Earlier this year I got myself in a bit of bother when I tried to introduce my children, Samus 5 and Blanka 3, to the popular arse-kicking simulator Street Fighter IV. I experienced an odd realisation that the fighting was significantly more kid-friendly in my head then it was in reality. It was like a reverse version of when you watch a film with your parents and the kissing suddenly becomes intensely erotic and embarrassing. Its sounds utterly ridiculous but the violence only really existed in their presence. It was like Schroedinger’s Punch.
As a result, hadokens are on the back burner for a bit and they’re back to playing the thematically identical but somehow fine Smash Bros, making me feel like a total hypocrite in the process. My own mother was ridiculously strict with violent content when I was younger (we’ve only just started to repair the childhood trauma of that time she wouldn’t let me watch Terminator 2) and I’m wary that my disapproval of toy weaponry and the like is what makes them so appealing in the first place. Perhaps I should make the most of their naturally contrary nature and enforce a household ban on spaghetti bolognese. Maybe this will make mealtimes a little less like a taut, drawn out hostage negotiation.
In any case it got me thinking about what they think about stuff that’s age inappropriate. The other night Samus spent the evening innocently singing the chorus to the Ellie Goulding song from Fifty Shades of Grey. To her, it’s just some chirpy ditty she’s heard on the radio. To me, it’s one of the most harrowing experiences of my life. But what do they think of video games that are beyond their age range?
I decided to ask them to review a couple of video games entirely on their box art and give me a score out of ten. They say never judge a book by it’s cover; but what if The Man will only let you look at the cover and you can barely read? They didn’t think about that, did They?
Manhunt doesn’t particularly fill them with excitement until I bribe them with the prospect of a snack. I’m not entirely sure that offering gingerbread in exchange for a critique of snuff movie inspired stealth games is straight out of the parenting handbook but I do consider myself a bit of a maverick.
“I think that guy is a sweetie pie” giggles Blanka pointing at a thug wearing an acid house smiley face mask and brandishing a shotgun. All of a sudden the prospect of holding a birthday party seems like it might require some strict guest list control. Mind you, he then follows this up by pulling off his socks and declaring that the game is about ‘chugging a rabbit over town’ so who knows.
Samus’ interpretation is less like discarded lyrics from ‘I am the Walrus’. ‘It’s a game where men hunt other men…’ I quickly check I haven’t got in a muddle and shown her my Grindr profile before the she adds in dramatic fashion ‘…for BATTLE!’ Her broad, hands-on-hips stance and proud, distant look makes me think she’s imagining a fencing match between noblemen rather than asphyxiation by plastic bag or smashing in heads with a hammer. I decide against correcting her and ask for the scores.
Silent Hill 2, one of the finest psychological horror games ever made, explores the protagonists sexual frustrations while watching his wife slowly die from a degenerative illness. Perhaps a little beyond the scope of a five year old, Samus nevertheless gives it a bash and assures me that it’s ‘a game about eyes, and it has no music because eyes can’t hear’. A rather literal reading of the games title and box art. I inform her that it has a character that has a pyramid for a head and she finds this completely hilarious. ‘I want to see him’. You most certainly do not young lady.
Blanka is a better judge of character on this occasion imagining him as a ‘jungle monster’ before grabbing my beautiful special edition in his gammy, crumb covered hands and proceeding to spin the discs in the case. I try to remain cool whilst I watch him simulate a DJ cuttin’ and scratchin’ with one of my favourite games, but as he smiles and nods happily at me I wonder if this is the kind of jungle monster he was referring to. Wickida-wickida.
Samus: [20 Eyes]
‘I think you are a planet and have to join up the stars. I like joining up stars. I do it my dreams.’
Samus opens her review of the Lovecraft inspired, survival horror game Eternal Darkness with a heart-melting sentiment. ‘Deeeee-ARGH! CHOOOOOOOO!’ adds Blanka while rolling around the floor. Two interesting counterpoints I’m sure you’ll agree.
I warn them that the back of the box features pictures they might find disturbing, but I’m told that the skeletal faced Roman centurion is ‘cool’ and the bearded caged man with a lost, soulless look in his eyes is ‘cute’ so what do I know.
‘You have to fight dinosaurs that roar over you’ informs Blanka. ‘Wow, fighting dinosaurs? That sounds cool.’ ‘ NO! Finding dinosaurs!’ he angrily corrects me. Jesus, I can’t even get that right.
Samus: [25 no 10 no 11 no 10 no 12 no 11. Yeah, definitely 11]
Blanka: [He shrugged his shoulders. I think that’s a 7..?]
In an attempt to prove that not all adult rated games are full of stabbing, I show them the box to Catherine, a game that explores infidelity and sexual temptation. They treat this with all the subtlety you might expect from a pair who scrunch up their faces when I have the audacity to give their mother a hug.
‘This is brilliant. It’s all inside a toilet and you’re a sheep who had to pull ladies trousers down.’ Samus inadvertently describes a game that no doubt exists somewhere on the shelves in Japan. Egged on by all the bum talk, Blanka takes it a little bit further. ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah and then you have to put sick in her hair.’
I let that hang for a bit as I wonder if it’s worth getting my three year old on a register somewhere, but oh good, he’s not finished yet. ‘And then you have to pull her fingers off.’
We need to talk about Blanka. Fortunately when I ask him if he wants to play it he quickly says ‘No thanks. Way too scary.’ Not as scary as the inside of your head, sunshine.
Finally we come to the box of one of the finest games ever made, the utter masterpiece that is Bloodborne.
Blanka kicks off the discussion by firmly establishing his place as the Oliver Read of this roundtable by removing his t-shirt and swinging round his head. Samus and I get into a bit of a confusing discussion where she appears to think that I’m, personally, on the box. I don’t manage to get to the bottom of what she was getting at before Blanka interrupts to tell me that the game involves ‘shoving baddies in the face’.
Samus asks what the game is called and then suggests that the game is about ‘putting blood into a jug and drinking it’. Weirdly, both of these comments are rather accurate. Stranger still, I inform them there’s still a boss I haven’t beaten and Samus gives me the genuinely brilliant advice, ‘all you have to do is calm down and concentrate’.
I’m left with the uneasy thought that they’re sneaking downstairs in the dead of night to play one of the most notoriously unforgiving and difficult games ever made before they’ve got a complete hanble on the bifference detween d anb b.
So there we have it. Hardly conclusive, useful, nor in any way interpretable evidence of the effect of adult rated box art on a young mind but it was at least better mannered than your average episode of The Late Review. Turns out you can’t judge a book by its cover. Well done They. Well done.