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Christmas and Tech:
What Parents Need To Know –
Part II Video Games & Systems

One thing that is certain about Christmas:  A ton of video games are destined for Santa’s gift sack!

The game industry knows this and plans the release of games, game systems, and accessories with an eye to the end of the year.

So, parents, what dangers to your kids lurk in this part of the electronics industry?  What do you need to consider before getting that new game, or game system?

Let’s take a look!

Did you miss Part I?  Find it HERE:

There are two parts to this task:  Game consoles, and the games, themselves.

GAME CONSOLES

Before you can play a video game, you have to get a system.  The big boys on the block are Sony, with it’s PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4, and Microsoft with the X-Box and X-Box ONE.  Sony is definitely ahead of Microsoft, but both are far ahead of Nintendo Wii/Wii U in sales.

Each of these systems play games well and have widely varied catalogs of games.  ALL modern game consoles will connect to the Internet.  They also have many different features.  The most important console features for parents to focus on are:

  • Parental controls
  • Availability of non-game Apps (Browsers, Netflix, etc.)
Just a few years ago the provision of parental controls on game systems was not an important matter, it seemed. That has since changed.  All modern systems have some level of parental controls right out of the box.  Rather than re-invent the wheel, here are links to some great online guides to parental controls on game consoles:
Game systems also come with the ability to access other services and products through the Internet.  This includes products like NETFLIX, HULU+, YouTube, and more.  It is important, therefore, to make sure that both the online gaming account that is used (X-Box Live, PSN, Nintendo Network, etc.) and the accounts for the particular service (NETFLIX, etc.) are under your control.  Many of these game systems apps provide access to content that children should be protected from.  Therefore, make sure that you have the Master Account log-in for the systems that your child uses, and that you restrict them to a sub-account.  Also, make sure you log on to the service’s account, both on the web and on the device, and set any parental controls that might be available.

One last thing: Using a network-wide filter, such as OpenDNS, will help in controlling what web site that your kids access via game system web browsers.  You can find out how these work in my article:

VIDEO GAMES

Video games, themselves, are a lot like movies and TV shows.  Some are fine for kids and some would freak you out, as an adult.  For that reason a system of game ratings has been developed and put into place to help parents.  The organization that awards the ratings is the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, or ESRB.  Their ratings are assigned based upon language, violent content, sexual content, and more.  You can check out the ratings here:

Game ratings are very important.  You, as responsible parents, MUST enforce them.  That may not make you popular at times, but popularity is not our goal.  Raising healthy, well-adjusted children is.  For that reason, it is important to restrict children to the games appropriate for their age groups.  Otherwise, it’s just like letting them have access to ALL the premium channels on TV!  They WILL access inappropriate material, and they will be influenced by it.

In addition to having content-based ratings, the ESRB has added “interactivity” ratings that tell you if an online-connected game:

  • Shares information
  • Shares location
  • Allows players to interact, especially if they can have direct player-to-player communications.
These are important for knowing the risk with regards, not to content, but to the possibility of being connected to a predator.  Remember, teaching your kids good online safety skills is not optional!

All of this means you have to have boundaries for games.  There must be limits on what rating game a child can play, or even watch another play (like a big brother), just like there are for movies and TV shows.  Would you let a 10 year old receive a copy of BASIC INSTINCT, or allow them to watch it with an older sibling?  The same thing goes for games! Set the boundaries, and enforce them!

So, put the word out to family and friends to make sure what ratings are acceptable in your home, and ask that they keep that in mind when buying presents for your children.  Who knows?  You might even inspire other parents by your boundaries!

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