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Rated 'M' for Mainstream

By Monica Vila

At PTA and other parent forums around the country, there's an ongoing discussion around the topic of Internet safety and the ubiquitous digital world of our kids. Smartphones on school buses, iPads in the classroom, Wikis to cooperate on projects, S Drives to check for study sheets and home work... There's no choice -- technology is everywhere now, and anxious parents must garner as much information as they can. They rush home to install filters and adopt "new rules around the house" in an effort to protect their kids from inappropriate content, conduct and contact.

Along with cyber-bullying, viruses, phishing scams, sexting and Facebook, the issue of video games always comes up. Questions such as violence-induced behaviors, limitless screen time, and rising obesity abetted by endless hours of game-playing dominate the discussion. For the most part, parents adopt one of three positions:

1. THE OSTRICH - "It's no big deal -- boys will be boys and they like to shoot things." (This is normally the group that is unaware that M-rated means appropriate for age 17 and older.)

2. THE DILIGENT - "I always select games based on ESRB ratings and share that information with other parents."


3. THE SCARED - "Video games are EVIL -- not in my house!"

While the body of work pointing to the value of selecting the right video games for your kids is enormous -- I recommend the Harvard Business Review's The Gamer Disposition -- there are a large number of parents and caregivers who simply don't have a lot of time to get educated and catch up with the times and the latest information.

So I set out to talk to the moms and dads behind the creation, production and distribution of video games to find out how they handle the negative perception on the part of friends, family, and neighbors. I asked them about their parenting style and advice for families.

The first response I received to my request for tech parent interviews were the folks at Microsoft's Xbox 360 division. They gave me unfettered access to developers, producers, marketers, product managers and testers in their facilities in Redmond, WA. And here's what these "evil doers" to some, "heroes" to others are really up to -- and how their roles as parents influence their lives and work.


Annie Spencer - Director, Platform Team and mother of 3-year-old boy. Annie holds a PhD in Child Psychology from UC San Diego and dedicated two years to working in Sweden researching the positive impact video games can have on kids' lives. She shared moving stories of the transformation that took place as young kids suffering from ADHD raised their social IQ by participating in after-school programs using video games.

How has being a mom influenced her job? "As a former researcher and teacher assistant, I have seen first-hand how kids are being helped by playing video games. They improve problem-solving skills and it motivates them to focus, which is essential for learning."

Letty Cherry - PR Director at Xbox and mother of toddler twins. Letty has no trouble communicating the value of choosing the right games for your kids and talking about balance.
How has being a mom influenced her job? "While I wasn't a gamer at the beginning of my career, I am now motivated to persuade parents and caregivers that this is an incredible tool for bonding and connecting with your kids -- I see it everyday with my own. I love how it gets them moving and how it allows them to share a great experience together"


Jeff Matsushita has a big job: he is executive producer of Kinect Rush -- A Disney Pixar Adventure. In this position, he must make many disparate elements work together -- development, design, partnerships, studio, distribution, marketing and more. He loves to bake with his 10-year-old daughter, sharing how the precision required for baking is the same as that required to produce a game like Kinect Rush.

How has being a dad influenced his job? "I came here motivated by expanding video games to new audiences because I wanted to add this (sometimes very physical) activity to all of the ways I can connect with my 10 year-old daughter. Her feedback on new games has been instrumental in how we design our games".

JJ Guajardo - JJ has my favorite job: He takes the semi-finished product and tests it by inviting hundreds of kids in the targeted ages to play the games. And while he warns the team not to base decisions regarding marketing or product development on their own kids, he sees the powerful influence that these children have on the work that goes on at the  Microsoft campus in Redmond.

How has being a dad influenced his job? "Before I became a parent, I was fascinated by the reactions kids had to our various projects. Now I feel an even stronger responsibility for capturing accurately what kids are telling us they like or learn from our games. It matters and my own children add a different dimension to how much I care about my work".

Do these sound to you like heroes, evil doers or just parents?

The above article first appeared in The Huffington Post.

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