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Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Online gaming

Just like some films and television programmes, not all video games are suitable for children, and there are also dangers when playing them online. Find out how games are rated and how to help keep your child safe while they explore the online gaming community.

What kind of games do children play?

Video gaming on computers and games consoles can be educationally, and sometimes physically, beneficial for your child. As technology has improved and popularity has increased, a number of different types of game and playing styles have become available.

The competition in the market and the ever-increasing demands of gamers have meant that games have developed added depth and detail, and more personalisation.

To give yourself the best chance of helping your child stay safe, find out about all the different types of game children play online.

Age and content ratings for games

Many games are for adults and may contain themes, language and images that are inappropriate for your child. It is important that you make sure the games they are playing are suitable for them.

All video games sold in the UK must have age ratings clearly marked on the front and back of their boxes. The age ratings are chosen using the Pan-European Games Information (PEGI) system. PEGI classifications and labels are mandatory for products unsuitable for children under 12 and it is a requirement to ensure PEGI 12, 16 and 18-rated products are only sold to those of the appropriate age.

It is illegal for a retailer to sell a video game with a PEGI age rating of 12, 16 or 18 to someone below that age. Also, where appropriate, games are asked to display icons on their boxes to give an idea of the content. These icons include drugs, violence, bad language and themes of a sexual nature.

Until 30 July 2012 age ratings were chosen by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC), and the PEGI system was used for games that were exempt from classification.

Chatting and communicating with other players

While playing online, players can communicate with each other by:

  • sending messages which can be typed as part of the game
  • chatting online while playing the game
  • physically speaking using headsets/microphones

Although many gaming environments and communities are moderated, some of the communication taking place may be unmonitored. This can place your child at risk of cyberbullying or contact from potentially dangerous strangers.

Setting technical parental controls

You can use parental settings on the computer or console to control your child's gaming. This could be to block your child from playing certain games that may have inappropriate content or from playing online unsupervised.

You can check the equipment's user manual or the manufacturer's website to see what controls you have access to.

Tips for staying safe while playing online

You can help keep your child safe by following these tips:

  • chat to them about their gaming and ask who they are in contact with
  • research games before deciding whether they are appropriate for your child – consumer opinion forums are widely available online, along with publications and websites dedicated to reviewing games
  • familiarise yourself with the games to check they’re appropriate – you can do this by playing them yourself or by watching your child playing them
  • get them to use a screen name that doesn’t include any clues about their real name
  • advise them to never give out personal information such as their email address, phone number or location
  • encourage them to tell you if they are being bullied or if there are any users they feel uncomfortable about - many games have the facility to ‘block’ other players
  • report any threatening or suspicious behaviour to the game’s administrators or to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre (CEOP)

As with all online environments, if your child makes a friend online and wants to meet them you should always go along with them.

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