Gaming is becoming more and more embedded in children’s lives. It is likely that your children will witness another child gamer in some form or fashion, whether it be an arcade, portable like a Nintendo DS, PlayStation Portable (PSP) or iPod Touch, or home console. It is almost inevitable that your child will eventually ask you for a video game system, if you haven’t gotten one already. But if you are a parent that has never got into gaming, then there is a good chance that you still think video games are still a children’s toy.
I’ve been gaming since the early 80’s and I’ve definitely seen the evolution of video games in my time. Since the days of the 8-bit pixels, games now-a-days are fully detailed textured polygons. What does that mean? It means everything looks real and sometimes it can look too real. No different than computer technology, video games try to keep up with the hardware requirements. As the hardware improves, so does the software and the storage media. Video games now are comparable to a fully interactive movie, some complete with violence, gore, sex and adult language. To many parents, whom are not gamers, think that these games or all games are designed for kids. No. These games are designed for adults that were once kid gamers. During the Atari and Nintendo era, the graphics were very limited to blood and gore. The technology the, didn’t have the capability to generate sound, so text was a form of story telling that had to be read.
In case you weren’t aware of it, many of all video games now have a rating system. In the United States, the video game rating system is provided by the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board). This board is not made up of gamers, but they are a group that reads the release of all games and it is the video game publishers responsibility to disclose any and all types of material to determine the proper rating for video games. This rating system was implemented back in 1994, shortly after some controversial video games like Mortal Kombat (which showed a graphic image of a head being ripped off a man’s body, followed by blood spewing from the neck) along with several other games. While Mortal Kombat at the time was initially an arcade coin operated game (later ported to the console), games like this started surfacing and some parents starting becoming concerned of what their children were playing. Nintendo, for the longest time, would not license any games with excessive violence, blood, gore, smoking, drugs or sex until a rating system was officially in place.
While these rating systems have been around for almost 20 years, there are still parents out there purchasing games which I feel are not appropriate for younger children. While I have no control for those parents that don’t care what their children do or play, this will be just a few personal tips that I can provide to help those parents who need a better understanding of what is an appropriate game for their children to play. I feel most parents get painted in the corner by their children, “well Johnny’s parents bought him this game.” While the parent’s think, “well, if Johnny’s parents did it, then it must be okay.”
Easy tips for parents who have very limited knowledge about video games.
Use the rating system printed on the box
It is very similar to movie and music warnings. It is fairly obvious, E for Everyone, T for Teen (13+), M for Mature (17+) and AO for Adults Only (18+). If you look on the back, it will go into detail to exactly what your kids will be likely exposed to. The video game publishers and ESRB are very good at giving a detail of what content is in the box. It is very rare that I found a game that was misprinted.
Use the rating system web site
You can also visit their website (http://www.esrb.org/), if you want to look up the game before you make a trip to the store.
Many video games now provide an online service with the ability to play the games with other people. Most online services are not rated by the ESRB, but are written into the online service provider’s End User Policy and Service Agreement. Most of these services, like Playstation Network, XBox Live or MMORPG like World of Warcraft require the gamer to be at least 13 years of age and have a parents consent. Be aware that your children have and will be exposed to other older children and/or adults playing these very same games. They will be exposed to unmoderated voice and text conversations and there is a good chance they will hear content not suitable for their age. Some of these services give some ability to limiting who they may chat with and how, but these settings are too complicated to configure if you aren’t well versed in understanding the system settings. It is best to just avoid your children communicating unless you know they are just having one-on-one conversations. Most of the console systems that do not have a microphone attachment, the conversations from the online players could be played from the television speakers, by default.
If you decide to go this route, read up on how to create private chats channel with your child and their friends. This is the only way your child may play and chat with your child’s friend without listening to other conversations while in game.
Most of the stores like EB Games, Game Stop, Walmart or Best Buy have policies against selling games to underage children. While it isn’t enforced like guns, alcohol or cigarettes, there will be a store that will sell one to an under-aged child. This happens and I see it happen more often than most. While also these same stores have an open software return policy as well, meaning when you try to return software (e.g. video game software), they will not accept the return of an open video game package. So, if you find out that your underage child purchased a game that you deem not appropriate, don’t expect to return to the store and expect a refund from the oblivious store clerk. Be aware of your child’s game purchases, no different as if they were going in to buy inappropriate music or movies.
Purchasing Games Online
Xbox Live Marketplace and Playstation Store have services that allow you to buy games online. Whether you secure your child’s online account with your credit card (this method is convenient, but risky) or you provide your child with a pre-paid card. They will have the ability to download any game, movie or music that is available at these shops. There are a few ways to handle this, first is to again, monitor what your kids are buying. Help them spend their cards and avoid giving them the ability to buy a game outside your knowledge with an account assigned to a credit card.
Parental Settings on Consoles
This is the last and biggest tip. If all else fails, this one is the most important one when you initially configure your child’s game system. There is the ability to configure the game system to only allow certain rated games, movies or music to play on your child’s console. Most of these rating features are embedded into the media, while it prevents your child from playing certain games or media, it will prompt for a passcode to allow you to play the higher rated games or media.
Most modern video games systems aren’t video game systems anymore. Most people use it as their multimedia device, which allows you to do more than play video games. I would think that if you are one of those parents who use this video game system more than a game system, then you probably know a lot more on how to protect your kids from playing games they shouldn’t be playing.
Video games are supposed to be fun for kids and adults. Just some of these games aren’t made for kids and parents just have to understand that these video games are not toys anymore.
Larry Collette lives in South Korea with his wife and five children. He is a web applications developer for the US Federal Government, Military Veteran, Video Game Enthusiast, and a Mac/Linux user. You can read more about Larry on his about.me page and connect with him on Twitter.