CANANDAIGUA — Eleven young people recently gathered in Dougherty Hall at St. Mary Parish to dance, race dirt bikes and cars, play football and complete dangerous missions.
What’s more, they did all those things in a single day without even leaving the room.
The kids started their February break from school by participating in the parish’s first Video Game Day, which was organized by youth minister Dawn Burdick. The idea for Video Game Day was born several months ago when Burdick and a group of teens were planning fundraisers to support their October 2005 trip to the National Catholic Youth Conference in Atlanta.
One teen suggested holding Video Game Day as a fundraiser, Burdick said. The teen suggested youth-group members bring their video games, video-game consoles and a few televisions to Dougherty Hall and let people play the games for a small fee.
While the fundraiser idea never panned out, the teens never forgot about it, Burdick said. Each week when the youth group met in Dougherty Hall, a few teens would gaze longingly at the parish’s big-screen TV and ask Burdick if they could bring their video games to the hall and play them on the parish’s television.
Eventually Burdick relented and invited young parishioners to bring their favorite video games and consoles to the hall Feb. 20. She also hooked up one video-game console to the parish projector so the kids could see their games on an even larger screen.
Burdick’s invitation did include one caveat, however — the games had to be age appropriate. In other words, “there’s no blood,” she said.
In the United States, video games are reviewed by the Entertainment Software Rating Board and assigned one of several ratings. Games earning an EC rating are suitable for children ages 3 and up, while games with an E rating are suitable for children ages 6 and older. An E10+ rating means the game is approved for children 10 and older, and games with a T rating are suitable for teens, or people 13 and older.
An M rating designates a game that may only be suitable for people 17 and older because it may contain intense violence, blood, gore, sexual content or strong language. A game rated AO has content that should only be played by people 18 and older, according to the ESRB’s Web site, www.esrb.org.
Burdick didn’t allow any games with an M rating at Video Game Day, and none of the young parishioners objected, she said. Instead of bringing violent games, they brought such games as “Madden NFL 06,” where players control a football team; “The Legend of Zelda,” a role-playing game from Nintendo; and “Dance Dance Revolution.”
“Dance Dance Revolution,” or DDR, was very popular for the first few hours of Video Game Day, Burdick said. This game requires more physical activity than most, as players stand on special mats and have to move their feet and follow dance patterns in time to music and as the game tells them to, she added.
“It’s a good workout. You have to have very good coordination,” Burdick said.
Rebecca Halloran, 16, and Angelina Donadio, 15, both said they enjoyed playing DDR during the game day, although they were tired when their turns were over. Although neither girl owns a copy of DDR, they’ve both occasionally played it at parties.
A game based on the recent “Lord of the Rings” movies was also popular, Burdick said. Teens brought several copies of the game, so at one point it was even being played on two different consoles and screens at the same time.
The “Lord of the Rings” game is a favorite of Sean Thomas, 14. Sean was one of the teens who encouraged Burdick to hold Video Game Day.
“I wanted to do it because I find (the games) fun, and it seems like quite a bit of other people find it fun,” Sean said, gesturing around the room at the young people clustered in small groups around several screens.
Andrew Erdle, 15, said he enjoys playing video games in part because he hopes to some day design his own games. Shane Kenyon, 11, and his brother, Connor, 13, both like to play “Madden NFL 06,” which they received for Christmas. Whenever they play the game, Shane controls his favorite team, the Dallas Cowboys, while Connor controls his favorite team, the New England Patriots.
“You get to control the idols you look up to,” Shane added.
Although Sean, Andrew, Shane and Connor usually spend at least a few minutes of each day playing video games, they don’t usually play games with an M rating. They try to steer clear of controversial games, such as those in the “Grand Theft Auto” series, where players steal and smash cars and often murder civilians and police officers. Such games stand in direct opposition to the way they were brought up and the things their Catholic faith teaches them, they said.
Parents should pay more attention to ratings of the games they buy for their children, Sean said.
“If they buy a 12-year-old or a 13-year-old these (M-rated) games, it’s going to lead to a more violent generation,” he said.
Burdick hoped Video Game Day would serve as a springboard for future conversations about faith and its relevance to teens’ everyday lives, of which video games are oftentimes a large part.
“Faith is not just for grown-ups,” she said.
Playing games together also helps youth-group members form bonds and develop a comfort level, which will come in handy when they discuss issues such as faith and spiritual experiences, Burdick added.
“For them to grow, you have to first have a relationship,” she said.