Now that you’ve unwrapped your kid’s brand new Wii, Xbox, or PlayStation, there are several things you should know about keeping the tyke safe. The best advice, as usual, is that you should participate in their gaming activities. There is no substitute for the watchful eye of a parent, someone who can explain the different safety and content issues of gaming and teach your children how to handle them as they come up. Just like physical games (you know, sports), video games can be a great source of entertainment, wisdom, and pride for children—as long as children play them in a safe arena.
There are three major areas of danger to consider: the physical, the in-game, and the online. Some of the concepts are universal, while others depend on the type of console in question.
There’s more to staying safe than buying the right games and equipment. Follow this advice while deciding where to place the console itself.
Use wireless controllers. Most consoles ship with wireless controllers, but the older ones (and the PS2, which is still being sold) don’t. Stretching a wire between the TV cabinet and the couch creates a hazard for running children. Also, when it comes to reducing strangling risk—American child safety advocates seem to feel it’s omnipresent—the fewer wires lying around the house, the better.
Watch the heat. New consoles get hot. I’ve measured the back of my PS3 at temps approaching 130 degrees Fahrenheit, and my Xbox 360 gets up near 115. To reduce the risk of burns, keep the rear of a console (where exhaust is located) out of children’s reach. To guard against overheating, put consoles in a cabinet that allows for proper circulation and cooling.
Lock the cabinet. This prevents unauthorized gaming marathons and should also ensure that kids won’t put a slice of cheese in the media tray when no one is looking.
Return games to storage containers. It’s tempting to leave favorite games within convenient reach, but store them properly and the media will last longer. Bonus: You won’t have to worry about anyone slipping on a pile of discs on the floor.
Set up the console yourself. Kids know more about this stuff than you do: If you don’t set up parental controls (see the next page), your child might—locking you out.
The right content makes for a positive gaming experience. Many parents allow their children to have only games with a certain rating, such as “E” or lower, but it’s also sensible to understand why a game carries a particular rating. Study these ratings so you’ll know whether a game is age-appropriate.
Early Childhood (“EC”)—Recommended for ages 3 and older
Everyone (“E”)—Recommended for ages 6 and older
Everyone 10 Plus (“E10+”)—Recommended for ages 10 and older
Teen (“T”)—Recommended for ages 13 and older
Mature (“M”)—Recommended for ages 17 and older
Adults Only (Adults Only)—Ages 18 and older only
In addition, 30 content descriptors ranging from the obvious—alcohol references, violence, and sexual themes to tobacco and even simulated gambling—provide additional context for the age rating. Some may be fine with you, even if they cause a game’s rating to bump up a level. The ESRB provides a full explanation of its ratings and descriptors. Of course, there is practically no way to control what other children (and adults) say or do online, so be aware that online game play always represents a potential hazard.
Online Safety: Microsoft Xbox 360
- In the Xbox Dashboard, go to the System tab, then Family Settings, then Console Controls.
- Select Game Ratings. Select the maximum ESRB rating appropriate for your children.
- Go to Set Pass Code and enter a four-button pass code and a question and answer in case you forget or want to reset your code.
- Select Done on both the Set Pass Code and Console Controls screens to save your settings.
- Select Yes, Save Changes to enable the settings.
You can also use Console Controls to:
- Activate the Family Timer to limit the total amount of time the console can be used
- Restrict use of Microsoft’s Xbox Live online service
- Restrict access to movies by MPAA rating
- Prevent display of restricted content (for example, downloadable games, trailers, and demos) in the Xbox Live Marketplace and Inside Xbox
- Set up a separate Xbox Live account for each member of your family
- Use Xbox Live Controls (found under Family Settings) to:
o Control access to online games (select Online Gameplay)
o Manage your child’s communication settings (select Privacy and Friends)
For additional information on Xbox Family Settings, visit www.xbox.com/isyourfamilyset.
Online Safety: Nintendo Wii
The Wii is the safest platform for children, because Nintendo designed features that let parents totally lock down the console.
- From the Wii Menu, select Wii Options followed by Wii Settings. Click on the blue arrow to the right until you reach the Wii System Settings 2 menu options.
- Select Parental Controls, then select Yes.
- Create a four-digit PIN and select OK. Then select a secret question to be used if you forget the PIN number. Once done, select OK.
- Select Game Settings and PIN, then Highest Game Rating Allowed. Once selected, press OK, Confirm, and Settings Complete.
In addition, you can also use the Other Settings menu under Parental Controls to:
- Prevent the use of Wii Points in the Wii Shop Channel
- Restrict online communication
- Prevent use of the Internet Channel and the News Channel
To play online with a friend, two players must exchange and store each other’s Wii number and Mii name in their Address Books. Your own Wii console number can be found in the Address Book. Parents might consider periodically taking a look at their kids’ gaming companions.
For additional information on Wii parental controls, visit www.nintendo.com/consumer/systems/wii/
Online Safety: Sony PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable (PSP)
- In the main menu, navigate to Settings, then Security Settings. You can restrict games using the Parental Control menu. A number indicates the level of restriction: The lower the number, the tighter the restrictions.
- In Security Settings, select Internet Browser Start Control and choose On to block access to the Internet.
- Like the other consoles, the PlayStation 3’s and PSP’s parental controls are enforced by a four-digit password. During installation, reset the default password of 0000 by navigating to the Security Settings menu, then selecting Change Password. Enter the default password, and then enter a new one.
- From this menu, you can also block access to movies by MPAA rating.
Tips about the PlayStation Network:
- The default settings block content and restrict chat with other players based on the age of the registered user.
- Create accounts for each child such that each account can be administered separately.