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Playing video games is an insanely popular pastime for people of all ages, but particularly teenagers and young adults. It gives them an opportunity to blow off steam, relax, and let their minds wander as they troll a fellow gamer on the other side of the world.
Video games are just another form of entertainment, no better or worse than television, movies, or music. However, some games are designed to be played by adults and not those under a certain age. And yet younger gamers will invariably get their hands on these titles somewhere, somehow.
The only way parents can guard against their offspring playing video games they don’t agree with is by educating themselves about them. After all, it’s impossible to police something without first understanding it. Thankfully there are several simple ways parents can educate themselves on video games.
Check The Rating
Your first mission when pondering the suitability (or otherwise) of a particular title is to check the official rating. This can easily be found on the game’s box, or on the official website. Each territory has different ratings systems, and each country has different ideas of what content is appropriate and not appropriate. Some games have been banned in one country or more because of local laws.
In the U.S. and Canada, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is the organization in charge. Ratings range from E (for Everyone) to A (for Adults Only 18+). In Europe, the Pan European Game Information (PEGI) is the organization in charge. Ratings range from 3 to 18 (both referring to the age restrictions).
Read Multiple Reviews
Knowing the ratings and dubious content (if there is any) of a particular title is a good start, but it’s only going to give you the essential information about a video game, rather than educate you as to the style, structure, and quality of the game in question. To do that you’ll need to read multiple reviews of said game.
Thankfully the hard work in this field has been done for you. You can, of course, just Google the name of the game and follow the links to reviews, but you can also just use a website such as Metacritic, which pulls together reviews from various sources. You can get an overall picture of a game by checking the average review score and the brief synopsis, or click through to read individual reviews on external websites.
Watch Gameplay Videos
Reading up on video games is one thing, but to truly get a feel for a particular title you should consider watching gameplay videos. These are available to watch on YouTube for most modern games, with people playing through a game and recording their experience of doing so while giving a running audio commentary.
If watching gameplay videos feels too pedestrian then Twitch.tv may help to better educate you. This is where (mostly) hardcore gamers stream live video of themselves playing games, so you’ll be able to gain a true insight into a particular title and the kind of experience your offspring would have playing it.
Ask The Experts
Last but not least is the most obvious advice of all for parents seeking to learn more about video games and gaming as a whole. While you yourself may know little about this form of entertainment that millions of people worldwide enjoy taking part in, you’re likely to know someone who does know about it. So seek out their advice on what games are suitable for whatever age group your child resides in.
Beyond friends and family members there are other experts in the field. Visit your local game store and make enquiries, find video game-related forums willing to field questions from n00bs, or ask a gaming journalist for advice on Twitter. I’d be more than willing to answer quick queries on Twitter via @DavePee, and my editor Dave LeClair (@sideox) would be willing to do likewise.
This is very simple, common sense advice for parents. But none of it will work without one other key ingredient: communication. Talk to your kids about video games. Ask them what genres they like, and what titles they’re looking forward to playing in the future. Discover if they game is online, and if so, who with. If you don’t ask the right questions then you’ll have a tough job connecting over this alien pastime.
Are you a parent who worries about your kids playing video games? Is it the levels of sex and violence that concerns you? Or the fact that your child is doing something you really don’t understand? Did you find the advice in this article helpful? Do you have any other advice for parents seeking to better understand video games for the benefit of their children? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.