Welcome to >, an ongoing series at Mashable that looks at how to take care of – and deal with – the kids in your life. Because Dr. Spock is nice and all, but it’s 2018 and we have the entire internet to contend with.
There are a lot of things kids and parents fight over, and video games are often high on the list. Many parents, especially those who don’t play video games themselves, may be reluctant to let kids play games over concerns about safety, violence, or even simple screen time. The good news is that there are plenty of resources to move your family game discussions away from a reflexive “no” and toward a more nuanced articulation of house rules.
The information below will help you understand more how your kid's favorite games are played and what kind of content they include. This is distinct from a family policy on gaming as screen time or coming after other activities. Once you choose what games you'll allow, then you can create a framework for how and when they're played.
This vast and growing world of gaming can feel overwhelming, but there are a variety of resources and tools to help make informed decisions, says Eric Watson, primary contributor to , a website that bills itself as providing honest gaming news for families. “Use the Internet!” he says.
The content of games, especially those with violence, can make some parents wary. But there are many popular games by players. Whole categories of mobile games, which are often overlooked as being “video games,” are relatively violence-free.
A good place to start an evaluation of a game is the – the ESRB rating assesses age appropriateness, content, and interactive elements. It’s a bit of a blunt instrument, but it’ll give you a rough sense of the content of the game. The nonprofit includes recommendations for a variety of games for all ages of kids. If you have a more specific questions, try the database on .
In addition to calling upon these resources, David Bickham, PhD, staff scientist at The Center on Media and Child Health and an instructor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, suggests playing the game to see how it works if possible. Otherwise, he says, watching online videos about the game can be helpful. Your kid can help you here – streams abound on YouTube and Twitch.
If parents are while playing a video game, a key question to ask is if the game has an open chat (like Minecraft). “This is a large concern for many parents and likely a valid one,” says Dr. Bickham, “because it puts children in a real-time potentially non-moderated conversation with unknown children, teens, and adults. There’s a possibility for sexist, violent, and harassing language.”
Even if the game doesn’t have an open chat, other pieces of software provide chat opportunities that are typically unmonitored, Dr. Bickham adds. He recommends talking to your child about concerns you might have and looking for settings that allow playing without the chat feature.
Some games are predicated on large groups of players engaging simultaneously, meaning kids are playing with strangers online in default settings. Fortnite: Battle Royale is perhaps the best current example of that genre. It is possible to set some game servers to friends-only.
“The best way to know exactly who your kids are playing with is to limit online interaction altogether and encourage local play with real friends,” says Watson. The Nintendo Switch system fosters this kind of play with several games with local multiplayer options, like Splatoon 2, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and the upcoming Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
Watson lays out some other details to consider:
Is the game primarily played online (like Wizard101)?
Are there any in-app purchases or microtransactions (small payments which allow users to purchase in-game currency and speed up progress; Tiny Tower has this). You can restrict these in your phone settings for mobile games.
What parental controls are available for the game and/or console or platform it’s played on?
Can certain features – like voice or text chat – be turned off, and if so, can they easily be turned back on when you leave the room?
The important thing to remember is that you know your children better than anyone, Dr. Bickham says. “Be alert for aspects of games that you know might upset, frighten, or otherwise negatively impact your child,” he says. “The app store is full of games that will match interest and ability level of kids, so if you don’t like one that your child wants to play, look around for a game that meets a similar need using a different approach.”
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