As a member of the first generation of gamers who grew up with video games a central part of their lives, I did not have gamers for parents. They mostly saw gaming as a ‘kid’ activity. What few games we had that they were interested in I remember very fondly. We spent many hours conquering the galaxy. But by and large, I was left to my devices to find and play games.
The ESRB did not come around until I was 12 years old, and even then it was not widely known or followed, so there was very little to guide the purchasing decisions for my parents. It worked out well, with only a few exceptions. But now that I am on the other side of the equation, I see that some of the games I play and enjoy are not appropriate for children. As I sit down with my daughter, nieces and nephews, I am reminded of that fact very sharply.
So what are we to do as parents these days? Start by paying attention to what your kids play. Just like paying attention to the TV and Movies they watch. Do not buy them a game without doing at least a few minutes of research on the type of game, the ESRB rating, or reading a couple of articles about them. If you feel the game is appropriate, sit down and play a couple of rounds with them. Or at least watch them as they play. Games are a wonderful way to learn about the world, but they are not babysitters. A game does not care about the age of the person playing it.
With all that said, do not necessarily shy away from games that are sometimes considered ‘adult’. The greatest example of this I have ever heard was a father playing Grand Theft Auto with his kids. All they would do was drive around the city and obey the traffic laws. He would have his kids call out the colors, make and model of the cars as they passed them. There was no violence, or adult content at all in their experience of one of the most adult franchises in gaming.
You can even enhance their gaming experiences without having to play the games themselves. Be available to look up where quests will take them, or read the wiki information of games to answer questions, or use the experiences in the games as jumping off points for discussions with your kids. Ask them what they are playing, what they learned, and how did it make them feel. The games they are playing can be a jumping off point for you to talk about history, culture, ethics, morals, life, etc. Use the experience of something they love to bond with them.
The times I spent gaming with my parents were some of the best of my childhood. I guarantee the times you spend gaming with your kids will be some of the best of theirs.