If you’ve seen any commercials for current video games available on the market, you know how incredibly realistic and in many cases, violent, they can be. As appealing as this may be to older kids, it can be quite appalling to parents. Constant exposure to this kind of content is certainly not healthy, yet kids are gaming now more than ever. There are so many titles available on the market and so many choices to wade through, it can be hard to decipher which are appropriate and which should be kept on the shelf.
Every video game comes with an Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) rating, which is a great starting point for parents. The rating system serves as a guide for parents to navigate around the recommended age ranges, also providing details on the nature of the content. For example, the TEEN rating is listed as follows:
Titles rated T (Teen) have content that may be suitable for ages 13 and older. Titles in this category may contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling, and/or infrequent use of strong language.
But do these ratings provide you with enough information to make a decision on which games you’ll allow your child to play? Judging from the sheer level of violence that is present in many of these games, it’s worth taking a closer look. Luckily, there are many resources out there for parents who are grappling with raising gamer kids.
What They Play is a comprehensive online resource to video games and provides helpful insight into what’s really behind the cool graphics on the box. Nathan Meunier, contributor to the site and avid gamer himself has seen the evolution of the industry. “Back when I was a kid getting into gaming, the Atari 2600 and the Nintendo Entertainment System were the hot gaming systems to own and the level of violence and mature content found on these systems was minimal at best.” He adds, “With so many games that contain excessive gore and violence, nudity, profanity and online modes that let players interact with thousands of other individuals from around the world, it's no wonder parents are having a hard time keeping up.”
Nathan also advises parents to use ESRB ratings during the initial vetting process since the descriptors do provide good information on what the content of each game is. But what happens when your child borders on the age recommendation and is begging you to get the next level game because “everyone is playing it”? Meunier says, “It does get tricky when your child's age falls between age groups, but the real trick is to know your kids and set boundaries that you feel comfortable with. It’s hard to prevent them from accessing violent games at a friend’s house, but there's no reason you can't set some ground rules for your own household and stick to them. Another good tactic is to research alternative games that offer less violence, and encourage them towards those titles instead.”
Dawn McKenzie at Mumbo Jumbo, a publisher and developer of video games, also has great insight into finding age-appropriate games. Based on the level of interaction the company has with parents on a daily basis, as well as engaging with school programs on the importance of gaming safety, she recommends parents:
- Look for the App Store Rating – There’s a section on the left side of iTunes with detailed descriptions on what rating the game received, and what factors contributed to a rating. This rating system also lets you know how frequently questionable content comes up during a game.
- Search on Common Sense Media – This online resource provides recommendations for everything from movies to TV to games to apps. You can search by game name, child’s age or gaming device to find recommendations.
- Find Demos and YouTube It – If you’re still unsure about a game, you can usually find a way to try it before you buy it. Either find a free one-hour demo online for PC and Mac games through reputable sites like BigFishGames.com, or search YouTube for video trailers and game footage from other players.
- Rent It – Check out a game’s content on your own by renting it before you buy it. Gamefly.com is like Netflix for games, and you can check out the game for yourself—the most foolproof way to find out about a game—before you hand over the controls.
As with anything and everything related to technology and our kids, knowledge is power. Many parents don’t realize that in addition to the games, the gaming systems themselves enable web surfing and browsing, which also poses risk. The more we can be aware of what they’re engaged in and what they want to play, the better we can inform ourselves on what is fun for them – and still safe.
Be sure to also check out the ESRB mobile apps available Phone and Android devices.
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