“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.
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?
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.”
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.
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.