Your kiddo wants to play the latest and greatest new game. They’re excited about it. All their friends are playing it. You, though, haven’t even heard of it. You’re not alone. Many many parents ask the same question: How do you know if a is appropriate for your kid?
There are a lot of games released each year. Like, a lot a lot. In 2017, for example, nearly 8000 games were released on the Steam platform alone . That jumped to over 9000 in 2018. Developers across the world release more than 20 a day. And that’s just one platform.
Now, things get a little easier to manage when you narrow the scope to just the major titles released in a year, but that’s could still easily top a hundred in a single year.
Add to all that your own kiddo’s evolving tastes in the games they play. Then add the impact of what their friends are playing, and general hype. On top of that, you can add in the overall trends for games in social media and it can quickly become impossible to know if a particular game is appropriate for your kid.
Thankfully, there’s a number of easy to use and readily available tools to help you figure all that out. We’ll go over those tools and arm you with everything you need in this post.
Understanding Target Audiences
It’s important to know that video games are not “just for kids”. They haven’t been for a long time. There are many games (just like there are many movies) with grown-up themes and content. Developers design a game from the ground up with an audience in mind. As a parent, it’s important to know that for any given game, the target audience may not be your kiddo.
If you want to know if a game is appropriate for your kid, a great first step is to know that game’s target audience.
With this in mind, it’s also important to know that – like movies – games are an art form. There’s significant subjectivity in it, so just knowing a game’s target audience is usually not enough. For example, depending on the content, a game aimed at teens might still be a bit much for a twelve or thirteen-year-old. Conversely, a game aimed at mature audiences might be fine for your particular sixteen-year-old.
So, how do you know the target audience of a game?
The easiest way is to look at the rating. Most games, like most movies, have a rating. While the specifics are different between the two, there’s pretty solid overlap in the concepts. The rating can tell you at a glance the target audience for a game. It even provides specific details for why the game has that rating. For example, is the game get rated T (For Teen) because of comic violence or language? Or something else?
It’s not a perfect system, but it’s generally pretty solid and will give you a cursory understanding of what’s in the game. Enough to prime you to get as much additional information as you feel you need.
So, let’s talk a bit about the ratings. Most every game released nowadays has been rated by an organization known as the ESRB (Entertainment Software Ratings Board). They operate much like the MPAA does for movies, reviewing the content of a game and then providing a rating for it based on that content.
A happy puzzle game with flowers and bright colors will likely come back rated as E for Everyone. Conversely, a dark post-apocalyptic zombie shooter will likely come back as M for Mature. As noted above, it’s not a perfect system and regardless of the rating you need to consider what you feel is (or is not) appropriate for your kiddo. That said, it does give you a great foundation to start from.
You can find a detailed list of the ratings at the ESRB website, but I’ve also broken them down here as well. If you want to know what the rating is for a given game, you can just search for it here and it’ll give you the rating and the content breakdown.
- E: Everyone (All Ages)
- E10+: Everyone (10 and Up)
- T: Teen (13 and Up)
- M: Mature (17 and Up)
- AO: Adults Only (18 and Up)
- RP: Rating Pending (Hasn’t been rated yet – Usually used in early advertising and marketing before a game has actually been sent in for review)
What About Online?
One very important thing to keep in mind is that, regardless of the ESRB rating of a game, that rating will not cover interactions online. This is even more critical to keep in mind if the game has a competitive online component. There are many gamers out there that take their games, rankings, and competition very seriously – and some of those can get toxic. Thankfully, Game Developers understand this. So, they typically provide a number of mechanisms to report and deal with toxic players. These include tools mute or ignore jerks. All that said, online toxicity is something, as a parent, you should be aware of.
So, as I’ve mentioned, ratings provide a good foundation to help you understand a game’s target audience. But, every kid is different and every game is different. If you’re still on the fence about a title, there are a number of other tools at your disposal to help you know if a game is appropriate for your kid.
Other Tools To Determine If A Game Is Appropriate For Your Kid
Aside from just the ESRB, there’s a few more great tools to determine if a game is appropriate. These are fantastic if you want to really understand what’s in a game and how it plays.
Youtube – Let’s Plays
Youtube – Youtube is an amazing resource to really see the content of a game. If you simply search for the game title, you’ll generally see many many videos pop up that will show the actual gameplay. Typically if you search for the game title and add the words “let’s play” to it (example: Minecraft Let’s Play) you’ll find a variety of full playthroughs of the game. This lets you can check out the content for the entire title. Though you may need to watch several if the game is long, and the videos are broken up.
As with any video you’ll see online, the quality will vary – as will the language and temperament of the one creating the video. If you have young ones around, I’d recommend watching with headphones on – as the language (particularly if the content creator is playing a particularly difficult section of a game) can get… let’s just call it “interesting.”
Twitch.tv – Live Streaming
Another useful tool is Twitch.tv – Here you can watch gamers streaming gameplay live. With twitch, you’re more likely to find streams of more recent or bigger games than smaller or older titles. It’s still very useful, though, as you can watch unvarnished and unfiltered gameplay live. Parents can directly see what type of content is in a game, and in the case of a multiplayer game, get a sense of the overall community AND a good sense of how long matches take.
Parent Note: As with youtube, you’re watching others play and comment – which means there may be language (particularly in the chat) that may not be appropriate for your kiddos (regardless of how appropriate the game they’re playing might be). So, it’s a good idea to have some headphones handy.
Twitch.tv is also a special beast in that it has a culture all it’s own. If you’re unfamiliar, you can check this out for a primer. In general, though, if you’re just dropping in to see what a game is and how it plays, you can completely ignore the subculture and still get the information you need
What About Reviews or the Game’s Website?
You can absolutely get some information about a game from the game (or developer’s) website. You can pull some good information from reviews as well. However, while both of these will give you a lot of information about the game itself, they’re not particularly well suited to help parents determine the suitability of the game for their kiddos.
The reason for this goes back to the target audience. The game’s website positions its information to appeal to the audience they’ve built the game for. So, the site gives visitors information on the game’s features, story, and where it can be purchased and played.
Similarly, reviews (particularly from online outlets) will sometimes produce some video content for the game. These sites, though, generally review the game through the lens of the game’s target audience. The reviews are about pointing out strengths and weaknesses, finding ways to quantify relative quality, and providing information for players – but (again, generally) they’re meant to help players decide if they want to purchase the game or not, not to decide if the game is appropriate or not.
Now, some reviews will highlight if a game seems to be “out of alignment” with its rating, if it’s particularly egregious, so it can help highlight potential outliers or problems, but in general, it’s better to look at reviews for a game after you’ve determined that the game would be appropriate for your kid.
There’s a tremendous volume of games released each year. These games, like movies or TV, are works of art. All that, combined with hype and marketing, and it’s easy for parents to get overwhelmed. Hopefully, the tips and tools here have provided you with some new ways to judge if any given game is appropriate for your kid.