Should I Let My Kids Play Watch Dogs? Well, That Depends

Discussing elements parents might find uncomfortable or objectionable in the new Watch Dogs game
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Having spent the weekend with Watch_Dogs, I think there are some interesting takeaways for parents. As with any parenting decision, the ultimate answer is some combination of your values, your child’s maturity, and your comfort zone, but I’ll share some general notes on what you can expect in Ubisoft’s new release to help you decide what’s right for your family.

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Is Watch_Dogs a Kids Game?

Nope. It’s not. The ESRB rated it  M for Mature, and our own Watch_Dogs review (written by a parent gamer) recommends that players be age 16 or older to jump in. What elements might parents what to consider before allowing or denying their kids the controller?

Language: Cursing happens in the storyline dialogue and from random NPCs (non-player characters) on the street.

Sexual / Criminal / Drug Themes: Especially when using the main character’s Profiling Hack, a walk down the street can get… interesting. That guy over by the convenience store may have a profile noting that he has a Zombie Fetish (a real example we encountered in the game) or that lady waiting to cross the street may be a drug dealer. If you aren’t comfortable with your child encountering some colorful descriptions of humanity, beware.

Implied Sexual Violence: Watch Dogs deals with human trafficking and in one scene, a female character is pulled into a room where it is strongly implied she is sexually assaulted. Your character isn’t the one doing the assaulting, but parents may still be uncomfortable with this scene. 

Violence: Shooting and beating the ‘bad guys’ is unavoidable; in fact both happen in the first 10 minutes of the game. Running over innocent pedestrians is very doable, even on accident. That said, depending on your child’s leanings, the game can be played in a Batman-esq ‘save the citizens’ way, or in a more GTAV ‘run everyone over and blow up everything’ way. You likely already have a good idea which way you child will lean, and whether you’re comfortable with the game experience that will result.

The Case for ‘Yes’

Why you might be comfortable letting your kids play Watch_Dogs

It’s not breaking any new, objectionable ground. If your family already played GTAV together, they won’t be seeing anything new here. In fact, we recommend Watch_Dogs as a similar gameplay experience to GTAV that offers a less rough around the edges criminal bent.

The main character is relatable. Aiden Pearce is put into tough situations and deals with them in ways that–while we may not all agree with–we can certainly understand. If you are playing the storyline, the violence is aimed at people who have typically done bad things or hurt his family, a different experience than wantonly slaughtering you way through the citizen population (though as noted above, your kids could choose to do that).

The Case for ‘No’

When to break out the ‘Maybe when you’re older.’

If anything in the first section makes you uncomfortable, skip this one. There are plenty of open world games out there that feature more fantasy-oriented themes and, while they may include violence, the way it’s presented is less realistic and kids won’t be as likely to equate it with things they see in day-to-day life.

Check out Minecraft, WildStar, ESO or Skyrim as alternatives that offer varying degrees of freedom and interaction. 

Every Kid is Different

It may seem like a cop-out answer, but guidelines are just that– guidelines.

I can see scenarios in which a mature younger teen may do just fine playing Watch_Dogs, and the elements of the plot that prove scary or inappropriate for some players may be an opportunity to discuss challenging topics in a slightly more relatable way. In other families, you may decide that your kids aren’t ready to immerse themselves in this particular game (or that you aren’t ready).

Either way, the most important thing you can do for your child gamer is exactly what you’re doing now–be engaged, research the games, and don’t put the game in and walk away. Use games as a tool for your family to share and discuss together, and you’ll find that they can be a great asset to you as a parent.

[Related] Games for Families to Play Together and My Toddler is a Gamer.

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Amy White
Former Editor in Chief at GameSkinny. I am the Gray Fox. Questions, comments, feedback? Bring it. Amy.White (at)