Ask a Gamer 3: Is Halo good for a party?

Posted on February 12, 2015

The single most common question I get from parents interested in booking a Game Truck party is around the types of games that are available. My general rule is that we want games that are age-appropriate, split screen multiplayer, accessible, fun, with a moderate amount of competition. But an email I received from a parent of a 10-year old today asked,

The birthday boy was asking about a game called Halo and whether that was available?

In theory, yes. I have copies of Halo 4 in the Truck – this is the most recent instalment in the massive series that has sold over 60 million units since its first instalment in 2001. Halo absolutely cemented the potential for first-person shooters on home consoles (rather than PCs), and has perhaps the richest transmedia offering (books, films, comics) of any game franchise. A particularly good thing for Halo in the Truck is that it supports Xbox’s System Link feature, which means that multiple consoles can be linked together to play in the one game. This is really really fun,and my general opinion is that Halo is a fantastic franchise: one of my all-time favourites.

It’s important to know a bit about the game before answering this parent’s question, though. Halo is a first-person shooter, which means that you play as a character with a gun but you can’t usually see that character’s body – often the gun appears in the bottom of the screen. (The video above uses some third-person camera angles for effect.) The core gameplay mechanic is shooting enemies that you see on the screen: they are either computer-generated characters or sometimes your friends playing on another screen or via split screen. It is often possible (as in Halo 4) to play cooperatively with your friends against the computer.

A lot of parents see this gameplay style as unacceptably violent, and the Australian Classification Board has rated Halo 4 as Mature (M), meaning that it is moderate in impact and recommended for teenagers aged 15 and over. As is usually the case, the presence of a parent or other adult ‘exercising parental control’ can moderate the impact of the game. It is not illegal for children under this age to access the material because it is an advisory category, but many parents are wary of their younger children playing M games.

The impact guidelines for Halo 4; source: Australian Classification Board

The impact guidelines for Halo 4; source: Australian Classification Board

Why has Halo 4 received this rating? Well, ‘Science fiction violence’ is pretty much exactly what you see in the video above; this is the game in its most dynamic competitive mode. It is clear that the action is quite stylised and non-realistic, with super-powered jumps, futuristic vehicles, and flashing shields reducing the realism of the violence. This is much less graphic and gory than you will see in a franchise like Call of Duty or Battlefield, which is why those games receive the more restrictive MA (15+) rating.

‘Gaming experience may change online’ is a reference to the fact that online gameplay opens the player up to a wider public that may require more cyber safety awareness and monitoring. Griefing and other anti-social activities might occur, not to mention facing players who may have a much higher proficiency, and lots of parents like their kids to keep away from this world altogether. The good news is that the Game Truck has no online play at all (all the players in any given game are inside the truck), which allows all the gameplay to be quite closely monitored and supervised.

Given all this, there is quite a good chance that a group of players even as young at 10 might experience Halo 4 as an appropriate offering for a birthday party. However, the classification guideline is essential here: ‘Parents and guardians may need to find out more about the film or computer game’s specific content, before deciding whether the material is suitable for their child.’ Having a look at a few online videos like the one above is a good way to start.

Having an adult around can help moderate the impact of more mature titles

Having an adult around can help moderate the impact of more mature titles

In this case, the choice of games for a particular age needs to remain absolutely at the discretion of parents: and not just parents of the hosting child, but also parents of all the guests. That’s why I’m developing a process to allow all parents of a given party to give consent for their child to play games that are outside the recommended age range of the players: this gives customers and partygoers choice and freedom, but also respects the rights of parents to control what media their children engage with.

Do you think that parents have a right to control what their child would play at a Game Truck party? What is a practical way of doing this? Comment below!

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