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Choosing the Right Video Game for Your Child

Parents hear it all the time.

“But it’s such an a-a-a-wesome game! All my friends can play it. You’re the only one that says ‘no’! Why can’t you be cool like all the other moms? Come on! Puhleeease!!!”

It’s heart-wrenching. It’s incessant. And oftentimes, it works like a charm. Being a parent myself, I can relate to the pressures, the difficult choices, and the hectic pace of life these days. Being vigilant about monitoring and controlling the media our children consume seems to be only getting harder. Yet video games are among the easiest of entertainment products for parents to control.

Computer and video games are one of the most exciting and popular forms of entertainment today. In fact, 22 million video games were sold in Canada in 2007, which amounts to 1.5 games for every household nationwide. Parents are involved in the purchase of video games nearly nine times out of every ten, but many of them don’t actually play the games themselves. That’s why it’s important for parents to realize that games have changed a lot since the days of Pac-Man, Pong and Frogger. Today, parents need to know that not all games are created or intended for children.

The average video game player today is 35 years old, and so it stands to reason that some games are geared towards adults. The ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) ratings provide a clear and effective way for parents to determine which games are appropriate for their children, and which aren’t.

Virtually every game box displays a rating symbol ranging from EC (Early Childhood 3+) to AO (Adults Only 18+). On the back, next to the rating symbol, are the content descriptors. This unique, two-part rating system helps parents discern what age the game may be best suited for, and what types of content in the game may have triggered that rating or be of concern.

Parents can also find out how a game has been rated before they head to the store by checking the ESRB website at www.esrb.org. Once there, you can search not only by game title, but also by rating or content descriptor for each platform. The ESRB ratings search widget (www.esrb.org/widget) is another great tool for finding ratings information.

Additional information about the games your kids want can be found on numerous websites and in magazines, many of which provide extensive details about game content, and may even offer screenshots (snapshots from the gameplay), interactive demos and trailers. Another good source of information can be employees at your local video game store, who are often gamers themselves.

Finally, one of the most important things you can do as a parent is to be involved. Use our Family Discussion Guide (available free on www.esrb.org) to structure a conversation with your child about the games he or she likes. And even though it may seem intimidating, you might even try to play games with your children. This is a wonderful way to learn about your children’s video games and have a lot of fun as well!

It’s clear that children know exactly which buttons to push to get their way. They promise that a particular game is OK for them, or that all the other kids get to play it. However, nobody knows your child better than you do, nor is it anyone else’s responsibility to determine what’s appropriate for your own child. You can take comfort in knowing that you are not alone when making responsible and informed choices about video games. The vast majority of other parents are struggling with the same issues and making the same tough choices.

Don’t give up. Use ESRB ratings so you can be sure that the games you bring home for your family are OK to play. The choice is yours to make.

Patricia Vance is president of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), a non-profit organization that assigns age and content ratings for computer and video games. She is an interactive media expert and mother of two. For more information visit www.esrb.org.

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