’t make mention of the actual violence within the game?
What should parents do about their kids and violent online video games?
Sometimes, it’s impossible to tell if an online video game is violent by simply reading the description. Often, the description and age recommendations are not accurate or intentionally misleading.
Read the reviews — really read them — to see what goes on in a game. Remember, ratings and reviews aren’t age specific. For instance, look out for descriptions like someone saying they “enjoy the popping feeling” they get from phone when they shoot people. It’s important to note that this “popping feeling” is intended to directly connect into the dopamine rewards center in your brain — meaning the game designers have successfully hacked into specific parts of the brain to reward players and keep them playing.
Are game designers fostering a generation of online gaming addicts? You bet.
Look at who is writing reviews of the online video games. You want to read reviews written by experts, not parents who impart their own opinion about whether a game is safe for children to play and whether it is good for kids. I want to read reviews by psychologists because these dig deeper into the psychology and what occurs when kids play games … and it’s what parent reviewers miss.
Get a better feel for the game by actually playing it. Sit down and go through the game with your child before he or she is allowed to have it on their phone.
If your child wants to download a video game, there may be a bigger story. Have a conversation with your child regarding the “why” behind their desire to download and play the game. Are they merely doing it because their friends are playing it and it is the cool thing to do?
Determine if the game is useful or fun. How much do kids actually know about what they are playing? I compare games to going shopping at Target. I love going there and always want to buy pillows. But, the pillows aren’t necessary. Is downloading a game necessary? Are we teaching our children how to make good choices?