Olwyn Beresford holds a degree in Computer Science and a MBA and worked in the software industry for many years. As a mother of teens and tweens she has experienced firsthand the challenges that parents face in keeping children safe online and wants to contribute to education in this area. She has a particular interest in reducing gaming and gambling related harms, and volunteers for the charity Extern Problem Gambling Project and is a regular guest blogger for CyberSafeIreland about gaming. Olwyn is now also one of our CyberSafeIreland trainers, delivering to both schools and parents since August 2020.
Christmas is coming! Is that video game really suitable for my child?!
Christmas is coming and games manufacturers everywhere are understandably excited! Children of all ages are asking for new games and parents may feel unsure of their suitability; as children socialise so much through gaming, they will request the games that their friends are playing, even if they feature mature themes. In response, often under-pressure parents allow their children to play games that are rated higher than their age. So much so that CyberSafeIreland found that 36% of 8 year old boys are already playing 18 rated games, a figure rising to 66% for 12 year old boys (lower for girls at 6% and 18% respectively).
I know from experience that it can be something of a slippery slope too - once you let your teenage boy play one 18 rated title, or your 9 year old play a PEGI 12 game, then you can no longer refer to the age rating alone to justify your aversion to them playing another. Personally I have found that it is really worthwhile to properly assess video games before purchasing them and it has led to some unexpected benefits in opening up both fun and serious conversations.
From one parent to another here’s some advice on how I am assessing games from the Christmas wishlist in my house ….
Step 1: FIND THE OFFICIAL AGE RATING
European parents are offered guidance by the Pan European Game Information (PEGI) service - go to their website and enter the game title to see the official age rating and content descriptors.
I’ll pick one example from my children’ wishlist - PS4’s God of War, which my oldest child has requested. This game is PEGI 18, with descriptors for both violence and bad language, but I need more information, so follow me to step 2.
Step 2: WATCH THE TRAILERS
Trailers provide a good high level view of a game’s themes and imagery. If you go to YouTube and enter the game title followed by the word “trailer” in the search box, then you will usually be presented with multiple trailers to watch.
God of War, for example, has storyline trailers, gameplay trailers and a commercial TV trailer. Watching these I can see that this game is set in a fantasy world, who the main characters are, the basic backstory and the realism of the imagery. I need to see more gameplay however, to better understand the violence contained and why the bad language descriptor was assigned by PEGI.
Step 3: WATCH GAMEPLAY
There is a wealth of information available out there because gamers love to post their gameplay online for all to see. I often go to the gaming world’s favourite live streaming service, Twitch - search for a game title to find the relevant channel and then choose between watching live streams, videos or clips. Alternatively, you can go to YouTube and enter the game title followed by the word “gameplay”.
Using the God of War example on YouTube, I could watch anything from a 15 minute story to a full walk through of the game, (if I found myself with 13+ hours to spare!). Watching a few short videos, or skipping through the longer ones, it is easy to see that the violence is really brutal in this game and that it is directed against humans and animals, as well as mythical creatures. The storyline provides a clear understanding of the protagonist’s motives, however, and the violence isn’t very realistic. Also listening to more dialogue and meeting more characters let me see that bad language, while present, is infrequent. With my head full of details, I have one final step, which is to find out what other people think of this game.
Step 4: READ THE REVIEWS
Reading games reviews for me is extremely valuable because it can raise issues that I have not thought about or put my mind at rest about things that confused or concerned me. To hear from the gaming community I sometimes access reviews on YouTube or look up metacritic and IGN. But to hear from parents and children, specifically about age suitability, I go to Common Sense Media.
Common Sense Media says God of War is suitable for those over the age of 17, but parents say 13+ and children say 12+. More differences of opinion, but the reason behind these opinions are well explained in the reviews I read.
It can be time consuming to assess games in this way, but I know that if I am familiar with the games I can have open conversations with my children about any concerns that I have and why they are simply not allowed to play certain games. For example, with one 18 rated game we agreed to reduce gore and language in parental settings to address some of my concerns, but unfortunately not many titles offer this possibility. In another game I knew that you are presented with choices that determine the content you access in the game, so I could talk about these choices with my child before determining if he was mature enough to play the game.
I find that engaging with my children’s gaming life allows me to have fun chats with them about their gameplay, their successes and their online interactions. For my older children I have been able to engage them in conversations about important issues like offensive language, discrimination, drugs, gambling, strip clubs, violence against women, violence in war and the very important concept that there are clear differences between real life and the fantasies depicted online.
My decision about God of War has yet to be revealed to the most interested party (!), but I feel better knowing that I thoroughly understand the game and am ready to talk it through with my son. Now, onto the next game request….