Video Games: An Opportunity to Connect With Your Kids

By: Monica Vila
Co-founder of TheOnlineMom.com

Ratings_boxI’ve always found video games to be an incredible connecter of parents and children. And when it comes to kids’ entertainment choices, video games are sure to be near the top of the list. However, when a new and popular game title is released, some parents may be unsure if it is appropriate for their child to play. But rest assured, even if you don’t know a lot about video games, a simple way to determine a games’ appropriateness is to check the rating. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is responsible for those familiar and trusted video game rating icons, and they are great for quickly accessing information about a game’s age appropriateness.

In fact, the ESRB is celebrating its 20th anniversary this month. For two decades this organization has been helping educate parents about the content of console video games and mobile apps.  In celebration of their anniversary, here are a few of my favorite tips:

Check for Age Appropriate Ratings – E (Everyone), E10+ (Everyone 10+), T (Teen) & More

esrb-symbols225Shopping for the perfect video game is made infinitely easier by tapping into the ratings and content descriptors published on the game package itself or pulling up the ratings information for a game using the ESRB mobile app.  On the front of every game box, ESRB provides easy-to-understand ratings that range from EC (Early Childhood) to AO (Adults Only for ages 18+) prominently displayed on the front of the box.

Review the Content Descriptors – The “Why” of Ratings

Turn the box over, and you’ll find content descriptors indicating content that may have triggered a particular rating or may be of interest or concern.  This can include Language, Cartoon Violence, Suggestive Themes, and more. This added detail helps parents make informed decisions on what’s right for their child based on their own personal family values and their child’s maturity.  For example, some games are assigned a T (Teen) rating with content descriptors for Violence and Language, while another might earn the same rating with content descriptors for Suggestive Themes and Crude Humor.

Understand Interactive Elements – Shares Info, Shares Location, Users Interact

Like many other aspect of our life – games, too, have become increasingly mobile.  Many mobile and other digitally delivered games allow or encourage players to interact and share information, and while these features add a whole new and exciting dimension to game play, they can also be used to collect or share personal information about the user.  For this reason, ESRB now includes Interactive Elements as part of the rating information for mobile games and apps.  There are three interactive element descriptors:

  • esrb-shares200Shares Info, which indicates that personal information provided by the user (e.g., e-mail address, phone number, credit card info, etc.) is shared with third parties;
  • Shares Location, which includes the ability to display the user’s location to other users of the app;
  • Users Interact, which indicates possible exposure to unfiltered/uncensored user-generated content Including user-to-user communications and media sharing via social media and networks.

Rating Summaries – A More Detailed Description of Game Content

For parents who would like to know even more about the content of a game, ESRB created rating summaries.  Rating summaries are a supplementary source of information that give you a detailed yet brief description of exactly the kind of content you would want to know about when choosing a game for your child. Most packaged video games have a rating summary, which can be accessed via ESRB.org and ESRB’s mobile app.

Follow ESRB’s Motto – Ok to Play

While ESRB ratings are a great starting point for any game purchase, the magic happens when you pick-up a controller to play with your child. Sure – you might learn a few new dance moves or maybe even discover how to use the elusive “X” button.  However, chances are, you’ll find that playing together is a great connector – an opportunity to push the pause button on life and just have some fun.  So remember parents: it’s ok to play!

Monica Vila is founder of The Online Mom Network – a community devoted to promoting a healthy understanding and appreciation for the positive role technology can play in a child’s life. She’s constantly chatting on Facebook or on Twitter @TheOnlineMom where you are more than welcome to join the conversation.

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