#PlayApartTogether – David Shanks, NZ Chief Censor



IGEA works with a vast array of stakeholders and industry professionals.  We’ve all seen the increased popularity, and again the power of games in keeping people connected in these unprecedented times.  As we navigate unchartered waters in dealing with a global pandemic, we’ve continued working with our games industry leaders and stakeholders on numerous issues.  Recognising we all have a role to play in flattening the curve and stopping the spread of COVID-19, IGEA will be talking to leaders and policy makers about the entertainment they are consuming and how they are practising self-isolation and social distancing.  We know many of them love digital games and we’d love to se what they are playing, what they recommend playing and if they have any tips or resources to share with the community.

We spoke with New Zealand’s Chief Censor, David Shanks about how he and his family are occupying themselves during self isolation and how they #PlayApartTogether


What tasks are you undertaking to keep yourself (and/or your family) occupied during these times of self-isolation, and physical and social distancing?

My lockdown “bubble” (as we call it here in New Zealand) includes my wonderful wife Toni and three children.  The ages of the children span 6, 13 and 15 years of age, and we have two cats and a dog in the mix as well.  So plenty of scope for trouble there.  To help manage things Toni came up with the inspired idea of running a “Survivor Island – Family Pandemic Edition” reality type daily routine.  We have immunity challenges, tribal council, all the set-pieces from the venerable reality show.  Of course, no-one can actually be “voted off the island” in our case, but you gain ‘immunity’ from having to do chores or tasks – which is all the incentive the kids need to get fully involved.  We even have a trophy.  It’s brilliant! 

Why these particular activities?

Lots of the challenges on our ‘island’ involve games that everyone can play, including Bridie (my 6 year old daughter).  It turns out that she is a highly competitive Jenga player.  My 15 year old son also convinced us to play Tetris for an immunity challenge – he beat us all pretty easily, but it reminded me of what a great classic game that is!

I’m old enough to associate video games with arcades, and probably the last video game I would say that I mastered was Virtua Cop 2.  I was also a ‘House of the Dead’ fan.  Arcades were an interesting social melting pot in the ‘90’s, but they have never entirely gone away.  I had the opportunity to go along with the whole family to an old-school style arcade in Christchurch recently – it was a lot of fun.

What games are your family playing?

All of my kids play games, with Minecraft probably being the best example of one that spans all ages, and is a game they will play together sometimes.  My 13 year old daughter is horse mad and plays something called star stable (the name sticks in my mind because I see it on bank statements quite regularly!). My eldest has built his own gaming computer and spent a significant part of lockdown upgrading it with a water-cooling system, so I guess you would say he is the most dedicated of us when it comes to games.

Are there any games you recommend?

A few years ago I found Portal to be a fascinating game for its premise, visual aesthetic and complicated challenges.  I also thought Life is Strange had a really interesting premise and gameplay.  I am interested in the forthcoming release of ‘The Last of Us 2” both professionally (the pre-release promos appear quite over the top in terms of violence and cruelty) but also personally because I found the original game to be extremely well crafted.   We get the opportunity to assess many big game releases for classification well ahead of their public release, and I find it fascinating to see how the industry is evolving.

 What resources do you recommend to assist parents and carers manage and monitor game play for their children?

I think games can be a fantastic pastime, and a lot of people (including parents) will be finding them something of a lifesaver at the moment!  In my job running the Classification Office I need to have regard to the potential implications for children and vulnerable people from media that is becoming increasingly realistic and engrossing.  One important resource I always remind people of are the official ratings and classifications – these are one of the best indicators you can find to help inform choices about whether a particular game might be suitable for your child.  We take a lot of care to ensure that the right sort of warnings and guidance is provided for consumers.

In our research and engagement with both parents and young people it is increasingly clear that parental oversight, filters and locks can also provide an important role in keeping younger children safe, but there is a transition point when the technical capability of the child starts to exceed that of the parent, and filters become less applicable.  That transition point varies with different children and families but often it is somewhere in the mid-teens.  At that point, staying engaged with your child, taking the opportunity to play games or watch films with them, and letting them know that they can approach you for help and guidance when they need support becomes key.  We have good resources at www.classificationoffice.govt.nz to help parents manage both sides of that divide.




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