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Guiding children towards healthy gaming

"We have amazing materials for parents, we need to shout about them much more," says Andy Robertson

"We need parents on board if we want to protect their children," wrote GamesIndustry.biz's James Batchelor recently.

It's a good point that moves us beyond a defensive stance when it comes to engaging parents. However, the more pressing question is what we need to do to enable that to happen.

As a journalist who's spent many years written about games for parents I'm happy to report some good news. It's a story that doesn't get told as often as sex predators in Roblox, addicted children not getting to the toilet, or loot boxes setting up a life of gambling, because it's more complex and harder to research.

Many of the parents I meet, at the school gate or online, are eager to play a parenting role with video games like they do other areas of their children's lives. They see through the headlines and heavy-handed eSafety sessions as scaremongering, but aren't sure where to turn for help.

"It's like we're all grasping around in the dark", they say. Or, "I just want someone to tell me what to do to help my son."

When I tell them about resources like UKIE's excellent AskAboutGames website, the VSC's PEGI and Additional Consumer Information guidance, or projects I'm working on (weekly advice videos on Patreon and a book called Taming Gaming), the relief is palpable.

AskAboutGames is top of the list here because it's industry funded via UKIE and the VSC. Edited by Will Freeman, it offers advice to help "families make sense of video games". This ranges from weekly gaming charts by age rating that are really useful in finding age appropriate games, to articles on pressing issues for families, and regular video guides to bigger blockbuster games.

The VSC is also worth talking about. Along with being the UK statutory body applying PEGI ratings, it offers Additional Consumer Information reports for each game rated as PEGI 12 or higher. These offer unflinching details about what to watch out for in a game, ensuring that parents can make informed decisions.

There's also value in a range of independent projects helping parents. The best of these empower parents to move beyond knee-jerk screen-time limits or game bans to a deep understanding of the benefits as well as the dangers.

I was reluctant to start my weekly videos aimed at parents, as I wasn't sure there was the appetite and they are time consuming to create - but it's been a revelation. Not only the number of families signing up, but the level of responses and intricate questions from parents wanting their children's gaming stay healthy.

This tweet is typical of these conversations. Parents can go from worried outsiders to engaged active parents. All they need is the right guidance in a form they can access and understand. There are so many positive, simple wins for parents and guardians with just a little information; from parental controls to ways to track and set automatic time limits on games, it has never been easier to get involved.

More than this, connecting parents with games that they themselves will enjoy is an effective way of getting them to participate. As in the tweet above, That Dragon, Cancer has been really helpful for me in this conversation. Bury Me My Love and One Hour One Life are also great examples of games I've covered for parents to experience.

After playing, they often want to share them with their children. I count it as something of a win when I hear a parent finding a game addressing an important topic that they invite their child to play. On occasion these are older rated, and the child will hesitate at accepting the invitation, needing reassurance from the parent that they will play together and stop if it gets too much. What a wonderfully back-to-front conversation than the norm.

Of course, it's not all perfect. The games industry could do more to help parents in certain areas. For instance, publishers dictate when the detail of a game's PEGI ratings are made public. This is usually when the game is released, to avoid spoilers. For parents making pre-order purchasing decisions it would be useful to have this information sooner. The ESRB seems able to do this in the US.

Steam is another sore point for parents. Unlike Nintendo, Xbox and Playstation it doesn't voluntarily require a PEGI or ESRB rating on its games. There is no legal requirement for it to do so, but this would be a big help for parents often blindsided by inappropriate games popping up for youngsters on Steam. It would also be good to see Apple adopt the IARC (PEGI and ESRB) ratings as on Google play.

In more general terms, it would be good to see publishers and other parts of the industry promoting resources like AskAboutGames more frequently on online stores or platform websites. We have amazing materials for parents, and we need to shout about them much more.

At the end of they day it comes down to the conversations we have as individuals in the industry. I'd encourage you to find one or two resources you really rate and then really get the word out.

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Latest comments (2)

Eyal Teler Programmer 30 days ago
It's worth mentioning Common Sense Media in this context. That's where I typically go to get some opinions of games and movies.

Initially when reading 'healthy gaming' in the title, I thought about things like Wii and Kinect games, which my kids still play (alongside other games). In that respect I have to say that just having such options (consoles and games with active controls) gets the kids to play them. A pity that these active options are out of vogue.
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Thank you for this illuminating article. I had never heard of AskAboutGames until now. Perhaps because I am in the US. Personally, I have seen the same issue and am tackling the lack of materials for families with other creators via GamingFamlies.com
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