We don’t claim to know everything (OK, we do) but we’ve seen our share of the gaming industry and we thought it might help if we shared some of that with parents in the frequently asked questions page.
Q. Why are there age restricted times? I thought this was a place for kids.
A. Video games are enjoyed by persons of all ages.
For example, did you know the average age for video gamers is 34?
We’ve discovered that our younger customers enjoy their Net Heads experience differently than older patrons. We’ve also learned that both groups enjoy it more so with others closer to their age. In an effort to provide older teens and adults with a place of their own to play, we’ve created times when they can rely on being surrounded by other, older gamers.
The exact same logic applies to younger gamers. 11 year-olds would rather be in a room with others their age instead of a room full of 35 year-olds.
Please be patient as it may take a little time to crossover to our new schedule.
Q. What are the age restricted times?
A. The restricted times are listed below:
- 15 and older – all times
- Under 15 – any day before 7 and all day Sunday
- Under 10 – not allowed at stations at any time
Q. What about kids under the age of 10? Are you serious? They can’t play at Net Heads anymore?
A. For those under 10, we continually struggle to acquire age appropriate games they’ll find enjoyable.
Rather than tempt them with content that will put both parents and staff on the spot, we’ve determined that everyone is best served if these future gamers mature a bit more before experiencing Net Heads. This is dramatically compounded for group activities at this age given the wide range in maturity of children under 10. What one parent believes acceptable, another parent often does not – leading to embarrassing moments for host-parents and guest-children (and us).
Lastly, from a simple economic standpoint, this is our most expensive age group to serve as they require far more attention than older, self sufficient customers. As such it has become cost prohibitive to consistently provide them an exceptional gaming experience – the core of our mission statement – and we are unwilling to compromise on that goal.
Q: Isn’t this what my child does all the time at home anyway?
A: Not at all.
Children play single player games at home by themselves, but that has no redeeming social value, which is the focus of our offerings. After a while, gameplay becomes repetitive, predictable and unchallenging. At home there are fewer games available allowing boredom to set in, which generally leads to more supervision. And honestly, they’re still underfoot.
To address that boredom, many children play online. Unfortunately, there’s no way to screen who they’re playing with. Too often, inappropriate language is used by other players, some of whom may be adults (or worse yet – older, disgruntled teenagers with a newly discovered, colorful, working vocabulary).
We closely supervise gameplay. Inappropriate language or unsportsmanlike conduct is not tolerated at any level (and that goes at all times in our facility).
Even playing online has little resemblance to what happens during games at net heads. Imagine the difference between attending a party in person and joining a conference call with the exact same people. That’s the difference – literally – between playing online and in a facility such as ours. Which sounds like more fun?
A drawback to online play is that children believe they are anonymous (a widely held misconception). That leads to a “no consequences” form of behavior, even by the best of children. It’s a opportunity to safely push the envelope (such as saying something inappropriate) to see what happens. Other offended players start in and the conversations can get downright ugly very quickly.
The short answer is that children behave better, play better and learn to socialize better in a ”live” environment. Not to mention they make friends with others their own age.
Q: Isn’t sitting all day in front of a computer unhealthy?
As the founder and owner of Net Heads I can tell you that my children played a lot of video games. They went on to win All State awards in football and multiple AAA state hockey championships. Another was captain of his lacrosse team. All were or are now in college. Playing video games made them more social, not less. When framed in the proper context and quantity, video games complement their other endeavors.
Moderation in all things still applies in 2010. Children should be encouraged to engage in other activities – especially physical ones – whenever possible.
Children do “zone out” in front of single player games and when there’s little or no social stimulus. At Net Heads the interaction never stops. They are constantly talking, leading or following, negotiating with teammates and are fully engaged.
Q: My child spends a considerable amount of time playing video games. At what point is it too much?
A. The proper amount of time spent in any activity depends on the child, the parent and the value system that provides the foundation of their family.
We certainly wouldn’t argue for excessive gaming time.
“I don’t understand it” is a very frequent comment by parents. There are several reasons for confusion regarding games and their attraction.
- The media focuses on games like Grand Theft Auto and others that contain mature content. We didn’t let our children play those games, don’t have them in the store and advise parents not to allow children to play them.
- Older parents (sorry guys) didn’t grow up with this form of entertainment and have a hard time engaging in games long enough to grasp the attraction. It takes time and effort to do so and often those parents are far too busy with other responsibilities to allocate time to video games.
- Some parents suffer from what we call a “skills disparity”. With no knowledge of the game itself and on the wrong end of the scale when it comes to reflexes, they are often invited to play and then subjected to a shellacking by their children. (The child often has something else on their agenda which is why they stage these “lessons”.) Nevertheless, it’s frustrating and so parents toss in the towel quickly. Our recommendations are:
- Pick a game that doesn’t favor twitch reflexes over strategy. You can’t compete there.
- Pick a game that the child doesn’t know. Now you are sharing the discovery process.
- Do a little practicing before you play against the child. You’ll look better and gain their respect. All’s fair when it comes to keeping up with the kids.
- Select a cooperative game so that you and your child are on the same team. This invests them in your success and promotes dialog, sharing and team spirit.
When a parent makes a serious effort to engage a child on their own turf they will respond. If you need help selecting or learning to play games, ask us. It’s what we do. If you take that advice you’ll know first-hand what the attraction to video games is all about. If you stick with it, you’ll enhance your relationship with your child and have some great fun, too.
Children have lots of choices on how they spend their time and they have lots of free time to allocate. Too often that time gets allocated to television. While multi-player video games are not at the top of the enrichment activity list, they are far better than TV is, was or ever will be, because TV is completely passive by its nature. Not to mention the networks have run low on ideas for entertaining content. No one wants MTV as their values standard.
The games are a conduit for socialization. In their generation much of this exchange happens in the shared context of video games.
As for playing at Net Heads, remember that this activity is not the same as what children do at home.
Q: Do you have any nonviolent games?
A. Absolutely. We currently have over 70 games in our library.
One of the best things about Net Heads is that we seek out great games that are publicly available but are not promoted as prominently as others. Everyone has heard of Halo, and most Xbox360 owners already have it. Fewer have heard of Bookworm 2 and still fewer have heard of World of Goo. They are all great games and some are actually free.
Also, we have many genres of games. For example, in addition to action titles, we offer puzzle solving, racing, music oriented, sports, strategy and role playing games. We deliberately avoid games that feature gratuitous violence and where possible, configure settings or obtain modifications to games to reduce content that doesn’t enhance gameplay.
That said, team based play often involves one team dominating another and so some titles involve conflict themes.
If you have a concern about a particular game or a particular type of content in general please let a Net Heads staff member know. We’ll be happy to explore your concerns or recommend alternative titles.
If your child is attending a party at Net Heads they will definitely want to “fit in” and play what everyone in the party is playing. If you don’t allow your child to play a game that has been – or may be – selected by the party host, consider declining the invitation entirely. Most children are mortified when they are singled out in public this way.
Q. Do you have any games for girls?
But it’s important to recognize that boys and girls are play differently and take away different things from the experience.
We don’t have our degree in sociology, but we’ve made some observations in the last 10 years. What follows are broad generalizations (sorry) and of course there are always exceptions, but we have to start somewhere.
Girls are drawn to games that feature creative, collaborative or cooperative activities. They are definitely competitive, and they generally want to be the best, but not the best at someone else’s expense. Puzzle solving or games that encourage discussion, such as Peggle Nights, Bookworm 2 or Rock Band are popular with girls. Racing games can be popular, too.
Unfortunately, the gaming industry blossomed when most programmers were male and so many games still reflect male action themes. Games that girls would find entertaining and that would be enhanced by the Net Heads networked environment are harder to find than games for boys. If you believe you know of a title, tell us and we’ll review it for use in the store.
Boys demonstrate more directly competitive behavior. They want to be the best – and generally it’s better if it is at someone else’s expense. This naturally means games that are based on conflict such as combat oriented games from any era, including the future. There is a game called “Pirates, Vikings and Knights”. Seriously.
Team based play is extremely popular with variations on traditional games like capture the flag. These games sell the best in the industry and so generally receive the most development and promotional resources.
In summary, there are far more titles available for boys than girls. Within those confines we have single player games and a few multi-player games specifically designed for girls that are suited to our environment, but we’d definitely like to have more.
Q. Can I leave my children there by themselves?
A. That depends on you and your child.
Our insurance company would choke if answered this question with anything other than “we do not and cannot take any responsibility for children at Net Heads.” And that’s our official stand.
On the other hand parents drop off children all the time. After seeing thousands of children over tens of thousands of visits in 10 years we’ve never had a problem of any kind. We don’t often see children under the age of 11 left alone at the facility; mostly because they’re more comfortable with a parent nearby. More importantly, many of our games have a deeper learning curve and younger children often lose interest quickly. Constantly switching between titles requires more staff attention than we are able to give them and so their experience is compromised. That’s not something we like to see.
Younger children must be accompanied by an adult or significantly older sibling who will take responsibility for younger customers.
On the positive side, we are staffed by adults, not inattentive teens (no disrespect, guys). Net Heads is supervised and we do not tolerate any inappropriate forms of behavior, language or interaction. We log every child in and out and know most of them on sight and by name. Because everything they need is at their station and because we allow them to eat at the stations, children do not move about much. They generally stay fully engaged for the length of time they are here. If and when they need assistance a staff member is available to help re-engage them in an activity.
We will always address those situations where children cannot maintain appropriate public behavior by arranging for a parent to retrieve them. Repeat offenders are banned from the facility for a period – our idea of a “timeout”. This includes very young children – even those accompanied by adults – who disturb our other patrons. There are facilities better suited for children who need to run, shout, shriek and cry, such as Chuck E’ Cheese.
The bottom line is that some 14 year olds have trouble being left alone and some 10 year olds do just fine. You have to make the call. We’ll see to it that they are entertained and do not disturb – and are not disturbed by – our other customers.
Q. What about my child’s 7 year old sibling? What does he/she do?
A. Unfortunately, we simply cannot entertain children under the age of 10.
Q. What about my child’s 40 year old father? What does he do?
A. If he’s willing, we can show him some great games with extra tips on getting started so the learning process is enjoyable.
Our Tom Clancy titles are very popular with first time male adult gamers. We will also be offering racing simulations – complete with steering wheels and pedals – for adults in the near future. We haven’t met any father yet who didn’t want to drive a Porsche through Milan at 110mph. And if he’s got some work to do, we offer free WiFi connectivity and work tables.
Q. What does Mom do?
A. Actually, some of our Mom’s really enjoy those games for girls (see above).
We also have a Wii station that’s popular with families of all ages. If Mom would rather Facebook, she can do that on one of our stations and if she brings her notebook computer she can connect to our free WiFi service.
Q. Is there anything healthy to eat?
We select the best ingredients for the offerings we have and they are nutritionally sound. For example, we have chicken sandwiches and cheeseburgers (both of which are very good). If there are certain foods you do not want them to have, such as energy drinks, we try to make sure they don’t get any.
But vegetables don’t sell well to would be manly men saving the world from the zombie apocalypse.
Q. How do we pay?
A. Net Heads pricing is makes it especially easy when it comes time to settle up.
Our rates are flat and based on time spent. With the exception of food, it’s almost impossible to accidentally go over budget. If your child is here for two hours, the fee will be $12 (or less). They can’t buy tokens, feed arcade machines or buy paintball supplies. Their objective is never to get enough “tickets” to win the plastic spider to put on sis’s pillow.
And that pricing model make is possible for us to run a tab that can be settled up at the end of the visit. The idea is that you can budget time and dollars spent with confidence that you won’t receive any unwelcome surprises when you go to pay the bill. We offer memberships that provide substantial savings over our regular rates and encourage you to explore them even if you are only an occasional visitor.
We also work with parents to set spending limits for food and beverage while the children are here.
Q. Can I bring in outside food to Net Heads?
A. You wouldn’t take your own chicken salad to a sushi bar, right?
We don’t allow outside food in the facility because we are a licensed restaurant and it creates issue with the health department (and our killjoy insurance company).
With the exception of birthday cakes prepared in a licensed commercial kitchen, all food purchases must be supplied by us. All that means is that if you want a special pizza that we don’t have, we’ll order it on your behalf, pay the supplier and charge you (yes, we tip the delivery guy – he has to make a living, too and we add a 15% catering fee to the cost to pay for napkins and cleanup).
For larger events we routinely work with outside food suppliers and caterers to meet the needs of the event.
Q. Is my child safe at Net Heads?
We believe so.
At the end of the day, your child’s safety is a combination of the training you’ve provided and their common sense. Because everyone in the facility signs in and anyone who is not engaged at a station sticks out like a sore thumb, Net Heads is as safe a public space as you can get. The facility is a single large room and the restrooms are single occupancy. We place close attention to everyone and everything that goes on.
Q. Some video games have completely objectionable content. Will my child be able to play them at Net Heads?
The answer turns on the definition of “completely”. Sex, foul language and brutal video sequences are largely included in the single player gaming experience because they are trying to advance the plot. Multiplayer gaming has no plot – it’s just gameplay. We screen all of our titles for this kind of content and since offending a customer even once costs us their repeat business, it’s not worth having.
Q. Can I restrict what my child eats or drinks while they are at Net Heads?
Just make sure the staff knows the drill each time you drop your child off and we’ll do our best to limit their selections.
Q. Can my child use Net Heads steering wheels?
Children who don’t drive yet typically do not enjoy simulated driving games. Too much of the fun relies on driving experience as the high performance cars simulated in the games are hard to control. We often get comments that “this is a lot harder than it looks”. It simply turns out to be more frustrating than fun. In addition, our racing controllers are expensive and younger customers are simply much harder on them than adults. Lastly, if your feet can’t reach the pedals you’re not going anywhere. Be glad, or your minivan might turn up missing sooner than you think.
That said, if your child has their own controller, they are welcome to bring it and use it, provided it doesn’t damage our furniture (many steering wheel clamping mechanism can scar whatever they are attached to).