Identifying age-appropriate content in games
Dr Rachel Kowert
Navigating the world of video games can be a daunting task for many parents, especially when it comes to determining which games are age-appropriate for their children. Here are some tips for helping to identify age-appropriate video games to help ensure that you and your children are making informed choices.
What is explicit content in games and how do I know if it is age-appropriate?
Explicit content refers to content within a game that may be of particular interest or concern among parents for its age appropriateness. This can include violent content, sexual content, violent and or sexual themes, explicit language, and/or reference to or the use of drugs and alcohol.
The presence of explicit content in social games is listed in the games’ description. For example, when previewing a game in the Apple App store, you can see information about the age rating (e.g., ages 18+) and game content (e.g., “mild violence”) of any particular title in a column located on the right hand side of the screen.
The content descriptors are there to provide a better idea as to why any particular game received their designated age rating. For example, the ratings boards across the globe currently uses more than two-dozen content descriptors that range from general descriptors, such as:
- Blood and gore
- Mature humour
- Intense violence
- Strong language
- Suggestive themes
Some descriptors are used to identify specific inclusions, such as:
- Drug reference
- Encouragement of the use of tobacco/alcohol
- Use of tobacco
- Nudity of a sexual nature
- Violence towards defenceless people
It is important to note that elements of explicit content can be found in games across genre categories (i.e., role-playing, simulation, etc.) – and it is important to review the content descriptors of any particular game to determine if age-inappropriate explicit content is present.
What do I need to know about interactive (online) elements in video games?
Interactive elements are commonplace in social games as they primarily are played through a networked connection (i.e., played online). These elements can include location sharing (e.g.,, displaying the physical location of the player), user interaction (e.g., the ability to directly communicate with the other player), digital purchases (i.e., the ability to purchase digital goods), and unrestricted Internet (i.e., the game provides access to the internet).
Interactive elements of games can be a concern among parents, especially for younger children. For instance, the enabling of location sharing and user interaction can lead to increased concern about a child’s privacy and anonymity while they are playing social games. It is a reasonable concern for parents to not want their child’s physical location or personal information available to all other players in their gaming networks. In extreme cases, this information has been used to locate other players and contact them face-to-face.
Pay close attention to the descriptions and labels for interactive content (e.g., shares location, users interact, digital purchases, unrestricted internet) to determine whether or not a particular game allows players to interact online and if the game will share information about the player with others, including their geographical location. Be particularly mindful of location sharing features as these are often enabled by default and can only be restricted by manually changing privacy settings. As the method for adjusting privacy settings differs across gaming platform, please check the FAQ page for your particular system for more information on how this can be done. Information on how to change the parental controls/privacy settings for PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo, and Facebook games, as well as games purchased through Google Play, can be found by following the embedded links. Of course there is a balance to be had here – those interactive elements are often what makes the game fun and engaging.
Where can learn more about identifying age-appropriate content in games?
There are several agencies that are responsible for identifying the content in video games, including explicit material and the presence or absence of interactive elements. These agencies vary across geographical location.
Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB; regulatory agency for video games the US)
Pan European Game Information (PEGI; regulatory agency for video games the EU)
It is important to note that the age ratings and assigned content descriptors for any particular game may differ across rating agencies. Visit the websites of these agencies for more information and resources about explicit content and interactive elements of video games and to learn more about the content within a particular video game title. It is also important to be aware that social online games can include some or all of the explicit content and interactive elements listed above.
At the end of the day, determining the appropriateness of explicit content and the presence of interactive elements will vary depending on the particular child and parent.