[HDR Knowledge is a bi-weekly column written by Nayan Ramachandran and chronicles his hopes and wishes for the future of the industry. This week, we take a look how the gaming industry can better inform parents that buy games for their kids, and what is being done.]

While statistics continue to tell us that the average gamer is getting older, still lying within the umbrella of the 18-40 year old male, there are plenty of those who lie outside of that, including children. Any good parent that takes an interest in their child wants to know what their child enjoys. Instead of completely prohibiting its use, they want to help their kid by providing access to that media while still filtering out what they deem inappropriate.

hdrkdec0901.jpgThe problem, in the past, has largely been a lack of reliable sources for that kind of information. Specifically in the forum of American parenting, most parents only know what television and newspaper media tell them. There’s nothing wrong with that. Most people with common sense look to newspapers and daily news shows for trustworthy news on a variety of subjects. Those same people would assume that the information those programs provide on other subjects would be equally trustworthy.

That, as many gamers can attest to, is categorically false. Time and time again, the focus that mainstream media has had on gaming as an industry has been lopsided, only covering sensationalist angles, focusing the spotlight squarely on the most terrible offenders of public decency. Its latest victim, Manhunt 2, has become a circus freak for many mainstream outlets, as news anchors parade it around as a repulsive reminder of the dangers of mature content in today’s entertainment.

CBS’ Katie Couric offered her thoughts on the abomination, warning parents outright that it is a game not suited for any kid. She, of course, neglected to the mention that the game is not very good in the first place. She also neglected to mention that the game is in fact rated an M by the American ESRB, which means that minors are not recommended to play the game in the first place.

The issue is more than misinformation on the part of the media. Even when informed, media outlets are telling parents how they should raise their kids. News programs give advice straight from the anchorperson’s moral handbook. Sure, it may seem that they are only around to help, but that is not their job. Their job is merely to inform and to empower, and to let parents make the decision on their own.

hdrkdec0904.jpg The level of empowerment is really the issue in all of this. The more we allow third parties to tell us what is right and wrong, the less power we really have over our own lives, and our ability to make truly informed decisions. Instead of taking information and making our own choices, we are merely taking the advice our favorite news program gives us, following it like an automaton.

What are we to do? How can we turn this all around? The majority of enthusiast gaming press sources are geared towards us, the gamers, rather than the parents that make decisions for their kids. Gaming sites and magazines are not only provided information in a way that would overwhelm most non-gamers, but the analysis provided in reviews often says nothing about the game’s objectionable content or who it should be suited for. Additionally, the jargon that game reviews (and similarly, HDRL itself) throw around can be not only daunting for newcomers, but downright confusing.

This is where sites like GamerDad and WhatTheyPlay come in. Gamerdad has been around for about four years now, offering helpful game reviews from a parental point of view, informing parents on both the quality of the game as well as the content. Gamerdad is somewhat akin to Christian Movie Review sites. Both offer readers a review with an obvious but helpful slant for their target demographics. Gamerdad is an invaluable resource for parents picking games for their kids at Christmas time or for birthdays, and should always be used when looking for game recommendations.

hdrkdec0903.jpg WhatTheyPlay, on the other hand, is a lot different. Instead of offering a wealth of articles and reviews for parents to read, the site offers one page write-ups on the content within a specific game, but does not judge the actual quality of the game. The site fully addresses the the warnings provided on the ESRB ratings, explaining its context and application within the game. The site also provides a great gaming glossary, which provides parents who aren’t gamers with all the game industry specific terms, so they can not only understand what their kids talk about with their friends, but so they can understand reviews provided by the enthusiast press.

The site also provides parents with a chance to advise other parents. Under each mini-review, parents who have purchased or played the game in question can vote on the age they feel is appropriate for the game. Through multiple reviews, an aggregate is reached, and a recommended age is displayed. Readers will notice that the age listed at the bottom is usually not in line with the ESRB rating. As movie loving parents will all agree, ratings systems are often just a suggested guideline to consider.

hdrkdec0902.jpg Combined with the journalistic integrity of those running the site (including Ziff Davis alum John Davison, a gamer and father himself), it is easy to see that the site aims to show games in an unbiased light, explaining what is really going on in each game, and empowering parents to make the decision they feel is right for their child. After all, every family has its own set of values, and allowing parents to make the decision after being informed of the cold hard facts is the only fair solution.

It is encouraging to see sites springing up that aim to bridge the gap between industry know-it-alls and parents out of the loop. It is especially encouraging to see that bridge being created by parents who have been in the industry long enough to understand and explain the information clearly, rather than make gamers and games out to be a bubbling stew of miscreants and misanthropes.

[Nayan Ramachandran is a teacher and writer living in Japan, and is totally not for kids. He also writes a weekly blog, that is fun for all ages, called HDRL.]