A while ago, I posted a blog about how the ESRB can help you make better decisions about games your kids. However, I failed to look into how they actually rate their games. It turns out, the ESRB does not actually play the games. Instead they watch a trailer of the game produced by the video game maker. Per the ESRB’s official page, it must be “a video showing typical gameplay, missions, and cutscenes, including the most ‘extreme’ content. Unplayable content (i.e., ‘locked out’), if it is pertinent to a rating, must also be disclosed.”
Why is this important?
Because I think, based on the ESRB’s own review procedures, developers might slide features like gambling and pay-to-win loot boxes past the reviewers’ eyes. I’m not saying every game developer does this, but that doesn’t mean they won’t.
I think it’s a problem when raters don’t actually play the game. Recently, some games have been called out for having predatory practices towards a younger audience. NBA 2K20 revealed gambling style mini-game complete with roulette and slot machines to win certain items in-game through a trailer prior to release.
This game was rated E for
If children play this game and have access to a credit card, they can spend real-world money to gamble for items with in-game currency. While this may come down to a parent’s decision, I wanted to bring this to your attention. You may want to be even more careful about what games your kid plays than just relying on the ESRB rating.
Personally,I don’t think gambling should be allowed at all. It has no place in a game that allows real-world money to be used. And I think any game that is rated “E for Everyone” should not require parental oversight.
have you ever thought “Well, at least they’re not gaming here in the (car,
restaurant, doctor’s office, bathroom, …)!”
Kiss that thought good bye. Maybe you’ve heard of or have a Nintendo Switch. It’s built to be portable, but mostly people still hook it to their TVs. However, Nintendo is about to release its Nintendo Lite. It cost $100 less, and it’s really meant to be portable. It doesn’t hook to your TV and it maintain’s its high graphic quality on the go.
But now you’re thinking, “Well, what’s wrong with that? Mario Bros.? Zelda? Donkey King?”
Nintendo has that game?
did hear? Nintendo is growing up. Yes, that’s right. Nintendo now has games on the
Switch like Batman, L. A. Noire, Doom and Skyrim. All dark cop or monster type
games. And they even have South Park: The Fractured But Whole. Want your kid walking around Wendy’s
repeating lines from that TV show?
course, you don’t have to buy those games for them. But see our other gaming
blogs to learn how easy it is for kids to get games.
The New Switch Lite
So how does the Switch Lite differ from the regular Switch? As well as being smaller, it is lighter, has a more traditional directional pad, has a slightly longer battery life, and does not have the HD rumble or IR features. It will come in new shades of yellow, grey, and turquoise. The Switch does use cartridges but it can also download games straight onto the system from the Nintendo E-shop. The Lite will be available worldwide September 20th this year.
It’s important to recognize that these systems have far higher fidelity graphics than even a decade ago. You’ll want to set up the parental controls on your child’s Switch in order to limit what your child is able to play or see.
And remember, the trend of high-quality 3D games being played on the go is not going to stop – it is only going to grow.
You may know that video
game consoles are not the only machines that games can be played on. PCs and
Mac computers can also play many of the same games available on PlayStation or
Xbox. However, the most popular places to buy games for computers are not the
typical places that you might know. Over the past decade, gamers like myself
have purchased thousands, if not millions of games through the online game
distribution service known as Steam. Steam is owned by video game publisher and
developer Valve and is the primary source of game purchases for the PC or Mac.
When I was 12 years old, I
would chat with friends on Steam’s voice chat system late into the night. I had
my own account and my parents had no idea what Steam was. I asked for gift
cards and bought games to play with my friends. This included mature games that
I would have had to show ID for if I were buying it at GameStop. So, this is
something you’re going to have to look out for.
Steam is not only home to AAA (big budget and marketed video games like Call of Duty or Madden) but also independent video games – indies for short. Indie games are usually made by smaller, lesser-known developers They like having full control over their games and don’t have any need for a big publisher if they sell directly on Steam. Steam is popular because it has a wide variety of game types. Some of these are exclusively sold on Steam. But through just Steam these developers can reach thousands and thousands of players.
Steam and “indie” games
However, if you purchase an indie game, there is a risk. These games can be crass, crude, or a variety of other things not appropriate for a pre-teen/teen. However, indie games can also be some of the most creative and imaginative games on the market. I think you’ll have to do some research on each game before you decide if you want your kid to purchase. Though not all of these games show up on the ESRB rating system (see our blog about that system here), Steam does have it’s own rating system. It requires extensive vetting of both the game itself and the intentions of the developer. This means each developer has to explain the type of content that the game will contain. Steam/Valve then places a specific age rating on the game when it releases. Steam restricts access to these games by asking the user to verify their age. Truthfully, it’s not too hard to lie at this step. (Though I’ve read that Steam will track if the user is under 18 and will block any further attempts at accessing games of that nature. I don’t know how it does this.)
As I mentioned, Steam has chat functions, friend lists and other social functions that can connect users worldwide. However, these options do not have explicit parental controls. Even on games with age restrictions, these functions might still work.
Thankfully, Steam does have a parental control you can put on your account called “Family View”. There are step-by-step guides for parents to follow when accessing this feature. From Family View, parents can set parameters for the content their child can access. This includes specific items like gore or violence, games with chat functionality, profile pages, access to the game catalog, and much more. You can even use the Family Game Library to restrict access to specific games for your kid to play on that account. Each of these features is PIN protected.
The Epic game store
Steam is not the only place PC and Mac games are distributed. Last year, Fortnite developer Epic Games created the Epic Games Store, a platform similar to Steam but without a lot of the social media and chatting features that Steam possesses.
The reason I even bring up the Epic Games Store is that if your tween plays Fortnite on a computer, they already have the store installed as well. Epic included the store with the launcher for the game.
The Epic Games Store has no parental controls whatsoever. There is no way to keep your kid from accessing a mature game. However, there is a significant difference in the availability of games on the platform. There are less than a hundred games up for purchase on the Epic Games Store and many of those are still not available to play yet. However, Epic has offers for free games twice a month, giving access to potentially inappropriate games at no cost to your pre-teen/teen.
Also, every game on the
platform has an ESRB classification. This means Epic doesn’t have a rating
system…yet. In order to protect your kid from playing a game you feel
inappropriate, it is best to view more information about the game yourself like
you would if they were buying it in a store.
So, my recommendation is
to get the “Family View” account set up before you let your kid get on Steam,
do not give them gift cards or a credit card to make their own purchases (you
should purchase each game individually), and monitor their use of the social media
functions of Steam. If they are purchasing through Epic there are not as many
indie or mature games (yet), but you will still want to monitor every purchase.
If you do all of this,
you should be good. And, hopefully, you’ll join in on the games. Video game
playing can be a great way to bond with your kid. But more on that another day.