“May I See Your ID?” Video Game Retailers Lead in Store Policy Enforcement
By Patricia Vance, ESRB President
For the second consecutive time, research has shown that video game retailers do an exceptional job enforcing store policies regarding the sale of Mature-rated games. The latest report from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) shows that 87% of the time retailers refuse to sell a Mature-rated game to a customer under 17. This is the highest rate of restriction for any of the entertainment products tested, including admittance to R-rated films in theatres. And it matches the all-time high that video game sales policy enforcement hit in the FTC’s last study in 2011.
While video game retailers have been doing their part, it is ultimately parents who are in the best position to make sure their kids are playing games that are suitable for their age. While there are plenty of ways to do so, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Always check a game’s ESRB age Rating Category and the Content Descriptors listed on the back. A list of ratings and their definitions is available in the ESRB Ratings Guide.
- For more detailed information about content, look up a game’s “Rating Summary” at ESRB.org or by using ESRB’s free mobile app. These describe exactly the type of content a parent would want to know about, including specific examples.
- Use parental controls. These settings let parents limit the games that can be played by their rating, turn on or off the ability to play online, and can sometimes even restrict when games can be played, with whom, and for how long. [Editor’s note: check out our step-by-step guides for more information on setting parental controls on Xbox 360 and Windows.]
Game Ratings Matter for Parents
By Patricia Vance, ESRB President
Whether it’s a smartphone, computer or video game console, kids are playing more games than ever before. And for parents, it’s become even more critical to have a reliable resource to help gauge whether a game or mobile app is appropriate for their child. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), the non-profit, self-regulatory body for the entertainment software industry, independently assigns age and content ratings for video, computer and mobile games sold in the U.S. and Canada. For nearly 20 years, ESRB has been the “go to” resource to help parents make informed game choices for their family. And today, ratings have become even more relevant as parental concerns have expanded from content and age appropriateness to now include interactive elements that could expose personal information, location and more.
The ESRB regularly surveys parents to assess the awareness and use of the ESRB rating system and the effectiveness with which it helps them to make informed game buying decisions. The latest study, conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates in May-June 2012, shows that the majority of parents with game-playing children regularly check the ESRB ratings before buying a video game.
- 85% of parents are aware of the ESRB rating system
- 70% regularly check a game's rating before making a purchase
- 67% are aware of content descriptors (which indicate material that may have triggered a particular rating), and three quarters (75%) check them regularly
- 88% feel the ESRB rating system is “helpful” in choosing games for their children
- 64% consider it equally important that a rating system provide information about Interactive Elements (like user interactions or the sharing of a user's location or personal information) as guidance about age-appropriateness and content.
Today, the ESRB rating system consists of three parts to help parents make the right game choices no matter what device their child uses to play a game:
Rating Categories, which suggest age appropriateness for the game;
Content Descriptors, which indicate material that may have triggered a particular rating, such as violence, suggestive content, language, etc.; and
Interactive Elements, which advise of interactive elements parents might want to know about in advance. These notices, which are assigned to games and apps that are delivered digitally (as opposed to packaged/boxed games sold at retail), include:
Choosing video games and apps for kids doesn’t have to be stressful or confusing. With ESRB ratings and information, parents can continue to make it an informative -- and even fun -- experience by educating themselves to make the right selection.
For more helpful information and resources from ESRB, check out their Resources for Parents.
Protect Your Family’s Online Accounts During Gamer Safety Week
By Doug Park, Director of Online Safety for Xbox
Today, Xbox and our partners in the Gamer Safety Alliance kick off the second annual Gamer Safety Week. This year’s theme is “account safety and security in the online world.” It’s important to protect your information to help prevent someone you don’t know or trust from gaining access to your account, possibly allowing them to wipe out an online reputation and history you spent years building.
Now is a great time for everyone in the family to do a quick account safety checkup. Here are some best practices to help ensure your family’s accounts are protected.
- Add security proofs like phone numbers, alternate email addresses, and security questions and answers to all online accounts where available, especially those that use your email address as your username.
- Be mindful about who you communicate with online, and never share sensitive information like passwords, addresses and payment details with people you don’t know and trust in real life.
- Have a family conversation about staying safe online. Tools like the PACT can help kick off the discussion on what is appropriate to play and when, who kids are allowed to communicate with, and what information should not be shared online.
- Download security updates; install and enable tools like virus, spyware and malware tools; and use phishing filters to help protect your devices and accounts.
Gamer Safety Week is an opportunity to be sure your family is doing everything it can to protect itself online. Have fun and stay safe!
Top Picks for Family-Friendly Games from Industry Experts
In the past few months, a number of industry organizations have announced their picks of the best gaming experiences for families. Much like our Get Game Smart partners, each of these organizations spends months testing games across the industry to give a detailed, unbiased assessment of a game’s quality. As a result, these awards can serve as a great guide when deciding which games to purchase for your kids this holiday season.
Check out these recent top picks, along with their ESRB rating, from NAPPA, Parent’s Choice Awards, The National Parenting Center and Time to Play:
- The National Parenting Publications Awards (NAPPA): “Kinect Sesame Street TV” [ESRB Rating: EC for Early Childhood] was honored with a Silver Award in NAPPA’s Virtual category. A list of winners will be released on Nov. 1 on NAPPA’s site.
- Time to Play: “Kinect Sesame Street TV” [ESRB Rating: EC for Early Childhood] and “Minecraft” [ESRB Rating: E10+ for Everyone 10 and Older] are currently nominated for Time to Play’s 2012 People’s Play Awards. Winners are voted on by the public and will be announced in early December 2012. The ballot can be found on Time to Play’s site. Additionally, “Kinect Sesame Street TV” [ESRB Rating: EC for Early Childhood] was selected by gaming editor Jeff McKinney as one of the four titles to appear on their Holiday 2012 Most Wanted Video Games list.
- Parents’ Choice: Both “Kinect Star Wars” [ESRB Rating: T for Teen] and “Kinect Rush: A Disney·Pixar Adventure” [ESRB Rating: E for Everyone] were recognized with Silver Honors in the Video Game category, with detailed reviews for each experience available on the Parents’ Choice site.
- The National Parenting Center: “Kinect Star Wars” [ESRB Rating: T for Teen] and “Kinect Rush: A Disney·Pixar Adventure” [ESRB Rating: E for Everyone] each also received a Seal of Approval for Fall 2012 and are featured on The National Parenting Center site.
Family-friendly games like these are a great way to spend time with your kids this holiday season and throughout the year. Even if you’ve never thought of yourself as a gamer, I hope you’ll take time in the coming weeks and months to sit down, play, watch and have fun with your children. The holidays are also a great time to continue a family conversation about ensuring a safer, more balanced approach to screen time and digital media. Be sure to check out great tools and resources like the PACT and theXbox 360 Family Timer to help make those decisions. Happy holidays!
How I Keep My Child Safe Online
By Monica Vila, The Online Mom
Monica's blog post originally appeared on Katie Couric's Katie's Crew blog. A recent episode of "Katie" dealt with online predators and featured online safety expert and Get Game Smart partner Parry Aftab who emphasized the importance of parents being engaged with their children's online activities.
Last year, a friend of mine called desperately looking for help in finding her 13-year-old daughter, who’d last been seen boarding a bus from Philadelphia to New York City. Upon reviewing her daughter’s Facebook account, she discovered that a man posing as a new “friend” had made the travel arrangements and would meet her at Penn Station. Needless to say, she was in a panic. The man’s profile had no address, so my friend immediately called the police. I turned to social media to help amplify our outreach and so many people helped re-tweet the call for help, including @KatieCouric.
My friend’s daughter was found four hours later at a home in Queens, and the man was arrested.
This story reminded me that while the Internet is a wonderful way for children to learn about the world, to be entertained, and to communicate with friends and family, it can also bring risks. As parents, we need to properly prepare our kids for a digital future and coach them so they can make the right decisions. That means understanding our children’s online activities and developing rules and guidelines that both the parent and child can embrace.
Here are five tips I follow to keep my 13-year-old daughter safe and secure online:
1. Be informed
Find out what your child likes to do on the Web, which sites they visit, and games they play. Spend time together online and show an interest in what their doing.
2. Start a dialogue
Talk to your child about online safety and be specific about your concerns. Let them know there are safe and unsafe web sites, just as there are safe and unsafe places to go in the real world. Talk about the importance of resisting contact with people they don’t know, and encourage them to immediately tell you about anything that makes them uncomfortable.
3. Protect personal information
Teach your child to respect their personal information, as well as others. Never share passwords, phone numbers, or addresses. They should know to never post pictures or information about other people without their permission
4. Click smart
Teach your child not to open files or click on links unless they are from a trusted source. Talk about the dangers of malware and how viruses can harm files and the performance of the computer.
5. Install parental controls
Install a top-rated suite of parental controls to protect your home computers and monitor your child’s use. Let your child know that you have installed parental controls; trust is the foundation of good decision-making. (Some of the best parental controls include: NetNanny, Kaspersky PURE and Norton Family.)
If you maintain a dialogue and are consistent in your approach, your child will quickly develop the responsible online habits that will be so important through their teen years and beyond. Don’t leave it to chance or let others teach your child. Become an online parent today!
When TV is something you can play…
By Get Game Smart
As parents in the midst of a digital revolution, there’s no shortage of debate about how to maintain a healthy amount of “screen time” for our kids, and at the root of the discussion is how much time a child is simply sitting, sedentary in front of a screen.
When Microsoft first introduced Kinect for Xbox 360, it offered parents an entertainment option that would get kids off the couch and encourage families to play together. This week, in partnership with Sesame Workshop and National Geographic, Microsoft will take fun, interactive experiences to a new level with the release of “Kinect Sesame Street TV” and “Kinect Nat Geo TV.”
In the months leading to the release, these new experiences were tested with more than 300 children to understand the subtleties of small children’s voices and movements, two of which were the children of Leticia Barr, blogger at Tech Savvy Mama
. Here’s a quick look at what happened when Leticia’s kids interacted with their favorite TV shows:
Capitol Hill Game Night: A Showcase of How Kinect for Xbox 360 is Redefining Video Gaming
By Fred Humphries
Yesterday Microsoft hosted its third annual Capitol Hill Game Night in Washington, D.C., where we broughtsome of the newest Kinect for Xbox 360 games to showcase how we’re redefining gaming in America. The event drew more than 500 Washing
ton elite including Members of Congress, staffers and family members, as well as young leaders from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, Fuel Up to Play 60 and one of the winners from the National STEM Video Game Challenge.
This event is a culmination of several important initiatives we have participated in this year – from getting kids excited about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects as part of the National STEM Video Game Challenge
to helping them stay active even when they are inside with the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition’s PALA+ Challenge
. At the event, we celebrated the promise of video game technology and its future use outside of the traditional realm.
Attendees were able to play fitness-focused titles including “Kinect Sports: Season Two
,” and “Dance Central 3
,” as well as 2-way TV experiences including “Kinect Sesame Street TV
” and “Kinect Nat Geo TV
,” demonstrating how Kinect is changing the way we learn and play. With Kinect’s controller-free technology, fitness is redefined as families get up and off the couch, no matter what the weather is like outside. New 2-way experiences make education fun, allowing kids to interact with some of their favorite TV shows and programs, moving and learning all at once.
The Get Game Smart
team was also onsite educating parents and kids about resources available to ensure families have a positive and safe online experience. Be sure to check out our online safety resources at GetGameSmart.com
and view photos from the event at Get Game Smart’s Facebook page
The National STEM Video Game Challenge—Getting into the Learning Game
By Alex Games Ph.D., Education Design Director at Microsoft Studios
As any experienced teacher can tell you, one of the best ways to captivate children while teaching them is to make lessons interactive and fun, allowing them to forget they are actually learning. I saw just how true this was as a judge for the National STEM Video Game Challenge. The competition promotes science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education by harnessing kids’ natural passion for video games. Earlier this week, I visited Washington, DC, where I was given the opportunity to meet the winners – some of our nation’s most promising future game developers.
I was thrilled by the positive response the Challenge received from students – about 3,700 innovators from all over the United States created unique video games – a huge number in itself, but also a 700 percent increase in participation from last year’s Challenge. While in DC, I was pleased to see, once again, the diverse and innovative ways in which gamescan be used for learning. A clear example was STEM Challenge winner Gustavo Zacarias’ game, “The Dark Labyrinth.” The game created by Gustavo using Microsoft’s Kodu Gamelab, has players travel through the depths of a labyrinth solving math problems, and using their solutions as the basis for choosing the next turn to take on their way out. Not only was I was blown away with Gustavo’s creative design, but I was also pleasantly surprised to see the careful way in which he integrated his game mechanics with math in a way that made it fun to brush up on some of my math skills.
In my role as Microsoft’s Education Design Director, I’ve seen the revolutionary ways gaming can transform learning as we traditionally think of it. Kodu is a clear example of the powerful tools now available to educators and learners to make such change happen. Kodu is a freely downloadable game creation platform that allows learners to explore those aspects of computer programming, digital art, and, interactive systems design that lie under the hood of modern videogames. It is always fascinating to see the ways in which its shallow learning curve allows youth to quickly create game mechanics that resemble those of the commercial games they often play, and then inspires their creativity to transform their love of playing games into a love for creating them. We have found this process a very powerful way to give them a sense of pride and ownership in their work, but as importantly, to fuel in them the drive and desire to tackle the complex problem solving, computational thinking, and sociotechnical system construction challenges that underlie not only the creation of games, but also the use a plethora of tools in the STEM disciplines from the creation of experiments to the simulation of natural phenomena. Just as importantly, the games they create act as a medium of expression that helps them reflect on these challenges, and express their understanding in a highly relevant form to them.
At Microsoft, we are excited to see how principles of playful interactive play that underlie Kodu are also allowing us to create a learning and enrichment basis for other family experiences, such as “Kinect Sesame Street TV” and “Kinect Nat Geo TV.” By partnering with leaders in educational content, we are carefully taking these high quality shows and adding a layer of interactivity aimed at enhancing their message through play, by enabling characters in the show to talk and interact directly with viewers.
While in DC, I also had the chance to meet with others who are equally as passionate about gaming’s role in education. I had great discussions with people like, Michael Levine from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center and Robert Torres from the Gates Foundation, who are leading thinkers about the use of video games in innovative ways to prepare students for the 21st Century classroom.
I know that initiatives like the National STEM Videogame Design Challenge are helping develop young minds with skills fit for the future, and I’m encouraged by the unprecedented number of students getting excited about math and science. I’m excited about what the future has in store for these promising future game developers and look forward to working with them someday.
New Initiative Harnesses Video Games to Meet National Active Lifestyle Goals
By Get Game Smart
On April 30 in Washington, D.C., Get Game Smart partner the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition (PCFSN) and other industry leaders launched the Active Play Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA) Challenge, an initiative that uses video games to promote healthy living.
Xbox was onsite for the day’s activities along with Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, members of the President’s Council, and Drew Brees and Dominique Dawes, celebrity co-chairs of the initiative. The first part of the day took place at the Walker Jones Education Campus, where local students were on hand to demonstrate the PALA Challenge video games, including Microsoft’s “Kinect Sports: Season Two.” Council members and other guests also had their turn trying out the games, experiencing firsthand how these fun games get families moving.
The activities then moved to the Smithsonian American Art Museum, where industry stakeholders could tour the “Art of Video Games” exhibit and experience “Kinect Sports: Season Two” and other participating “exergames.” New Orleans Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees stopped by the Kinect station and played football on “Kinect Sports: Season Two,” leading his team to victory!
The day ended with remarks from Secretary Sebelius, President’s Council celebrity co-chair Drew Brees and ESA president and CEO Michael Gallagher who discussed how video games can be a key component of an active lifestyle and help Americans earn the President’s Active Lifestyle Award.
The Active Play PALA Challenge is open to people of all ages who want to get moving in a fun, interactive way. Click here to learn more about the new challenge and how “Kinect Sports” can help you reach the specified fitness goals.
Beyond Fun and Games: My Experience as a National STEM Video Game Challenge Judge
By Noah Munck
Whenever I tell people I grew up in Orange County, they assume I’m a really good surfer. I’m not. My Xbox avatar; however, is an excellent athlete.
Yes, I’m a self-proclaimed gaming nerd - and proud of it. Growing up the oldest of five children, I thoroughly enjoyed every opportunity to dominate in games against my brothers and sisters. It wasn’t all competitive, though – video games also got the whole family together, one of the few activities we could all agree on.
I think back to playing games with my family just a few years ago, and I’m amazed at some of the things companies have come up with since then. There are singing games. There are dancing games. There are sports games, action games, and educational games. There are even games that don’t require a controller. You can even create and play your own game.
I’ve recently been reviewing some of these homemade video games in my role as a judge for the 2012 National STEM Video Game Challenge – and I’m truly impressed by what these young gamers have come up with using programs like Microsoft’s Kodu. The whole idea behind the Challenge is brilliant – students learn basic programming skills that will help them get jobs in a way that’s fun and engaging.
Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook, Andrew Mason from Groupon, Pete Cashmore from Mashable, even Carly Shay of iCarly – young tech-savvy minds are behind some of the best products out there. For young Americans to keep innovating like this, we need to foster talent as early as possible – which is why competitions like the STEM Video Game Challenge are so important. Who knows – maybe I’ll be playing one of the winning games on my Xbox in the near future.
Noah Munck is an actor on TV's iCarly and avid video gamer. He is serving as a judge in the 2012 National STEM Video Game Challenge. For more information, visit www.stemchallenge.org.
Join Us for a TweetChat on Game-Based Learning
We recently blogged about our sponsorship of the 2012 National STEM Video Game Challenge, a multi-year competition that aims to motivate interest in STEM learning among America’s youth. By tapping into kids’ existing passion for video games and technology, the Challenge aims to help build essential math and science skills while inspiring them to be the next generation of America’s innovators.
We’re teaming up with a few of our National STEM Video Game Challenge partners to host a TweetChat to discuss youth game design and game-based learning. Details are below:
U.S. News & World Report and AMD STEM Challenge TweetChat
Date: February 22, 2012
Time: 4:15 p.m. – 5:15 p.m. ET
Stay up-to-date on the #STEMchat conversation by following @changingthegame & @jason_koebler! Use the #STEMchat hashtag during the chat so you don't miss anything. Every 10 minutes, one randomly selected registered participant will receive exciting gifts from the participating organizations.
#STEMchat conversation panelists include @STEMChallenge, @CooneyCenter, @GetGameSmart,
@pbskids, @ELineMedia and @ErikatESA.
Visit the National STEM Video Game Challenge website for more information about the Challenge.
Instructions on how to join:
TweetChat link: http://tweetchat.com/room/STEMChat
Enter hastag #STEMchat at the top of the page to join the conversation
To register, please e-mail Danielle.Meister@Edelman.com your name and Twitter handle, and follow @GetGameSmart, @changingthegame and @jason_koebler.
Celebrate Gamer Safety Week With Your Family
Today marks the inaugural Gamer Safety Week. We’re excited to partner with eight other companies in the Gamer Safety Alliance to provide gaming fans and customers tips and tactics, focusing on universal principles for online safety:
• Contact: Be thoughtful about who you communicate with and only engage with those that you trust. Utilize communications tools for you and your family. Don’t communicate sensitive information with those that you don’t know.
• Conduct: Practice good digital citizenship! Be respectful of others, don’t post harmful or hurtful material, and have fun. Know the proper steps to help keep your accounts secure – use different strong passwords across multiple sites and never share your password with anyone else (regardless of their claims).
• Content: Most games have ratings and descriptions of the content. Use this information to play games that are appropriate for you and your family. Check out ESRB ratings in the United States, PEGI ratings for most of Europe, or your local ratings agency for more information.
Learn more about Gamer Safety Week here.
Getting the Family Involved on Data Privacy Day
By Get Game Smart
Every year on January 28th, countries around the world celebrate Data Privacy Day, an annual event led by national privacy organization and Get Game Smart partner, the National Cyber Security Alliance
. Data Privacy Day is an opportunity to share privacy tools and promote awareness of privacy resources and best practices. More than ever, families are using online networks to connect with each other and with their entertainment, so it is important that parents and kids have conversations about keeping personal information private.
Education is a key component in ensuring that everyone in the family knows about protecting personal information online. One resource for families looking to kick off the dialogue on privacy is the "Stop. Think. Connect.
" campaign. The campaign focuses on getting everyone to stop before sharing information online, think about what the consequences could be, and connect in a safer manner. Check out this video on safer gaming
to see "Stop. Think. Connect." in action.
Sharing personal information online can have unintended and sometimes long-term consequences. That’s why it’s important for parents and caregivers to make privacy part of an ongoing dialogue with their families. Data Privacy Day is a great time to equip yourself with the latest privacy tools and resources
to help inform these conversations.
A Look at CES and the Kids@Play Summit
By Doug Park, Director of Online Safety for Xbox
Last week I had the chance to attend the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and the Kids@Play Summit. It was great to see the newest products and ideas in consumer electronics while thinking about the online safety implications that come with each new innovation. A plethora of smart devices – from cameras on televisions to browsers on every device and unlimited content – are bringing connected entertainment to more people than ever before. At the same time, there could be new potential risks being introduced.
It all adds up to some common themes that were represented well at the Kids@Play Summit. Online safety and privacy awareness and education are critical for parents and children alike. Parental controls should be part of the conversation (and we have you covered for Xbox), but parental involvement is key. At the end of the day, we know you can’t be there to protect your children all the time, so we need to partner to give them tools for when they go it alone. It’s like teaching a child to always wear a seatbelt, not just when you are in the car to enforce it.
I was given a chance to present some of these ideas on the Taming the Reputation Monster panel, moderated by Larry Magid, Technology Columnist and Co-Founder of ConnectSafely.org. My fellow panelists included George Garrick, CEO of SocialShield, Clayton Ostler, Senior Director of Technology at ContentWatch (NetNanny), and Noopor Argawal, Senior Director of Public Affairs at MTV. As Larry noted near the end of our discussion, we were all somewhat surprisingly consistent with our outlook that there needs to be a balanced approach for addressing privacy and online safety needs for children and families.
Some of the common themes from our discussion included working to create safer online communities and combating digital abuse, as well as creating awareness of online monitoring tools and online safety education resources. We also agreed that parents are the "first line of defense" as kids and teens are increasingly connected and new gadgets are coming into the home. Parents need to take the lead in a continued discussion on acceptable technology habits with their children. It was a great panel to participate on.
The summit and CES were a good reminder that technology isn’t going to slow down and will continue to introduce new threats and risks. As a parent myself, it also increases the importance I place on having the right conversations regarding privacy and online safety with my own children (ages 5, 7, and 12). If you need help, check out the PACT on our site. It is an outstanding resource to start the conversation.
5 Things Parents Should Know About Video Games
By ESRB president Patricia Vance
As the Holidays arrive parents might appreciate some insight about today’s games and what they need to know when choosing them for their children. So, beyond the fact that virtually all games carry ESRB ratings and that parents should use them, here’s a list of 5 things the average parent might not know about video games, but probably should.
1. You can now go deeper than the rating. ESRB offers rating summaries on its website at www.esrb.org providing a detailed description of content that factored into a game’s rating. Parents can look these up right from the store using a free mobile app for Windows Phone, iPhone and Android.
2. There are plenty of choices that are OK for kids. There’s a misconception that most games are those shoot ‘em ups that get so much attention. But it’s actually games rated Everyone that account for about 6 in 10 ratings assigned while those rated Mature represent just 6%.
3. Kids need to protect their privacy. Because online-enabled games can allow players to speak with one another kids should know that they shouldn’t share personal information, even with people they believe they can trust. And that’s not limited to contact info and SS#s, either. Kids should know not to share details about their lives like where they go to school, where their parents work or what their plans are for the weekend.
4. The control is in your hands. Game consoles and handhelds offer parental control features that allow parents to restrict games by ESRB rating as well as manage online access. In some cases they can even let you limit how much time per day or week your child can use the system. Check out parental control instruction guides and other helpful resources in the ESRB’s Resources for Parents section.
5. You can play, too. And you should! Playing games is a fun way to gain a better understanding of the virtual worlds your children enjoy visiting so often. And you wouldn’t be alone. The average age of a gamer today is 37, and family game nights are becoming an increasingly popular pastime. So after the games are unwrapped and the new console is hooked up, get in the game. After all, the Holidays are all about spending quality time with our loved ones, right?
Latest Update Brings New Content to Xbox LIVE
By Doug Park, Director of Online Safety for IEB
This is an exciting week for Xbox LIVE! We are rolling out of the next generation of TV and entertainment with our latest Xbox LIVE update, available today. This update brings content from nearly 40 entertainment providers, including movies, music and television shows. Powered by Kinect and voice search with Bing, live and on-demand entertainment on Xbox LIVE allows you to search and discover content from multiple sources and enjoy that content in extraordinary new ways.
As these new and exciting experiences come to Xbox LIVE, we’ve also updated our industry-leading Family Settings (go to Settings > Family) to ensure that parents remain in control. Because we know that not all content is appropriate or acceptable for everyone, we’ve ensured our Family Settings apply to all of the new content offerings and search features across Xbox LIVE. Parents and caregivers can customize access to content including games, movies, music and TV shows. For example, if you want to filter Bing search results and require a PIN code for access to MPAA Rated R movies, you can do so across all entertainment experiences. In addition, this update provides greater control over access to social networking sites on Xbox LIVE, allowing parents to determine whether their kids can share console activity – such as achievements unlocked in games – to social networking sites outside of the console.
Cookie Monster Wants Parents Involved
By Pam Abrams, Director of Partnerships and Strategy at The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop
In the 1980s, communications researchers discovered that children whose parents talk about Sesame Street as they watch the show learn more from the viewing experience. Caregivers who co-view with their children can help guide their attention to media features salient for learning. But today, with approximately two-thirds of mothers in the workforce and more platforms delivering media into homes than ever before, children are often engaged with media by themselves, at earlier ages, and for longer periods of time. We can no longer consider television the primary platform, parents the primary participants, or living rooms the primary settings for shared media experiences.
In the changing face of American family life, we must now also turn our attention to new devices including video game consoles like Kinect for Xbox 360. Parental controls help all adults (parents, teachers, grandparents, caregivers) in all kinds of settings (schools, after-school programs, museums, the backseats of cars) regulate media safety and consumption for the children they care about most. Cookie Monster thinks so too, according to this hilarious new video from Xbox 360 and Sesame Street that highlights the importance of parental controls. The public service announcement reminds families to use their parental controls and also helps them learn more about the safety features built into their game consoles, such as game ratings, setting limits on time and the ability to restrict online access.
The new media landscape has inspired a resurgence of interest in co-viewing in the research community. Learning scientists, developmental psychologists, communication scholars, media producers, and philanthropists are now working with the Joan Ganz Cooney Center to better understand how adults and kids can benefit most when they learn together with media. To shine more light on the subject, the Cooney Center will be issuing a report this fall called The New Co-Viewing: Designing for Learning Through Joint Media Engagement.
The mobile, networked, and asynchronous qualities of increasingly affordable technologies offer new opportunities to co-engage children and parents with high-quality content like the new Kinect for Xbox 360 game, “Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster,” or the recently announced “Kinect Sesame Street TV,” part of Xbox 360’s “playful learning” experiences. When kids are getting age-appropriate content in safe environments and at the right doses, everybody wins.
Survey Says: Parents Aware of and Using Tools to Help Keep Kids Safe
By Kim Sanchez, Chairman of the FOSI Board of Directors and Director of Privacy and Online Safety at Microsoft
Recently, the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) – a Get Game Smart partner – released survey results from more than 700 parents on their awareness and use of parental controls when it comes to their children’s Internet use. The survey – “Who Needs Parental Controls?” – found that the vast majority of parents (87 percent) are aware of parental controls and that most parents (53 percent) have used some type of parental control for Internet use. The survey also found that nearly all parents (93 percent) set rules or limits on their children’s online activity even if they do not actively use parental controls. The results also showed that parents are looking beyond the home computer when it comes to their families’ Internet use. More than half of parents (52 percent) reported that they felt knowledgeable about parental controls on video game consoles.
As Chairman of the FOSI Board of Directors and Director of Privacy and Online Safety at Microsoft, this issue is very important to me and I was encouraged by the high awareness and positive outlook toward parental controls. Access to the Internet is critical to the success of today’s youth, and it is heartening to see that parents believe they have to resources to help their children safely navigate the digital world.
Read more about the results of “Who Needs Parental Controls?”
How Kids Can Build Science and Math Skills With Video Games
The Congressional Committee on Science, Space, and Technology recently highlighted how the federal government and its various partners are using creative ways to generate an interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in classrooms across America – from robots to interactive video games. Mike Gallagher, president of the Entertainment Software Association and Get Game Smart partner, explained how video games can teach students about STEM fields, noting that such initiatives have enormous potential “to foster highly engaged, effective learning and motivation for STEM.”
At Microsoft, we’re also committed to building programs to attract the innovators of the future. Today, Xbox 360 announced a sponsorship of the 2012 National STEM Video Game Challenge, a multi-year competition that aims to motivate interest in STEM learning among America’s youth. Just recently, Microsoft worked with young members of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington to develop games with Kodu, a free program that enables students to design and program their own video games and virtual worlds. By tapping into kids’ existing passion for video games and technology, these educational efforts will help build essential math and science skills while inspiring them to be the next generation of America’s innovators.
Read more about the STEM Video Game Challenge
Lunch & Learning: Boys & Girls Club Youth Visit Microsoft D.C.
By Get Game Smart
Members of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington (BGCGW) stopped by Microsoft’s Innovation and Policy Center in Washington, D.C. to showcase Xbox 360 games they developed using Kodu Game Lab, a program that teaches computer programming skills through video game creation. Microsoft employees had the chance to meet and speak with these special young people.
Youth from two Boys & Girls Clubs – Clubhouse No. 2 and the FBR Branch @ THEARC – worked over the course of several months with Microsoft mentors to brainstorm game ideas, create their own world, populate it with characters and program each of the elements of their games.
As part of the luncheon showcase, local Silver Spring, Maryland teacher and Microsoft Worldwide Innovative Educator Pat Yongpradit spoke to the Boys & Girls Club youth about computer science, game design and careers in technology. He also led them through the process of programming an Xbox controller using the Microsoft XNA framework.
The Kodu program received rave reviews from the youth and BGCGW staff with all participants sharing that the experience was fun and educational and that it sparked interest in learning more about college majors and careers in computer programming and other technology fields.
BGCA Youth Builds Xbox 360 Video Game with Kodu Game Lab
In advance of Microsoft's Capitol Hill Family Game Night, several members of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Washington participated in the development of original video games using Microsoft's Kodu Game Lab alongside Microsoft representatives Brendan Daley and Amanda Moss. One club member, Jemiah Brown, shares his experience below.
Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in a Microsoft Xbox program at the FBR Branch Boys & Girls Club. We used a program called Kodu to create our own Xbox game.
It was fun to create and play! First, we were able to create the whole landscape with the land and the water. Then we created a chain reaction for our character Kodu - it was cause and effect. Using teamwork, we put all of our ideas together to create a final game. Our game was about the Kodu who tried to get all of the apples within period of time. If the clock ran out of time and Kodu did not collect all of these tokens, you would lose and the game would be over.
Even though I am not a serious video game player, I like to play the game in my free time. I would recommend this to other kids because everyone always talks about making their own video game. Kodu is an easy and fun way to do it!
Choosing Games for the Kids Just Got Even Easier
By Patricia E. Vance, ESRB President
There are lots of ways parents decide which video games are allowed to come into their homes. Many check the ESRB ratings and content descriptors. Some consult reviews, store associates or other parents. And more than a few are gamers themselves who become familiar with games by playing them with their kids. Regardless of which you rely on, if you want a quick and easy resource that tells you exactly what you’d want to know about a game when trying to decide if it’s OK for your child, this may be the tool for you.
For the last two years or so ESRB has been assigning “rating summaries,” which offer a brief but detailed description of content that factored into a game’s rating – including specific examples. This can include a summary of the game’s story and context (“This is an adventure game about a futuristic soldier fighting intergalactic injustice”), its violence (“Players are able to fire laser cannons and throw bombs that temporarily stun enemies. Characters cry out when hit but no blood is depicted”), and even specific instances of suggestive content, harsh language, or substances – anything that contributed to its rating. This is precisely the stuff your kid is never going to tell you about.
Today we’re happy to say that these rating summaries are accessible right from the store using our latest Windows Phone 7 app, available in the Windows Marketplace (Download here via Zune). There are also versions for iPhone and Android.
The app is completely free and easy to use. Search by either typing in a game’s title or snapping a photo of the game box to find its rating summary. Never again will parents have to take their child’s word for it when they swear “it’s not that bad!” Now you can decide for yourself by making sure you are armed with the information necessary to determine which games are right for your child, when and where you need it most.
Learn more about the mobile ratings app by watching this video
The Supreme Court Decision to Protect Video Games: How We Can Work Together
One of our Get Game Smart partners, the Entertainment Software Association’s Michael Gallagher, recently wrote an article for the Seattle Times in which he reported on next steps after the Supreme Court affirmed that the First Amendment covers video games. Here’s an excerpt from his post on how we can work together to help parents and families learn about appropriate video game content:
"As an industry, we are working to do our part by providing parents with the tools and information they need, including providing password-protected parental controls on all new video-game consoles. These robust controls allow parents' choices to be enforced even when they are not at home.”
Microsoft Brings Kinect for Xbox 360 to the Second Annual Capitol Hill Family Game Night
By Alisha Mark, Safer Gaming Advocate for Xbox 360
Microsoft recently hosted the second annual Capitol Hill Family Game Night in Washington D.C., bringing the excitement of the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) to the nation’s capital while showcasing innovative gaming technology, education and family-friendly fun to policymakers and their families. The event, which took place in the Rayburn House Office Building, featured Microsoft’s controller-free Kinect for Xbox 360 and family-friendly game titles, including the upcoming “Kinect: Disneyland Adventures,” “Kinect Sports: Season 2” and “Dance Central 2.”
The event not only featured the newest game titles for Kinect, but also showcased the next generation of technology innovators – kids! Members of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington were in attendance to talk about video games they created with Kodu Game Lab, a program designed to help youth learn more about computer programming and other topics in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.
The Get Game Smart program was another highlight of the evening, as the team helped attendees learn how Microsoft and other leading children’s advocacy organizations are educating parents on the resources available to help establish safer gaming and online habits in their homes.
Visit our Twitter and Facebook pages to get more details and photos of all the fun!
Microsoft Takes Kinect for Xbox 360 Across The Country
In March and April, the Get Game Smart team hit the road again to show off Xbox 360 Family Settings and the hottest fitness games for Kinect for Xbox 360. At four national women’s shows in Seattle, Raleigh, Nashville, and Novi, Michigan, we met with parents and families to demonstrate how using Kinect for Xbox 360 can help them stay fit while offering a fun experience for the entire family to enjoy together. Many parents were also interested to learn about tackling issues related to online and video game safety, including setting up parental controls, educating their children about appropriate media use, and keeping up-to-date on the latest industry topics, such as privacy and cyber bullying.
At the shows, the Kinect for Xbox 360 booth drew in thousands of women and families as the team demoed fitness games like “Dance Central” and “Kinect Sports,” walked parents through the set-up process for Xbox 360 Family Settings and gave attendees the chance to win a Kinect for Xbox 360 Fitness Bundle each day. Those who jumped in and tried Kinect were surprised at how simple it was to use their entire body to play Kinect, with many attendees exclaiming, “Wow – this is really a workout!” Many others were excited to learn about the Family Timer feature that allows parents to set time limits on the console by day or week.
Here are a few more quotes we heard from parents:
- “I LOVE that I don’t need a controller to play Kinect. This is amazing!”
- “My son is always playing way too much … I am so going to set the Family Timer.”
- “This is so cool, it’s like magic!”
- “Because you guys were here last year and showed me all the Family Settings options, I went right out and bought one for my kids!”
We enjoyed another great opportunity to meet and talk with thousands of families across the country. Thanks to everyone who stopped by our booth!
Learn more about the hottest fitness games for Kinect for Xbox 360.
Safer Internet Day: It’s More than a Game, it’s Your Life
Today is international Safer Internet Day (SID), an annual event dedicated to promoting responsible use of the Internet and mobile technology, particularly among children and youth.
Organized each year by Brussels-based Insafe and co-founded by the European Union, February 8, 2011, marks the eighth installment of SID. This year’s theme focuses on “our virtual lives” under the banner, “It’s more than a game, it’s your life.” As in years past, SID 2011 is expected to spark hundreds of Internet safety-related activities and events by a multitude of participants in dozens of countries.
Microsoft was an inaugural participant in and has been a long-standing advocate of Safer Internet Day, particularly in Europe, the birthplace of SID. From conducting consumer research and raising awareness of online risks to partnering with industry and government and sponsoring educational programs, Microsoft has sought to demonstrate its ongoing commitment to a safer and healthier Internet for all.
This year, we’re expanding our involvement. In addition to events across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia, we’re embracing the online-gaming theme, which is particularly relevant in the U.S. Microsoft is teaming with local Boys and Girls Clubs to sponsor a series of fun and friendly "Family ‘Online’ Game Nights", featuring Kinect for Xbox 360, the company’s cutting-edge interactive gaming experience.
The events will be held in three cities: Atlanta (February 8), Chicago (February 10) and Los Angeles (February 15). Participants will have the opportunity to play games, learn how to engage in game-play more safely and pick up educational materials about personal and family online safety. A Microsoft-commissioned survey of American parents of online gamers shows that parents and children spend a significant amount of time playing online games together.
Click here to learn more about the survey and read the rest of this post.
It’s Not Too Late to Make a New Year’s Resolution
By Caroline Curtin, Policy Counsel for Microsoft U.S. Government Affairs
Now that we’re a few weeks into the New Year, many of you are likely hard at work on your recent resolutions – whether it’s to get in shape, take the bus into work, or watch less TV. But for those of you who gave your children tech gifts during the holiday season, such as Kinect for Xbox 360, I’d like to challenge you to take on one more resolution: make a PACT with your children for 2011.
The PACT is a contract you can make with your kids to empower them to make smarter choices about what they play, browse, watch and share. It also helps facilitate a discussion about how they should and shouldn’t use technology, including limits on screen time and content. By signing this PACT, your child is making a commitment to your family’s rules around online access and digital media use when engaging in activities such as playing video games, social networking or watching TV.
Whenever your child needs a refresher, the PACT is an easy reminder. It helps parents and children discuss rules for:
- Parental Involvement: Who will set the guidelines
- Access: With whom can your child interact with while online and what they can share
- Content: What games and videos can your child use, based on ratings and the content they include
- Time: When and for how long your child use a video game console, computer or TV
While the PACT is an important tool for having ongoing discussions with your kids, we also encourage parents to learn about and set available parental controls. For information on setting Xbox 360, Xbox LIVE and Windows 7 parental controls, check out our step-by-step set-up guides.
Working Together to Prevent Bullying
By Jacqueline Beauchere, Director, Trustworthy Computing Communications
As a large technology company with a significant online presence, Microsoft believes it’s our responsibility to help make the Internet a safer place for people, including children, to learn, communicate, play and grow. Of the risks facing children online, cyberbullying is a growing concern for both parents and educators.
Today, bullies have capitalized on the availability of much more discreet and efficient tools with which to badger their victims, going beyond the intended uses for which they were designed. Sadly, as we’ve seen in recent news reports, there have been a number of examples where youth who were victimized resorted to taking their own lives.
As part of Microsoft’s ongoing commitment to help keep people safer online, I will deliver a keynote address at theInternational Bullying Prevention Association’s Seventh Annual Conference. At the time, I will also release new research highlighting the extent of this problem.
Click here to read the rest of this post.
A Safer Gaming Holiday
By Caroline Curtin, Policy Counsel for Microsoft U.S. Government Affairs
‘Tis the season of celebrations, snowfall and holiday wish lists – many of which will include some kind of gaming console or entertainment accessory. When I attended FOSI last month, I heard from several attendees that Kinect for Xbox 360 was at the top of their gift list. At Microsoft, we couldn’t be more excited that people are enjoying the magic of Kinect, a controller-free experience with a natural user interface that responds to gesture, voice and motion. As families bring this new technology into their homes, it’s important for parents and caregivers to know about the Family Settings that are available to help them manage their children’s gaming and entertainment experiences.
Last month, we released an Xbox LIVE update that included an overhaul of our Xbox 360 and Xbox LIVE Family Settings. I’d like to highlight a couple of new features specific to Kinect and the Family Settings available for those features:
- Video Kinect. Allows Xbox LIVE Gold members to video chat with friends and family using Kinect. Family Settings automatically block this feature for Child profiles, but if parents allow this feature, they can customize whether their children can video chat and with whom.
- Kinect Sharing. Enables users to share pictures captured during gameplay with select Kinect games like “Kinect Adventures!” outside of Xbox LIVE on social media pages like Facebook. Kinect Sharing is automatically blocked for Child profiles, but parents can decide to block or allow this feature for any user.
This site offers step-by-step guides to all of our Family Settings to help families use these tools. We even have a printable guide and a short video with 10 easy steps for safer gaming with Kinect, Xbox 360 and Xbox LIVE.
As the holidays approach, I encourage parents and caregivers to check out these resources to help ensure the gaming and entertainment experiences in their homes are right for their families.
Know What’s in the Game
New ESRB apps let you find detailed game content information by just taking a photo of a game box.
By Patricia Vance, President of the ESRB
So you already know that virtually every computer and video game has an ESRB age rating category on the front of the package and content descriptors on the back. Parents like you know that using the ESRB ratings is a great first step in making informed choices. But the ratings are just that…a first step.
When parents want to delve deeper into a game’s content, what they really need is a detailed, no-nonsense description of the content they’d want to know about – the types of violence, sexual or suggestive material, language, etc. The ESRB has recently begun providing exactly that, in the form of a supplementary source of information called “rating summaries.”
And where parents need this information most is when they’re in the store, trying to decide if the game their child is begging for is suitable. So ESRB created a free mobile app for iPhone and Android, the newest version of which actually lets you search for a game’s rating summary simply by snapping a photo of the game box. It’s as simple as point, snap, read, and it takes the guesswork out of deciding which games are OK for the kids to play. Just search “ESRB” in the Apple App Store or Android Market. Or, you can use ESRB’s mobile website at m.esrb.org and get access to the same information – albeit without the cool photo feature.
The ratings are a great resource and checking them undoubtedly gives parents a good sense of whether a game is right for their child. But for some parents, ratings aren’t always enough to seal the deal. That’s why the ESRB rating summaries are such an excellent source of additional information and guidance, and taking advantage of the new ESRB apps is a great way to have access to this information whenever and wherever it’s needed.
Get Game Smart at FOSI 2010
By Caroline Curtin, Policy Counsel for Microsoft Government Affairs
Microsoft is always looking to spread the word about GetGameSmart.com, so the Family Online Safety Institute’s (FOSI) annual conference in Washington, DC last week gave us a great opportunity to showcase the tools and resources available on the site. Get Game Smart partners like ConnectSafely, NetSmartz.org and Web Wise Kids joined hundreds of safety advocates, educators and industry leaders from around the world to tackle current issues in online safety and digital citizenship.
At FOSI, the Get Game Smart booth not only featured resources like the PACT, but FOSI attendees had a chance to test-drive the latest updates to Family Settings for Xbox 360. Microsoft’s Caroline Curtin spoke on a panel during which she highlighted GetGameSmart.com as one way parents and caregivers are being made aware of the resources available to them. Caroline points out that:
“With tools like the PACT, Get Game Smart helps parents and kids talk openly about what is appropriate to watch, share and play, and with whom.”
Xbox 360 Family Sweepstakes Winners
We wanted to take a moment to congratulate all of the Grand Prize winners of the Xbox 360 Family Sweepstakes: Veronica, Tynishia, Randy and Matthew! Throughout the course of the four-week giveaway, we received numerous entries from parents with a wide array of household media tips and tricks on balancing screen time, choosing the right video games for your family and rules around online gaming and social networking. Here’s some of the great advice we received:
- “Our two kids are not allowed to hear voice chat when playing multiplayer games with strangers and they can only use social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter when we are in the room with them.”
- “Online games are allowed after school lessons are done and only on weekends (along with TV and movies) - social networking site rules are that all safety features of Facebook are utilized.”
- “Parents should play video games, watch TV, and use the Internet with their children. They need to establish cut off hours such as 11 pm on weekdays and 12 am on the weekend.”
- “Use a screen time tracker like the Family Timer which is handily built right into Xbox 360 Family Settings.”
- “To find appropriate games for my family, I check game websites and game ratings for trailers and information on family friendly games.”
- “I rent the games first and play them myself so that I can decide if it’s good or not for the family.”
Thank you to everyone who participated in the Sweepstakes! Remember that GetGameSmart.com has step-by-step parental control set-up guides and tools for helping your family enjoy TV, video games, and the Internet in ways that are safer and more balanced. Follow @GetGameSmart on Twitter or become a fan of GetGameSmart.com on Facebook for updates on the go.
Women’s Show Series Wrap-Up
As you may know from visiting and exploring our site, GetGameSmart.com was created to help families tackle issues related to online and video game safety –setting up parental controls, having conversations with your children about appropriate media use, and keeping up-to-date on the latest topics such as cyber bullying and even sexting. But what about the hundreds of thousands of parents out there who don’t go online? Where do they find the information they need to make the right media choices for their families? We decided to meet these parents face-to-face by traveling across the country to five national women’s trade shows in Seattle, Raleigh, Richmond, Nashville, and Novi, to spread the word about parental controls for Xbox 360 and other online safety tools.
At the shows, the GetGameSmart.com booth drew in thousands of women and families as the team walked them through the set-up process for Xbox 360 Family Settings and tools like the Family Timer, handed out resources including the PACT and gave attendees the chance to win an Xbox 360 each day. Not only were the majority of parents surprised at how simple it was to set the parental controls, but they were also excited by the various levels of control they were able to achieve with Xbox 360 Family Settings. The Family Timer proved to be a real crowd pleaser, with many moms exclaiming, “That is such a great idea! I had no idea I could control the amount of time my kids played!” Here are a few more of our favorite quotes from the parents we met:
- “My son is always playing way too much … I am so going to use the PACT!”
- “I love your parental controls and am more comfortable with him playing on the Xbox than anywhere else.”
- “These controls are great! I had no idea you could do all of this.”
- “Control was a worry of mine since I’m about to get an Xbox. Thanks for sharing all this with me!”
Aside from all of the great families we had the opportunity to talk to during our cross-country travels, our team also had a fabulous time exploring each of the cities we visited and hope to hit the road again soon.
Who knows – maybe next time we’ll come to you!
Enter the Xbox 360 Family Sweepstakes!
Get Game Smart will host the Xbox 360 Family Sweepstakes for four consecutive weeks on Friday, May 28, Friday, June 4, Friday, June 11 and Friday, June 18, where families will have the chance to win an Xbox 360 Family Prize Pack or a $100 Best Buy gift card or spa gift certificate! On each of these giveaway days, you’ll find a new challenge question on the Xbox 360 Family Sweepstakes page around online and video game safety and how your family makes smart media choices in your home. For the chance to win each week, simply enter your answer and email address on the Xbox 360 Family Sweepstakes page – we may even feature your answer in a blog post on GetGameSmart.com!
A winner will be picked at random and will receive an Xbox 360 Family Prize Pack, including: one Xbox 360 Elite console, a one-year Xbox LIVE Gold Membership, and 1600 Xbox LIVE points. You can also find our weekly challenge questions on our Twitter page, @GetGameSmart. Contestants will also have a chance to win a $100 Best Buy gift card or spa gift certificate by following @GetGameSmart and re-tweeting the challenge question from that week. There are four days to win – Friday, May 28, Friday, June 4, Friday, June 11 and Friday, June 18, so don’t miss out!
[No purchase necessary. Open only to legal residents of the 50 US and D.C. 18+. Game ends June 18, 2010. See Official Rules for details.]
Tips for Healthy Video Gaming
Hello! My name is Alexander Kruse and I’m an Ambassador for Microsoft’s Get Game Smart program, which helps parents and kids work together to create rules around video gaming and other kinds of electronics in your home. As a 15 year old living in today’s technological world, I know the importance of balancing my activities on a daily basis. I understand that it’s tough for parents to know how to limit their child’s use of electronics, but here are a few simple tips my parents and I use that you can keep in mind:
Education Comes Before Play Time
The biggest rule my family and I use is “education comes before play time.” Even though we love to play video games, use the computer, visit friends’ houses and play sports, school should always be a priority because it’s the key to your future success. If I played video games all night after school, I wouldn’t have good grades. In-game achievements are fun – but it’s more important to work hard in real life because those achievements will lead to bigger and better things.
Read the rest of this post on www.RadicalParenting.com
Prioritize Your Gaming
Hey gamers, this is Cody from Renton, Washington. I’ve been involved with the Get Game Smart program as an Ambassador for just under a year now. I wanted to take a moment and share why it’s important to always game safe and prioritize your gaming time.
My favorite game to play on my Xbox 360 is “NCAA Football 2010.” It’s always a new challenge on the virtual field when I play someone from Florida, Texas, or even Alabama. But gaming online can be dangerous and intimidating if you aren’t cautious. Some basic rules to follow when gaming online are:
- Use appropriate language
- Never give someone information about yourself (your name or age, where you live, e-mail accounts, etc.)
- Remember to play fair! Nobody likes playing with a cheater or a hacker. So just play the game right and have fun.
Along with playing video games, it’s important to stay healthy, get good exercise and do your schoolwork. I play varsity baseball, basketball, and football year-round and still have plenty of time to play video games. When I get home from practice, I usually just do my homework right away, to get it out of the way, and then use my extra time to relax and unwind by playing some video games. It’s better to get your work done first instead of waiting to do it later on, because you won’t have to worry about it and you won’t forget to do it.
Just remember to stay active and stay smart, both inside the game and outside of the game.
Cody, Get Game Smart Ambassador
(Posted February 17, 6:45 p.m.)
21st Century Citizenship
One of our Get Game Smart partners, Family Online Safety Institute CEO Stephen Balkam, recently wrote an article for the Huffington Post in which he noted that children and teens should be taught "digital citizenship skills" to help them share information in intelligent ways. Here's an excerpt from the post:
"While there is a recognition that there must be a base-line of safety -- using filters for younger kids and monitoring and privacy settings for the older ones -- the emphasis is now placed on education, media literacy and a new kind of civics. It's time for kids of all ages to understand and value the rights of free speech and assembly (ie, connecting through social networking and other means) as well as an expectation of privacy and safety."
Check out his post!
(Posted February 9, 1:07 p.m.)
Connecting Parents with Online-Enabled Video Games
Keeping pace with all the ways that media in our homes are changing can be a daunting proposition for many parents, especially given the significant impact the Internet has had on our children’s lives. MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter…the list goes on and on, and the way our children play video games is no exception. But given the risks inherent to life in the digital age, it’s imperative that parents be aware of some of the potential risks that come along with video games played online, as well as the tools and controls at their disposal to help them mitigate those risks.
ESRB ratings provide parents with guidance about content and age-appropriateness, but online-enabled elements like communication and the behavior of other players cannot be considered or reflected in a game’s rating. Many online-enabled games allow for content created or introduced by other players (called “user-generated content”), like voice, text and video chat or downloadable weapons, clothing, or other in-game props.
All games that allow user-generated content carry a notice that reads "Online Interactions Not Rated by the ESRB,” which warns that the user-generated content may not be in line with the rating assigned.
Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games are exactly what they sound like – games in which a large number of gamers play together online. Just like online-enabled games, these can include user-generated content that isn’t part of the rating. They can also be extremely engrossing for players as they oftentimes involve a social component with players assembling and cooperating in teams to compete with others in the game.
While all the current generation game consoles offer parental controls, they differ from one system to the next in terms of what elements can be controlled and to what degree. Some parental controls allow parents to restrict games by ESRB rating and turn online connectivity on and off, while others can also control when, how and with whom the system can be used to play with others online. Consult this guide for step-by-step instructions on setting up parental controls for your game system.
DLC and Micro-transactions
Downloadable content (DLC) typically refers to content that the game’s developer makes available online to extend or alter its game. DLC can be as simple as a new outfit for a game character or as elaborate as adding a 10-hour adventure onto an existing game. Also, all of the game consoles (including the Xbox 360) have virtual storefronts or arcades where users can download whole games, game add-ons and promotional materials. DLC can be accessible at no cost, by redeeming earned points, or for a fee.
A micro-transaction is an in-game purchase that might provide or unlock something that makes a cosmetic change (like a new hat or pair of shoes for the player’s character), or gives players something they could have attained by playing through the game (like new powers or a new level to play).
Parents should keep all of these things in mind if they’ve got children who play games online. Bottom line, there’s no substitute for an involved parent, and that couldn’t be more true when it comes to the video and computer games your children play, especially online.
Get Game Smart With 5 Tips from the Ambassadors
The Get Game Smart Ambassadors have put their heads together and come up with their top tips for helping parents establish guidelines for safer and more balanced media use at home. From game content, to time limits, to playing games with your kids, these five tips and resources will help you and your children engage in an ongoing dialogue about the do’s and don’ts of the digital world:
1. Get on the same page with your kids about healthy media habits. To get the conversation started, fill out The PACT, a “contract” that helps families establish rules around online access, video game content and overall screen time.
2. Encourage balance with activities that keep your kids active and busy. To keep tabs on how much time they’re spending in front of a TV screen versus how many hours they participate in outside activities or completing their homework, download the screen time tracker and post it on the refrigerator.
3. Set priorities – school work and sports should come before video game play time. Use the Xbox 360 Family Timer to keep your kids focused on school nights by setting console time limits on daily basis. When the time is up, the console turns off – no questions asked!
4. Get involved – play video games with your children to learn about their behavior online. The more you know about your children's interests, the better you can engage in a dialogue around their video game habits, the type of games they like to play and who they talk to online. Try taking the "Do You Know Your Gamer" quiz as a fun way to start the conversation.
5. Set limits –use game ratings to select age-appropriate content. The Entertainment Software Ratings Board, or ESRB, provides information about the content in computer and video games so parents and caregivers can make more informed decision about which games are appropriate for their kids. Click here to learn more about ESRB ratings.
Do you have any additional tips you’d like to share? Comment below and we’ll post some of them on our Twitter page, @GetGameSmart.
Balancing Video Gaming In Your Home: Tips from a Get Game Smart Ambassador
Hey, one of the Get Game Smart Ambassadors here, with something to think about. I'm going to go ahead and say that there is no cut and dry rule for defining good gaming habits for every family. Every child is different; every family is different.
I've got a fifteen year-old, Thomas, who loves “NCAA Football 10” and first-person shooters, but also loves to play football, hang out with friends and understands that school work is important to his mother and me and comes before video gaming. Establishing rules with him is fairly easy. He can't play until his school work is done and only if he keeps his grades up. He accepts that (it only took removing the power supply from the Xbox once or twice when he was younger) and abides by those rules. He loves to play video games with his friends, but when football season is on, he gets very little time to do so.
On the other hand, my five year-old will play the Wii or Xbox every chance he gets (he loves “NCAA Football 10” – and, in easy mode, he beats everybody 133 -0. If only that could happen in real life). So rather than go down the road where it’s a struggle to get him off the console, I've taken the video game that he likes to play and transformed it into a real-life game in the backyard. Now that his favorite game is “NCAA Football 10”, we play two-hand touch, but when his favorite game was “Lego Star Wars”, we spent several months running around with light sabers banging into things in the house. He had a blast, while being active, and it linked back to the enjoyment that he has with games.
What I'm trying to say, is that it's difficult to not give into the urge to plop your kids down in front of the TV so you can have a few hours of necessary alone time (which I admit, we all need in today's world). It's really easy to let that happen. Using creative ways to make them realize that they need to balance gaming time with the rest of their activities, therefore keeping them active and away from the TV, makes those times in front of the console all the more special.
That's just my take on it, and I play my share of Xbox as well. Do you have any creative ways that you balance video gaming in your home? I’d love to hear your ideas.
Jason, Get Game Smart Ambassador
Setting Limits - Saying No to Family Friction Over Video Games
If you find yourself arguing with your youngster about video games, you're not alone. The 2007 annual MediaWise-Harris Video Game Report Card Poll® showed that you have lots of company.
Among other findings, the poll showed that almost four out of 10 parents say they argue with their kids about how much time youngsters spend playing games. Disputes about when games should be played and which games are appropriate are common as well.
The biggest bone of contention, however, is the amount of time kids spend playing. It's probably tempting for some parents to let the issue slide and avoid family friction. The showdowns over game time, however, are worth the aggravation. That's why an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Once game play is out of control, the arguments are more frequent and more heated. But, you can take steps to keep video game playing fun and in its proper place.
A Few Tips from Dr. Dave
First, be clear about the rules for when and how much time kids spend playing. Technology can help. The new Microsoft Xbox 360 has a time limit feature that parents can use.
Second, let your kids know ahead of time what the consequences will be if they don't follow the rules. Limiting or eliminating game play for a period of time can be effective.
Third, don't be afraid to put the console or the games in the closet for a while if the battles are constant or if the young player's protests cross over the line into disrespect.
A fourth step we can take as parents is to play the games our kids love so much. After all, we need to know what all the fuss is about.
Video games are fun and exciting, and they can be a very positive part of your child's activity diet. We just have to make sure our kids play age-appropriate games and don't overdo it. Then we can keep our young ones safe and avoid arguments in the future.
David Walsh, Ph.D. is the founder of the MediaWise Movement, a program of the National Institute on Media and the Family (www.mediawise.org). His latest book, No: Why Kids - of All Ages - Need to Hear It and Ways Parents Can Say It is available in bookstores.
Tips for Keeping Your Kids Safe Online
Below, Dr. Sharon Cooper, a pediatrician and guest blogger from NetSmartz Workshop, outlines some tips for keeping your children safe online.
- Clear, simple, easy-to-read house rules should be posted on or near the computer monitor. Create your own online video game and computer rules or complete the Get Game Smart PACT. This agreement can be signed by parents and children and should be periodically reviewed.
- Keep the computer in the family room or another open area of your home.
- If children use chat or e-mail, talk to them about never meeting in-person with anyone they "met" online.
- Children's screen names should be nondescript so as not to identify them as a child. Also Web sites for children are not permitted to request personal information without a parent's permission. Talk to your child about what personal information is and why you should never give it to people online.
- Talk to your child about not responding to offensive or dangerous e-mail, chat or other communications. Report any such communication to local law enforcement. Do not delete the offensive or dangerous e-mail; turn off the monitor, and contact police.
- Look into safeguarding programs or options your online service provider might offer. These may include monitoring or filtering capabilities.
- Let your child show you what they can do online, and visit their favorite sites. Let your child know which sites are off-limits.
- Know with whom your children are exchanging e-mail and only let them use chat areas when you can supervise. NetSmartz Workshoprecommends limiting chat room access to child-friendly chat sites.
- Talk to children about what to do if they see something that makes them feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused. Show them how to turn off the monitor and emphasize that it's not their fault if they see something upsetting. Remind children to tell a trusted adult if they see something that bothers them.
- If you suspect online "stalking" or sexual exploitation of a child, report it to your local law-enforcement agency. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children runs the CyberTipline® at 1-800-THE-LOST. Leads forwarded to the site will be acknowledged and shared with the appropriate law-enforcement agency for investigation.
BGCA Expert Blog Post
At Boys & Girls Club of America, part of our mission is to ensure that all children have an ongoing relationship with a caring adult. We realize that the children in our communities, be they our sons and daughters or otherwise, need the positive influence of an adult to help them learn and grow into responsible, healthy, productive members of society. Every child has the potential to be great, and we can all play a part in supporting them as they reach for success.
The positive influence an adult can have isn't just contained to the real world - it also applies to the virtual world. It is important that every child learns how to be a good cyber citizen and that they learn how to behave in a safe and healthy way online. In addition to helping children learn the ways of the world, and prepare them to be healthy, mature functioning members of society, adults should equally prepare them for the digital world.
Spending just a little bit of quality time with our children online can make all the difference. Some activities we suggest include:
- Watch them play their favorite video games — Talk to them about the kinds of video games they like to play. This will help you better understand what your children are playing and help make sure that they are not playing games you do not approve of.
- Visit their social networking profiles (i.e. Facebook, MySpace, etc.) together — See how they are presenting themselves to the online world, view who their friends are online, and talk to them about the importance of preserving a good reputation off and on line.
- Ask them to take you to some of their favorite websites — Have them show you the places that they hang out in the digital world. Not only will you get a better idea of what they are doing online, but you might learn even more about the kinds of things your child is interested in.
- Show them some of your favorite websites — Help them learn more about the kind of interests you have such as a sports site, news site, or a blog you follow.
- Talk to them about their online experiences — Make sure they know they can talk to you if they encounter a problem online, be it cyberbullying, or inappropriate contact from a stranger. Keep the lines of communications open.
We know it's not easy to be a parent these days. Finding quality time to spend with our children, amidst the daily stresses of life, is oftentimes, difficult. Just carving out some quality time to spend with our kids, can make a difference. It is these conversations and actions that will help make the digital world, and in turn, the real world a healthier, safer place to live.
Cyndi Court, Executive Vice President, Boys & Girls Clubs of America
Cyndi Court is the executive vice president of resource development and marketing for Boys & Girls Clubs of America, one of the nation's leading youth development non-profit organizations. BGCA provides life-changing programs to some 4.5 million youth served through membership and community outreach, inspiring them to BE GREAT.