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Video games have grown in number, variety, and consumer market penetration, encroaching more aggressively into the domestic realm. Within the home therefore, parents whose children play video games have to exercise mediation and supervision. As video games evolve, parental mediation strategies have also had to keep pace, albeit not always successfully. By transposing our appreciation of parental concerns over the historical development of video games, we propose an analytical framework identifying key affordances of video games, elucidating how their evolution has distinct implications for effective parental mediation. These affordances are portability, accessibility, interactivity, identity multiplicity, sociability, and perpetuity.
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Running head: CHALLENGES TO PARENTAL MEDIATION OF VIDEO GAMES
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This is the postprint version of: Jiow, Hee Jhee, & Lim, Sun Sun. (2012). The Evolution of Video Game Affordances and Implications for
Parental Mediation. Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, 32(6), 455-462. doi: 10.1177/0270467612469077
The Evolution of Video Game Affordances and
Implications for Parental Mediation
Hee Jhee JIOW
1
Sun Sun LIM
2
National University of Singapore
3
Total : 24 pages
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Hee Jhee JIOW is a graduate student researching on parental mediation of video gaming. He previously spent 10
years as a counselor for individuals with issues relating to problematic video game use.
Email: jhee@nus.edu.sg Phone: +65 97697363 Fax: +65 67794911
2
Sun Sun LIM (PhD) is an Associate Professor who researches into the social implications of technology
domestication by young people and families, with a focus on understudied and marginalized youth segments.
Email: sunlim@nus.edu.sg Phone: +65 65161175 Fax: +65 67794911
3
Department of Communications and New Media, National University of Singapore,
AS6 Level 3, 11 Computing Drive, Singapore 117416
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ABSTRACT
Video games have grown in number, variety and consumer market penetration, encroaching
more aggressively into the domestic realm. Within the home therefore, parents whose children
play video games have to exercise mediation and supervision. As video games evolve, parental
mediation strategies have also had to keep pace, albeit not always successfully. By transposing
our appreciation of parental concerns over the historical development of video games, we
propose an analytical framework identifying key affordances of video games, elucidating how
their evolution has distinct implications for effective parental mediation. These affordances are
portability, accessibility, interactivity, identity multiplicity, sociability and perpetuity.
Keywords: video games, parental mediation, evolution, affordance, challenges, analytical
framework
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Video games, defined as “an electronic or computerized game played by manipulating
images on a video display or television screen” (Prato, Feijoo, Nepelski, Bogdanowicz, &
Simon, 2010, p. 13), encompasses arcade, computer and portable handheld games. First launched
in consumer markets on a mass scale in the 1970s, the current turnover of the game industry
exceeds that of the film industry and is growing four times faster than other sectors of the media
and entertainment market (Malliet & Meyer, 2005; Prato, et al., 2010). Indeed, video games have
grown in number, variety and consumer market penetration, and have consequently encroached
more aggressively into the domestic realm. Within the home therefore, parents whose children
play video games have had to exercise mediation and supervision. Parental mediation of video
gaming has been defined as the strategies which parents employ to intervene in the relationship
between video games and their children in order to maximise their benefits while minimising any
perceived deleterious effects (Nikken & Jansz, 2003, 2006; Shin & Huh, 2011). However, as
video games evolve, parental mediation strategies have also had to keep pace, albeit not always
successfully (Nikken & Jansz, 2006).
Innovations in the video game industry have introduced new content genres, novel forms
of game play and fresh possibilities for player-to-player and player-to-game interaction, thereby
encouraging more sustained engagement with video games that enhanced their entertainment
value. But these enhancements have also triggered new concerns or amplified existing fears
about the impact of video games on players, especially children, in response to which many
parents have sought to exercise greater mediation of their children’s video game usage. By
transposing our appreciation of these parental concerns over the historical development of video
games, we propose an analytical framework identifying key affordances of video games,
elucidating how their evolution has distinct implications for effective parental mediation. We
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begin by reviewing parental mediation strategies of children’s video game play before presenting
our framework of affordances.
Parental Mediation of Children’s Video Game Play
Borrowing heavily from research on parental mediation of children’s television viewing,
literature on parental mediation of video games has broadly categorized parents’ intervention
activities into restrictive mediation, active mediation and co-playing (Nikken & Jansz, 2003,
2006; Shin & Huh, 2011). Restrictive mediation refers to the application of rules and regulations
and the influence of video game purchase to manage the child’s video gaming usage. These rules
include time of usage, duration of usage and location of usage (Livingstone & Helsper, 2008).
Playing during school holidays and weekends are common rules imposed on children’s season of
play. Parents have also been known to practice behaviour contingency allowing the child to
play only after school-work or household chores are completed. Weekly or daily time quotas are
also commonly imposed on children as a form of restrictive mediation. As such, active
monitoring by parents is paramount in ensuring that these rules and regulations are adhered to
(Nikken & Jansz, 2006). And having rules for children to play video games at home, and during
which parents are present, contributes to the ease in monitoring. Control of video game
acquisition purchasing over-the-counter or via downloading from the Internet is also a form
of parental restriction practised by parents wanting to restrict the children’s access to unhealthy
content (Oosting, IJsselsteijn, & Kort, 2008). Typically, game classification guides and content
descriptors aid parents in this selection and acquisition process (Entertainment Software Rating
Board, 2011). Active mediation refers to an active effort on the parent’s part to process, interpret
and translate video game content to their children (Nikken & Jansz, 2003, 2006). It is not
confined to just providing factual information about the gaming content, but also includes the
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imparting of parental values and judgment on the content in focus. Co-playing refers to playing
video games with the child and is typically practiced when parents have favourable attitudes
toward the game, or intend to monitor what the child is playing. The deployment of such
mediation strategies suggests that parental concerns about video games centre around various
aspects: the nature of the content to which children are exposed (with exposure to sexual or
violent content being a prime concern) (Anderson, Gentile, & Buckley, 2007), the interaction
opportunities which video games can facilitate (especially interactions with online strangers and
sexual predators) (Livingstone & Helsper, 2008), the impact that children’s excessive time-
commitment to games may have on their physical health, social development and academic
performance (Funk, 2009).
However, various challenges have been identified in effective parental mediation of
children’s video game playing (Livingstone, 2007; Livingstone & Helsper, 2008; Nikken &
Jansz, 2003, 2006). Firstly, game devices are increasingly being located in children’s bedrooms,
away from their parents’ visual radar. Secondly, co-using is problematic as gaming devices are
designed for one person’s usage, with the screen size, mouse and keyboard being too small for
shared use. Thirdly, opportunities for multitasking on game devices, and children’s superior
technical expertise compared to their parents, affords avoidance of parental monitoring. Fourthly,
co-using may prove difficult for time-starved parents because it involves significant time
investment to understand, learn and play the game. Already, many parents acknowledge that they
know little about video games (Oosting, et al., 2008).
Thus far, we have given a snapshot of the challenges facing parents of today, in their
mediation of children’s video gaming. However, the next section will relate these challenges to
the evolution of video games and our framework of key affordances.
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Evolving Video Games and Affordances
The development of video games can be broadly divided into a few major eras first
generation console (1972 1976), second generation console (1976 1983), third and fourth
generation console (1983 1995) and post-1995 (Malliet & Meyer, 2005; Prato, et al., 2010).
Each of these eras was marked by significant technological advancements in interface and
graphic design which enabled enhancements in game design features and player activity. Beyond
the game environment, the emergence of the Internet, and thereafter broadband and wireless
Internet access, location-based technologies and cloud computing, and the growing proliferation
of portable telecommunication devices are key innovations which have heralded a slew of new
possibilities for game design and game play options.
Among the many affordances of video games, we posit that the following affordances
impinge most significantly on parents’ ability to exercise effective mediation of their children’s
video game play: portability, accessibility, interactivity, identity multiplicity, sociability and
perpetuity. To this end, we explain in the following sections what each of these affordances
encompasses, chart how they have evolved over time, and discuss how these changes have
affected parents’ ability to restrict or actively mediate their children’s video game playing, or to
even engage in parent-child co-playing.
Portability
Video games have become distinctly more portable over the years. During the first
generation console era when video games first penetrated the domestic space in the early 1970s,
games were played on electronic devices such as televisions or other video monitors. Although
smaller than predecessors such as pinball and slot machines found at amusement parks (Prato, et
al., 2010), these home-based devices were by no means portable as they required power from
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electrical outlets, and consequently remained in fixed locations within the home. Slightly greater
portability was introduced during the second generation console era when handheld gaming
devices entered the market (Malliet & Meyer, 2005). However, these handhelds only had
sufficient battery capacity for 15 minutes of video game playing at a time, severely limiting their
portability (Malliet & Meyer, 2005). The situation would only change significantly in the era of
third and fourth generation consoles when handheld game devices with smaller keys and screens
such as the Nintendo Game Boy, Atari Lynx and Sega Game Gear were introduced, and battery
capacity had been considerably enhanced, ranging from four to eleven hours. Even so, these
handhelds were fairly sizeable and weighty, and carrying them around could be cumbersome.
The post 1995 era then witnessed the dawn of mobile gaming, defined as games played on
mobile devices such as mobile phones, smartphones and personal data assistants (Egenfeldt-
Nielsen, Smith, & Tosca, 2008). Small, light and streamlined, these multipurpose mobile devices
added a new dimension to device portability because one did not require a dedicated game
machine for video games. Instead, the rising ubiquity of these personally-owned mobile devices
engendered an environment where almost everyone could play video games on the move if they
so desired.
In addition to device portability, there is also the issue of game portability. Whereas first
generation console games allowed one to play with a limited range of games that were preloaded
onto the device, the second generation console era ushered in general purpose processors in
console devices that enabled users to play a larger assortment of different games stored on 8-inch
interchangeable cartridges (Prato, et al., 2010). Third and fourth generation consoles then offered
more advanced game cartridge systems in addition to employing inexpensive and light compact
discs to store the game information component, thus further enhancing game portability (Malliet
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& Meyer, 2005). With the advent of the Internet and the subsequent diffusion of wireless
broadband connections, game devices have been largely relieved of data processing burdens,
thus facilitating the playing of more complex games on mobile devices (Prato, et al., 2010). The
recent emergence of cloud computing through wireless streaming has also created wider
possibilities in accessing video games while on the move.
This growing portability has some distinct implications for parental mediation. Parental
monitoring of video game playing within the home is considerably more difficult because the
activity is no longer confined to a fixed location around which arrangements for adult
supervision can be planned and executed fairly predictably. Instead, gaming devices are now
located in children’s bedrooms more frequently than in the past, when game consoles tended to
be placed in living rooms and other communal parts of the home (Oosting, et al., 2008). Coupled
with the rise of “bedroom culture” (Bovill & Livingstone, 2001, p. 179) and the trend towards
personal rather than shared media devices, children’s bedrooms are now media-rich havens
replete with a comprehensive array of media devices. Playing video games thus becomes yet
another form of media consumption that children can engage in privately, away from parental
supervision. Furthermore, the miniaturization of screen sizes and keyboards in the interest of
device portability render co-playing and visual monitoring difficult (Livingstone & Helsper,
2008). Ironically, the miniaturization of video game devices was originally driven by the
intention to keep children at home playing console games, away from amusement parks where
visual monitoring by parents was more challenging (Oosting, et al., 2008). Instead, with
miniaturisation and portability, the ease with which children can play video games anytime and
anywhere, away from home and their parents’ active visual monitoring, poses a challenge for
restrictive and active mediation, while also minimising opportunities for co-playing.
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Accessibility
Closely linked to device and game portability is the affordance of accessibility the ease
with which one can be exposed to, come into contact with and actually play video games. When
computer game devices and personal computers required separate game components in the form
of cartridges or compact discs for play, parents could exercise gatekeeping in the selection and
purchase of games. Keeping pace with advancements in wireless Internet access and the growing
adoption of portable media devices, video games have gone beyond dedicated game consoles or
computers and are now embedded in social networking sites and Internet browsers (Klimmt,
Schmid, & Orthmann, 2009), both of which are frequently used by children who use the Internet
(Livingstone & Bovill, 2001).
Hence, even in households where parents refrain from purchasing game devices for their
children as an exercise in restrictive mediation, children with Internet access via computers,
tablets and smartphones are able to access video games. Strategic alliances between video game
developers and popular social networking sites such as Facebook and Google+ have created an
online environment where social interaction with peers can expose children to and encourage
them to play the free games that have been seamlessly incorporated into these sites. Similarly,
many physical toys that children play with, e.g. Lego and Barbie, now have companion virtual
worlds on the Internet that offer free online video games (Lim & Clark, 2010). With this online
convergence of play spaces and playthings” (Lim & Clark, 2010, p. 9), children may be more
drawn to these freely accessible video games and parents may also find it harder to restrict them
given that these online games seem to extend and support offline play. With a growing plethora
of video games being easily accessible across multiple platforms, and often available for play at
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no charge, parents’ ability to impose restrictive mediation via the selection and purchase of video
games has also been severely undermined.
Interactivity
The interactivity of video games, broadly defined as the magnitude of control afforded to
the player in his or her interaction with the game (Dovey & Kennedy, 2006; Klimmt, Hartmann,
& Frey, 2007; Severin & James W. Tankard, 2010; Walkerdine, 2007), has also been greatly
enhanced over the years. Salen & Zimmerman (2005) identify interactive engagements with
video games in four dimensions: cognitive, explicit, functional and beyond-the-object (p. 70).
Cognitive interactivity is defined as “the psychological, emotional, and intellectual
participation between a person and a system” (Salen & Zimmerman, 2005, p. 70). With game
devices possessing higher processing power and screen resolution, thereby offering players a
game environment that has more realistic graphics, sound and in-game movements of player’s
characters or object, the immersiveness of games has been intensified. While a more immersive
game experience is not problematic in and of itself, it may exert a greater pull on the player, with
consequences for greater time commitment to the game (Yee, 2006). Accompanying the
heightened realism of games is greater complexity, with some video game genres evolving to
become more difficult to learn and play, with role playing games in particular having very
complex rules for players to build up their own characters (Malliet & Meyer, 2005). Such games
give players a purpose and mission in a storyline, thereby promoting a sense of achievement
(Yee, 2006). However, the time-consuming and involving nature of such protracted game play
limits the extent to which parents, who typically have time constraints, can exercise active
mediation and co-playing because parents will find it harder to comprehend how the games
function (Nikken & Jansz, 2006).
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Video games also have evolved in their level of explicit interactivity, defined as
“participation with designed choices and procedures [with] choices, random events, dynamic
simulations, and other procedures programmed into the interactive experience” (Salen &
Zimmerman, 2005, p. 70). It is in the levels of explicit interactivity that the evolution of video
games has seen marked changes. While explicit interactivity is not inherently problematic, there
has been a discernible increase in the incorporation of violent and sexually explicit scenarios into
gameplay, thereby demanding that players simulate sexual and violent acts as they interact with
the game. Violence in video games has been a growing concern since the introduction of Death
Race during the first generation console era. It was the first game to award players bonus points
for decimating ‘living’ creatures, thus alarming parents and policymakers through its explicit
depiction of violence and igniting concerns about the morality of games and their players
(Egenfeldt-Nielsen, et al., 2008; Malliet & Meyer, 2005). Anxieties were further heightened by
the Columbine shooting of 1999, where two teenagers went on a shooting rampage using
weapons similar to those in their frequently played game, Doom, with questions arising about the
effects of violent video games (Funk, 2005; Herman, Horwitz, Kent, & Miller, 2002). Similarly,
the inclusion of sexual simulations in games has also raised the alarm about media effects, a
notable example being Grand Theft Auto which had sexual simulations surreptitiously embedded
in the game (Glater, 2008). Along with other content issues such as simulations of profanities,
drug or tobacco consumption (Entertainment Software Rating Board, 2011), these explicit
simulations place a considerable burden on parental mediation, particularly given the hidden
nature of some of these simulations such as in Grand Theft Auto. With the growing
encroachment of mature violent and sexual content into games, parents need to exercise even
greater vigilance in understanding the content and nature of games before they can decide how to
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calibrate their mediation efforts. This involves a more assiduous use of game ratings and
conducting independent research on the scenarios that their children may encounter in game
play. Only with such information can parents decide whether restrictive mediation, active
mediation or co-playing is the most effective strategy for supervising their children.
Over time, video games have also begun to also offer richer functional interactivity:
“functional, structural interactions with the material components of the system” (Salen &
Zimmerman, 2005, p. 70). Notably, technological advances in screen resolution have resulted in
better quality pictures that enable the development of more realistic visual perspectives for video
game players (Egenfeldt-Nielsen, et al., 2008). This has been accompanied by the introduction of
fake guns, motion control sensors, earphones and virtual helmets, which make the gameplay
experience more realistic and highly immersive (Cummings, 2007; Skalski, Tamborini, Shelton,
Buncher, & Lindmark, 2011). While an immersive gameplay experience can be highly rewarding
and gratifying for the individual player, it makes parental mediation more challenging on a
practical level. When children play video games using devices such as virtual helmets and
earphones, parents are impeded in their ability to see and hear what the players are experiencing,
thus constraining their ability to monitor and supervise gameplay.
Beyond the object-interactivity adds yet another dimension to parental mediation of
video game playing. Referring to interactions beyond the immediate gaming experience (Salen &
Zimmerman, 2005), such interactivity among video game players takes place within video
gaming clans, communities and websites that centre around specific games or game genres.
Online communities of this nature are especially prevalent for role-playing games where players
go online to exchange tips, share gaming strategies and even transact in game-related
‘commodities’ and paraphernalia. Indeed, there have been several instances of young people
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who, under pressure to excel in a game, have fallen into debt by spending exorbitant sums
purchasing in-game ‘weapons’ without their parents’ knowledge or approval (Lehdonvirta,
Wilska, & Johnson, 2009; Tassi, 2012). Interacting in this extended milieu fuels the achievement
factor in players, involves and encourages greater time and financial investment and further
inculcates a personal attachment to the game, contributing possibly to game addiction (Yee,
2002, 2006). In which case, additional pressure is exerted on parents to mediate not only in-game
but also beyond-game activity.
Identity multiplicity
Intertwined with the affordance of interactivity is that of identity multiplicity. Unlike
simple and straightforward games from the first generation console era, today’s games offer
increasingly rich, multi-layered environments, as exemplified by Massively Multiplayer Online
Role Playing Games (MMORPGs), which enable players to assume and maintain multiple
identities. For children and adolescents still in their formative stages of life, identity exploration
and experimentation can be a rewarding exercise which helps them to define a sense of self
(Meyers, Fisher, & Marcoux, 2009), particularly online where social pressures are diminished.
Yet these virtual environments are not divorced from the players’ offline lives because online
actions are shaped by and in turn shape individuals’ behavioural assumptions and attitudes
(Castronova, 2005). The mutual influence between an individual’s online and offline experiences
are what complicate parental mediation of children’s video game playing. Identity formation and
assertion online and offline, while interconnected, involve different verbal, visual and social cues
and parents need to guide children on which cues are appropriate in which contexts, and explain
how their online experiences relate to their overall development as an individual.
Sociability
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Whereas the unidimensional games of the first and second generation console eras may
have involved some measure of socialisation centred around playing games together in a shared
physical setting, games today offer social interaction of an unprecedented nature. Shortly after
the world welcomed its first video game, Pong in 1972, two-player formats for play were offered
(Herman, et al., 2002). Second generation console games introduced multiplayer formats of play,
but still kept gamers interacting within the immediate vicinity of the device. In the post 1995 era,
the arrival of the Internet facilitated multiplayer formats of play with real people around the
world and across different time zones (Prato, et al., 2010). But such requirements of sociability
raise the possibility of children interacting with strangers online, with one study finding that 33%
of game players participate in online games with strangers (Mitra, 2010). At the same time,
location-based technologies are being increasingly incorporated into the mobile gaming
experience (Hall, 2005).With the growing incorporation of location-aware technologies into
game design, players’ ability to physically track and locate other players introduces greater risk
to children’s interactions with strangers online. And yet, as player-to-player interactions during
video gaming is not a primary but peripheral activity, they are difficult to anticipate and monitor
because of the serendipitous way in which such interactions may occur. In such circumstances,
parents have to strategically allow their children to enjoy the benefits of in-game sociability,
while apprising their children of the attendant risks and perhaps installing safety features to
minimise these risks.
Perpetuity
Perpetuity, the ability to play a video game endlessly with no clear end in sight, was not a
characteristic of first generation games that were designed to terminate after a fixed period of
time or when the player had completed a discrete task. It was only during the era of the second
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generation console that the affordance of perpetuity was prominently introduced. Space Invaders
was the first video game that had no resolute ending in that players could play interminably in
pursuit of new challenges each time (Malliet & Meyer, 2005). Perpetuity would significantly
intensify when role-playing game genres were introduced, offering and demanding continuous
play before players would see tangible results (Egenfeldt-Nielsen, et al., 2008).
A growing proportion of games, especially MMORPGs, are characterised by perpetuity
(Yee, 2002). Even games that do come to a resounding end have sequels which game developers
release in rapid succession to enable and encourage players to play interminably. With online
game servers being on 24/7, players can also play online video games anywhere and anytime as
long as they have wireless Internet access. Other game genres have also evolved to offer
perpetuity as well. Casual games that are typically used as time-fillers between daily activities
can now be suspended and returned to at any time, encouraging players to play incessantly
(Egenfeldt-Nielsen, et al., 2008; Hjorth, 2011). In other words, even games which are not
purposively designed to be played for long periods lend themselves well to prolonged play.
The main implication of the perpetuity of games for parental mediation lies in the time
commitment that such game playing demands, raising then secondary issues of addiction
(Mentzoni et al., 2011; Ng & Wiemer-Hastings, 2005). Indeed, in most MMORPGs, gameplay is
dominated by time-on-task (Hall, 2005, p. 52), where the players who excel are the ones who
dedicate the most time to developing strong in-game characters. Extant research has
demonstrated the adverse impact of excessive game play on children’s academic performance via
the time displacement effect (Hauge & Gentile, 2003). Beyond more extreme situations of
excessive play and addiction, other concerns prevail about the perpetuity of games that require
players to monitor the online game space throughout the day, engaging in multi-tasking to do so
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e.g. simultaneously doing homework and playing online games on the computer. There is as yet
no broad agreement on the impact of multi-tasking, although some research suggests that online
multi-tasking may negatively influence cognitive processing and with adverse long-term effects
(Kenyon, 2008). Along with the time commitment required, multitasking poses a challenge for
children to accurately ascertain their own playing time. As such, restrictive mediation involving
limits on gaming time will be very difficult to implement, and active mediation involving parent-
child discussions on the child’s time use may not be very productive. Needless to say, a game
managed through multi-tasking would also render parent-child co-playing impossible.
Implications for Parental Mediation
As discussed above, the evolution of video games and their enhanced affordances of
portability, accessibility, interactivity, identity multiplicity, sociability and perpetuity, have
considerable implications for parental mediation of children’s video game playing, as
summarised in Table 1:
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Table 1
Affordance
Previous
Present
Implication(s)
Portability
Game devices limited to fixed
locations such as arcades or
living rooms.
Game components less
portable, e.g. 8-inch
cartridges.
Wide range of highly portable game
devices including computer game
devices, personal computers, laptops
and handheld game devices and
growing ubiquity of mobile
telecommunication products such as
mobile phones and tablet computers.
Emergence of wireless Internet and
cloud computing for access to game
information and content.
Ease of anytime-anywhere game
playing makes it more difficult to
monitor, plan and execute parental
mediation strategies.
Accessibility
Games can only be accessed
through particular channels
(e.g. arcades, consoles) and
typically involved payment or
purchase.
Video games readily accessible over
multiple channels (television,
computer, mobile phone, Internet
etc).
Growth in market of free games in
social networking sites and other
online platforms.
Parents required to monitor and
mediate access on multiple channels.
Parents’ ability to exercise
gatekeeping via purchase or payment
limited to particular game platforms
and genres.
Interactivity
Games were fairly
straightforward and with
limited interactivity.
Games are more interactive with
richer and more dynamic
environments - more complex and
immersive, involving role-playing
through realistic simulations
(sometimes of a violent or sexual
nature) and beyond-game interaction.
Enhanced interactivity can make
games more engaging, thereby
requiring greater time commitment
and possibly raising the risk of
addiction.
Interactivity also makes games more
complex, placing an added burden on
parents who wish to understand the
game so as to impose supervision and
offer guidance.
Identity
multiplicity
Games fairly simple with
limited opportunities for
identity experimentation.
Games offer rich, multi-layered
environments, e.g. MMORPGs, thus
enabling players to assume and
maintain multiple identities.
Identity formation and assertion
online and offline, while
interconnected, involve different
verbal, visual and social cues and
parents need to guide children on
which cues are appropriate in which
contexts.
Sociability
Single player formats.
Multiplayer formats with sociability
encouraged, facilitated and/or
required by the game.
Parents need to provide guidance on
the process, nature and risks of in-
game social interaction. But such
socialisation is serendipitous and
context-specific and parents need to
invest time and energy to understand
the game.
Perpetuity
Games with definite endings.
No multitasking afforded as
gaming devices have single
purpose.
Games with no endings or many
sequels.
Games can be played on
multipurpose devices, raising
opportunities for multitasking.
Considerable time commitment and
multi-tasking required of these games
may raise risks of addiction and
require more assiduous parental
monitoring.
Parents’ and players’ efforts to track
time usage may prove difficult, and
render restrictive/active mediation
ineffective.
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The enhanced affordances of portability, perpetuity (multitasking) and pervasiveness of
video games have placed a strain on parental monitoring efforts. In an always-on, always-
available, play-anywhere era, it is practically impossible for parents to have an all-encompassing
appreciation of their children’s video game play activities. Restrictive mediation tactics such as
imposing video game usage rules are logistically more difficult to enforce, whereas active
mediation and co-playing would require considerable parental investment of time and energy that
today’s time-starved parents may be unable to afford. With video games being more accessible
nowadays, parents are also hard put to exercise gatekeeping in the selection and purchase of
video games, thereby undermining the efficacy of another restrictive mediation tactic.
The interactivity, sociability and identity multiplicity of video games have also
heightened parents’ concerns about unsavoury content in video games, e.g. violence, nudity,
profanity etc, time displacement, contact with strangers and identity effects on the players. Yet,
even as parents’ anxieties about video game content grow, their ability to act on these concerns
are being significantly undermined due to the relentless evolution of these video game
affordances, as our preceding discussion has shown. The growing variety of platforms and
channels for player-player and player-game interaction, socialisation and identity assertion have
imposed a greater burden on parents who seek to supervise and guide their game-playing
children. With games being far more complex and dynamic today, parents have to constantly
play catch-up with their children to engage them in active mediation or co-playing. Indeed it has
been observed that co-playing can only be an effective mediation strategy when the current
generation of game players become parents themselves because only they will have the requisite
experience and insights into video games (Eastin, Greenberg, & Hofschire, 2006).
Conclusion
Running head: CHALLENGES TO PARENTAL MEDIATION OF VIDEO GAMES
19
In conclusion, this study has reviewed the evolution of video games and proposed an
analytical framework which identified the affordances of portability, accessibility, interactivity,
identity multiplicity, sociability and perpetuity, as posing growing challenges for parental
mediation. To the best of our knowledge, although extant research has charted significant
milestones in the development of video games (see for example Malliet & Meyer, 2005), no
prior attempt has been made to relate the evolution of these game affordances to potential
repercussions for parental mediation. However, this list of affordances is by no means exhaustive
and it is likely that parents can suggest even more affordances of video games that they perceive
as a strain on their mediation efforts. To this end, using our proposed framework as a point of
departure, we intend to address this limitation through fieldwork involving interviews and
surveys of parents and children who play video games. This issue is assuming growing
importance in this era when video games are increasingly popular amongst children and far more
accessible due to the proliferation of mobile communication devices.
Running head: CHALLENGES TO PARENTAL MEDIATION OF VIDEO GAMES
20
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