Children and Online Games:  Where Does the Parents’ Responsibility Begin and End

 

by Stephanie “Jasarina” Miller

 

What would you do if you came upon your children viewing a game that shouted “Learn how to be the best drug lord on your block,” or “Pimps ahoy, the game for the modern man-about-town”?  Don’t laugh.  There are games like that out there.  Even better-known and well-recommended games, such as EverQuest, World of Warcraft, and Asheron’s Call, all known as massively multiplayer role-playing games (MMORPGs), have moments that make maturity and reliability strong requirements for the responsible player.  This again leads the concerned parent to the question:

 

Should online games limit their access only to those over 18?

 

This question has been bouncing around the many gaming sites for as long as I can remember.  As a mother of three youngsters, I am indeed concerned, from the viewpoint of how such games affect my children.  However, my concern falls into the category of what are my responsibilities and duties compared to the responsibilities and duties of game publishers or the intervention of government control?

 

Here are the conclusions I came to:  I do not believe that gaming companies should restrict access to their servers based on a player’s age, nor should such restriction be enforced by government regulation. I believe this monitoring of content falls under the rights of a parent to supervise what their child is doing. Parents need to make informed decisions and do what they feel is appropriate for their children. With my three youngsters between the ages of five and 10, I would allow my child, with proper supervision, to play an online game.  Maturity of the child and the degree of unsavory aspects of the game are the keys.

 

In all the years I have been gaming, I have met many younger players who acted just as maturely and responsibly as their adult counterparts. The youngest gamer I can remember in this category was a 13-year-old girl from Idaho who played EverQuest as a reward for keeping her grades up. From talking to her, you would not believe she was 13. On the flip side of this, however, I have met gamers in their 30s who were irresponsible and immature. Age is not a good indication of how well a person is going to adapt to an online gaming environment.

 

I have compiled a list of information to allow other parents to make informed choices about the software they allow their children to use.

 

There are several important things to consider before allowing your child to venture into an online game. The first and foremost is the content of the game they are interested in.

 

All software has to be rated by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) before it is sold. The ESRB is an independent council that judges the content of the games and their appropriateness for users at various ages.  With this Board being totally independent from the gaming companies, you are assured an unbiased objective view of the content.

 

Each game's content is assessed and then assigned a rating based on what age group the software would be appropriate for. The ratings include: Early Childhood (EC = ages 3+), Everyone (E = ages 6+), Everyone 10+ (E10+ = ages 10+), Teen (T = ages 13+), Mature (M = ages 17+) and Adult Only (AO = ages 18+). For easy reference you can find the rating letter(s) symbol on the front of the box and a description of what the rating means on the back.

 

An example of a rating description would be the entry for Teen (T = ages 13+). This rating description states that the software may contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood and/or infrequent use of adult language. You can find all the other symbol descriptions, along with a great deal of pertinent information, on the ESRB website at www.ESRB.org.

 

Once you have found the right game for you and your child, your next step should be to read the manual completely.

 

All games come with a manual, but be sure to check the CD and/or the directory that the game installs in for information that was added after the manual was printed. By reading this information, you will learn about the types of experiences your child will encounter in the game. Some parents, for instance, do not like games that allow PvP (player versus player) or games that do not allow you to edit who can you communicate with.  Most games have an “ignore” list for this purpose. If the game offers any parental safeguards, you can learn about them in the manual. Some games allow you to block tells from players to your child (private messages sent by a player through a private channel to another player), unless the sender is on an “approved” list. Other game options might allow you to turn off the sight and/or sound of blood and gore.  So, you have read the manual and are comfortable with it and the gaming environment.

 

Next step is to give the game a try.

 

Even if you are not a gamer, you may enjoy it.  Better still, you can more accurately gauge the gaming environment through first-hand experience. Almost all online games offer some type of free trial that will allow you a chance to try out the game without the need of paying for a subscription.  The only cost, then, is the initial price of the game CD.

 

Once you are comfortable with allowing your child to play the game, there are some important issues to keep in mind.

 

Younger children should be supervised during their playtime. If you do not wish to play the game yourself, watch and talk to them about their experiences. It is especially important if this is their first experience in an online environment.  You can use this time to teach them the limits of their involvement, what they can and cannot do in-game, areas to steer clear of, and the ins and out of gameplay for this particular game. When used appropriately, games can be a lot of fun—for both you and your child.

 

For your children’s protection, teach them under no circumstances should they share personal information about themselves or their family with anyone online. This rule should apply even outside of a gaming environment, of course. Even general information can be dangerous if shared with the wrong person. However, in a game your child is in essence a different person, with a different identity and minimal information to attract the unsavory who wish to prey upon the unsuspecting. Teach your children to stick to that. No one needs to know their real names or where they are from.

 

It is a good idea to have your gaming computer in a common room in the house, so that it is easier for you to monitor whom they are talking to and what they are doing. I would suggest not allowing any child, regardless of age, to have a computer in their bedroom. Again this is my personal opinion. However, I see it as an important safeguard that will help me steer my child away from inappropriate content or people.

 

For older children who require less supervision, take an interest in what they are doing.

 

Discuss it—any way to get teens to talk is good. Conveying resentment or harsh words about their game will only foster a need for your teens to feel like they must hide their gaming activities from you. Online games are an outlet to talk to people from all over the world. Not all those people are good people. Your young adult needs to feel comfortable coming to you if approached by someone whom s/he suspects is not appropriate.

 

Set responsible limits on your children’s gaming time but be open to suggestions.

 

Personally, I reward my children with computer time for good grades and chores. It is important to remember that being too strict can lead to hidden playing instead of openness. I can remember more then one raid in EQ1 where a teen had his power cord pulled for playing in the middle of the night.

 

One of the biggest things I think we need to teach our children, and continually reinforce, is that the other people in the game are real people too.

 

They are just like them…playing characters in a gaming world. It is important to teach them to show the same respect that they would give to someone they have met in real life. I have often found that a certain percentage of people who play online think they can be brash and rude because no one knows who they really are.

 

If you are a gamer, set a good example. Play with your child and demonstrate good behavior and proper limits on your gaming time. Children learn by example and they look to mom and dad for everything.

 

A lot of outspoken people out there think games are evil and are destroying the minds of young people.

 

I disagree.  I think, with proper supervision and guidance, online games can be a fun release for stress for everyone, regardless of age. The way I see it, I would rather have my pre-teen/teen spending some of his/her free time playing online then running around all over town with people I have never met. Not only is online gaming safer if used with caution but at at night you do know where your children are.

 

There are always going to be people who think that the government needs to step in and limit games for your child’s protection, but ultimately it comes down to you doing what you feel it the right thing for your own child. Feel free to comment on this article. All the above views are my own and do not represent Ten Ton Hammer or any of the many gaming companies.

 

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Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016

About The Author

Karen 1
Karen is H.D.i.C. (Head Druid in Charge) at EQHammer. She likes chocolate chip pancakes, warm hugs, gaming so late that it's early, and rooting things and covering them with bees. Don't read her Ten Ton Hammer column every Tuesday. Or the EQHammer one every Thursday, either.

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