The main issue for parents with gaming-mad children (or just occasional dabblers) is that the devices which play games can connect to the internet and therefore can be played online.
This means the same online safety rules that apply to internet use, such as social networking, should also apply to gaming ie your children should not disclose any personal information, such as their age or whereabouts, to strangers.
It also means you need to get a handle on what your kids are up to at other people’s houses – there’s not much point in you imposing stringent controls at home, if they’re playing wildly age-inappropriate games at friends’ houses.
Play-safe gaming tips for parents
- Engage – find out what your children are playing, and who with.
- Lighten up – games should be played in well-lit rooms.
- Take breaks – some games can be especially intense, so regular breaks are vital for healthy gameplay. Encourage children to take regular breaks, at least five minutes every 45-60 minutes.
If the whole gaming thing is a bit of a mystery to you, here’s a quick run-down. If it’s not, it’s still worth checking that you’re clear about the different ratings and parental controls for games.
1. Consoles: These plug directly into a TV – among the most popular consoles are the Nintendo Wii, Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3 (PS3). Half of UK households own a console of some type. Games can be bought in shops or, increasingly, downloaded directly to the console. All consoles are capable of connecting to the internet and many games are played online with other human players.
2. Handheld consoles: These are small consoles whose primary function is to play games. Two popular handheld consoles are the Nintendo DS and the Sony Playstation Portable (PSP). Handheld consoles can be used to access the internet wirelessly.
3. Mobile and app games: Mobile and other handheld games are played on smartphones and other handheld devices such as the iPod Touch or iPad. Games can be downloaded as apps directly to the device. Some mobile games are free but players can purchase added functionality. However, these functions can be deactivated, usually through the device or phone settings.
4. PC games: These are games that are bought on a disc or downloaded, and played on a personal computer. Many PC games make use of the internet, including Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games, where gamers interact together in virtual communities.
5. Web-based games: These games are played directly through unique websites and often do not require any kind of additional software or hardware to play other than a web browser, keyboard and mouse. These sites can offer a single game or they can offer hundreds of different games in the same place. Many of the games are free, although some have paid-for components.
All video games consoles offer parental controls so that you can lock down just what, how and how long your children play games. All parental controls allow parents to limit gameplay by age-ratings. The parental controls are easy to set and can be found with the consoles menu systems.