Video games are amazing, right?
Remember losing days to Super Mario World with your brother on the SNES as a kid? How about all those Resident Evil references that cuddly Simon Pegg crammed into Spaced?
Too nerdy? What about that Prosecco-ed up marathon on one of those Japanese dancing games when you were on that hen weekender down in Weymouth?
Still too much? Okay, what about being sat on the loo at work sneaking a crafty go on Words With Friends because you need to beat your best mate?
Now we have you.
But videogames and kids… In 2018, that’s a tough one. Nipper-friendly YouTuber DanTDM plays lovely 7+-rated Minecraft (the Modern Parent’s gaming safety net) but he also sets Hatchimals on fire and vlogs about nasty old Call Of Duty, there are Five Nights at Freddy’s cuddly toys on sale in Asda and as for Grand Theft bloody Auto…
Like we say, it’s tough. You don’t want to be one of ‘those’ parents who only let their teenager play Peppa Pig Kart Racer but you know letting your kids retreat to their boycaves with a copy of Skyrim isn’t exactly the smartest thing to do. It’s the same as tablets, it’s the same as social media, it’s the same as everything digital – and you need help.
So here’s some help. Like all advice, you need to back this up with your own common sense, shared experience and research. If you read two articles, try The Guardian’s crash course in gaming for parents and a visit to askaboutgames.com, an industry-created website full of handy parental guides about the appropriateness of specific videogames.
We’ve tried to dispel a few myths, create some discussion but also to remember one thing. Videogames are amazing… so how can you make sure your kids think so too?
Are video games ratings really necessary?
“Can I download Fortnite? All my friends have it!” Whether that’s on a PS4 or a hand-me-down smartphone (and Fortnite is a 12 no matter what device you use, BTW – wait til high school, youngster), it’s the eternal question – should you let your child play a videogame when the rating says it’s for an older age group?
It’s the same as modern movies – when the subject matter is superheroes or fantasy ‘stuff’, it’s just silly and made up, right? Well, just as there’s a world of difference between The Lego Batman Movie and Deadpool 2 (which looks hilarious), games deserve the same level of scrutiny. Ratings are there to be respected and, most of all, used.
The PEGI rating system is now on every console or PC title by law, with clear age levels (3, 7, 12, 16 and 18) plus supporting ‘content descriptors’ detailing whether a game features Sex, Violence, Fear, Bad Language etc. As for mobile devices, both Google Play and iTunes have clear age ratings that you should respect before giving your fingerprint over to another iTunes purchase.
Be smart and treat these seriously. Shops aren’t legally allowed to sell games to under-age children and while you can’t be prosecuted for letting your children play age-inappropriate games, it’s not bloody clever is it? Explain this to your kids – there may be tears in the short-term but rather that now than long-term effects.
• PEGI goes legal: https://www.vg247.com/2012/07/30/parents-in-the-dock-pegi-finally-goes-legal-in-uk/
• Guide to PEGI ratings: https://pegi.info/page/parental-control-tools
• Videogames and violence: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jun/04/video-games-violence-parents-guide-pegi-call-of-duty-grand-theft-atuo
• The Video Recordings Act and age ratings: https://legalgamer.weebly.com/blog/the-legal-status-of-age-ratings-uk
• Commen Sense Media review Fortnite: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/game-reviews/fortnite
But what about gaming online?
You may be able to monitor and even control the games your kids buy, play and download, but there’s a lot of devil in the detail. What about those infamous in-app purchases and micro-transactions? How about downloading games and demos to an empty console hard drive? And what about playing online with distant gamers whispering into your child’s Bluetoothed ear?
Back in the day when gaming meant buying a shiny CD-ROM, it was easy but, yup, that pesky internet has ruined everything. Thankfully, there are plenty of guides to settings that will prevent you getting a big iTunes bill for magic coins or letting your kids download first-person shooters to the Xbox. Once again, the trick is to talk sensibly about this, just as you have when explaining chatrooms, internet safety and even online pornography.
Choose a time when your child isn’t in silly mode, get your script down (see the resources below) and clearly lay out the ground rules. Do not buy anything, whether the pop-up screen asks for pounds, euros or unicorn tears. Do not download anything above the agreed age rating. Do not chat to strangers online, whether on a microphone or in a text window. If something sounds inappropriate, it probably is – stop and check with a parent/adult/carer.
TL;DR? If something looks too good to be true, it probably is.
• Safer Children in a Digital World: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20120107041050/https://www.education.gov.uk/publications/eOrderingDownload/DCSF-00334-2008.pdf
• PEGI guide to parental controls: https://pegi.info/page/parental-control-tools
• Ask About Games on parental controls: http://www.askaboutgames.com/advice/parental-controls/