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Taking Parental Control in the Gaming World

So my son was playing NBA 2k17 on the Xbox in our living room, and I hear the usual hoots and hollers as he’s enjoying playing as Lebron or Steph Curry or whomever…when I hear this clearly unscripted voice from the TV say, ‘There’s no way that should have gone in kid, lucky shot.”

It wasn’t a voice that I recognized, and it definitely wasn’t a kid’s voice.

I realized that this new game had online voice chat on automatically, and that my son was talking to a stranger online – which instantly set off my parental alarm. I didn’t know who this person was, how old they were, if they had asked for my son’s real name and age or if they already knew this information. All these questions ran through my head in the span of about 4 seconds. Not that the person said anything wrong at the time, but I had heard so many horrible news stories about how things could take a turn for the worse…

I walked into the room and told my son that I was shutting off the game until I could figure out where to turn off voice chat and left it at that. Ended up being less of a cool parent than he thought me to be after I had gifted him his new game.

Fast forward to the next day, I’m talking about all this to a coworker who mentions that we actually have a person on staff who plays games regularly. Plays them along with his kids too.

So, I tapped, Marty, from our IT department to share some tips on online safety and gaming related issues & tips for Parents and kids alike.

Say hi, Marty!

Marty the IT Professional

Hi I’m Marty, one of the IT professionals at PM Pediatrics, and I wanted to talk to you all for a moment about a very serious topic near and dear to my heart – video games.

Now games may not seem important, but these days they actually play into a large percentage of the  overall media content consumption of kids in elementary school and even more so for middle and high schoolers. I’m not a numbers guy, and I’m not here to tell you how long your child should be looking at a screen or for how many hours a day it’s okay for them to be picking up their PS4 controllers. What I would like to talk to you about though, is what content they are viewing and interacting with over these gaming mediums.

I’ve been playing video games since as long as I can remember. And I could probably still hit a home run on Tiger’s Electronic Baseball handheld with my eyes closed still today –
Tiger handheld electronic baseball game
– and I’d never have a problem handing a game like that over to my eight year old or even my four year old son. It might be too clunky for our six month old girl…

I digress…I feel confident handing it over because the game’s content is perfectly fine for those kids. I’ve played the game plenty of times and know it contains no surprises.

But what about games that just came out?

What about today’s baseball games? Clearly they’re more complex –
Screenshot of MLB The Show PS4 game
Do they have a ‘season mode’ where you can follow the story of your team as it heads to the World Series? That sounds awesome. I know that some include contract negotiations – and while that isn’t my cup of tea, I know that it appeals to many fans.

And here you say, “yes Marty, I know that some famous music artist my kid loves released their latest single as the game’s headlining soundtrack – and it’s the uncensored version. I’m a cool parent; that doesn’t bother me.”

But how real does the game simulation get?

Do people get sidelined by injuries?

Is there blood? Um, okay, that’s cool to a teenager I guess…adds some realism.

But what if people get suspended for a drug violation? Are you comfortable with your child being exposed to that?

It starts off with a simple, “Yeah, you can play that” and I can hear you slowly backing down from that position as more game elements are revealed.

“But Marty”,  you ask,  “how could I have known about the blood and drug content in a simple game which was just supposed to simulate baseball?!? I just thought I was getting Home Run Derby 2018!”

Well, you can learn information as discussed above by using the labels on video game title boxes (similar to MPAA ratings for movies). Those black and white letter icons are a similar rating system, published by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB).
Video Game Ratings Symbols

The  website explains clearly what each rating means, and has a searchable database of games old and new. It even goes into detail explaining for what reason a game receives a specific rating.

As a parent who concerns with the types of shows my children watch, and take a conscientious approach in how certain content cane be age appropriate, I use tools to limit access to said media. On Netflix, my kids have a TV-Y7 filter, and they can pretty much binge (ha, not likely, but they can dream) whatever kid-safe shows they want.

Video games aren’t quite there yet, at least not completely.

So please, take a moment before agreeing to let your child get the latest Grand Theft Auto game, and take a look at the ESRB rating on the box. Maybe recommend a more age-appropriate alternative, like the latest Mario title for the Nintendo Switch. While you’re at it, pick up a second controller and make some fun gaming memories together.

Thanks for tuning in.

Nintendo's Super Mario


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