How video game ratings can work

Good advice: iGEA chief executive Ron Curry.According to research by Bond University this year, the average age of the Australian gamer is 32. But video games also continue to attract many younger gamers too.
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As it does about this time every year, the peak body representing Australia’s video-game industry, the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association (iGEA), offers some timely advice for parents who are planning to tuck shiny new video-game consoles under the Christmas tree.

”We’re reminding parents about two key things,” says iGEA chief executive Ron Curry.

”If you’re going to buy your kids a home console, a hand-held gaming device or even a tablet, set up the parental controls. And if you’re buying games for them, check what the classification says and read the back of the game box.”

There are now five classifications for video games, with the introduction of an R18+ rating at the start of this year. As always, each new video game is evaluated before release by the Australian Classification Board, and rated accordingly.

This rating is displayed on the video-game box and digitally imprinted into the game, so when the game is loaded into a gaming system, user settings can determine whether the game is accessible, based on its rating.

Sony Computer Entertainment and Microsoft launched new home consoles recently, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, respectively, and, along with Nintendo’s latest Wii U console, all three have customisable parental control options.

Each system provides its own method of parental control, but they all offer the ability to restrict certain types of games and movies played on the console, based on the age of the player and the rating of the content.

These system settings not only control access to certain content based on its classification, but in varying degrees they can also limit options such as the length of play time and time of day they can be used.

The new PlayStation console allows parents to manage their children’s access to certain games, DVDs, Blu-ray movies, and downloadable content based on their classification. Options such as the web browser and new friend requests can also be disabled.

The console uses a numeral rating system, where 1 is the most restrictive setting and 11 is the most unrestricted. However, since the numbers are not tied to a particular age group, some experimenting is required to find the most suitable setting.

The new Xbox has a more intuitive parental control system that simply asks what age level you want your child to have access to, then all content is restricted to that age and below. Conveniently, even if your child logs into their profile at a friend’s house, the same restrictions will be in place on their friend’s console.

Interestingly, though, Microsoft has removed the gaming time-management option on its Xbox 360 console.

To help families with children of different ages, consoles can be set up with unique profiles and individual log-ins for each child. This enables parents to customise the level of access to suit each child’s age.

Curry admits that although these parental control systems work well when used correctly, they are not entirely fail-safe. He advises parents to use commonsense when setting up passwords, and avoid codes such as birth dates, which can be easily guessed.

”No matter what you do, though,” Curry says, ”I don’t think anything is going to replace sitting down with your kids and engaging in the same media they are, whether that’s a video game or a movie.”

As much as the classification system is in place to inform consumers about the content of games and movies, it’s ultimately up to parents to determine whether content is suitable for their children.

”Kids all have different levels of sensitivities, and even families have different sensitivities,” Curry says.

”Engaging in games with your children, and understanding how they work and what they involve, is the best way to know if it’s suitable or not for your child.”

For additional information, including how-to videos on configuring parental controls on home consoles, the iGEA website, igea.net, has a dedicated section called Take Control, aimed at assisting parents.

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