I've often criticised parents for not taking enough responsibility for the gaming habits of their children, but an experience I had over the weekend gives me hope that there are indeed responsible parents out there.
I was at a GameStop off of Dallas Highway in Marietta, Georgia on New Year's Day, looking through the used bins for rare gems, when a rare gem of a parent went up to the counter. The dark-haired older woman was in the market for a Nintendo Wii, but was concerned that her 14-year-old son might meet undesirable people using the system's online capabilities.
This is the point where those of us familiar with the online capabilities of the various consoles laugh, but for a parent unaware that the Nintendo Wii has the most frustratingly secure online gaming experience of the big three, the question is an important one.
"What I want to know is can strangers get to my son online using the Wii," the woman asked the GameStop clerk, who began stumbling through an answer. The clerk obvious wasn't very familiar with the Wii, so I chimed in. I explained that the Wii was probably the most secure of the three consoles, and for the most part any online interactions not governed by the use of friend codes were completely anonymous.
"I just want to make sure perverts can't get to my child," she explained, indicating a thoroughly embarrassed teenage boy standing behind her, trying hard not to be seen. Parents only embarrass us because they care.
"What about voice chat?" she continued, perhaps not content with the reassurances of a scruffy game writer with facial piercings and a used copy of Rumble Roses for the PlayStation 2 in his hand. A salt-and-pepper-haired older gentleman waiting in line answered, explaining that unless she purchased the optional microphone attachment her son was safe from communicating with strangers.
"I monitor every game my sons play," the man offered. "When they are playing a game, I'm there with them, making sure they aren't being bothered by strangers."
The two paired off and began talking quietly, and I paid for my purchases and left the store, pondering what I had just witnessed. It was the sort of parental display I thought only occurred in the minds of ESRB employees trying to spread the word about the importance of ratings. Sure, the woman's concern bordered on paranoia, and a young person might think the father's attention too overbearing, but they're both parents whose children aren't likely to be lured away by strangers on the internet, and that's a good thing.
It was heartwarming to know that I was wrong, at least about two parents shopping in a Marietta GameStop on Christmas Day.