We Need More Positive Family Game Ratings

Family Gamer TV Geek Culture

Image via Wired.co.ukImage via Wired.co.uk

Image via Wired.co.uk

While advice designed to protect children from inappropriate games proliferates, there’s an eerie silence when it comes to recommendations. GeekDad gamers are ideally placed to enhance their family time with great gaming challenges that aren’t necessarily limited to the tame Wii family games – but they need to go beyond the current official classifications.

Technology can be scary, particularly for parents facing an array of entertainment and social networking choices not available in their own childhood. Because of this, we spend a lot of time and money informing families of what isn’t appropriate. For video games we have two rating systems in the UK, the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) and PEGI (Pan European Game Information), in addition to the US-focused ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board). The BBFC rates games that require an 18 certificate, while PEGI applies its system to everything else.

Although this can be a little confusing to the newcomer, a little reading of each organization’s website soon clears up any doubt (the BBFC can be almost poetic in its description of on-screen action). This enables Geek Moms and Dads to keep their children away from inappropriate games. What it doesn’t help them with is choosing experiences that are well suited to the shape, size and pattern of their family.

The problem is best seen in games labelled as 3+ by PEGI. A friend recently brought a game like this, Boom Blox I think it was. They saw 3+ on the box and assumed it would be good for their four year old to play. What the age on the box actually meant was that the game wasn’t inappropriate – wouldn’t worry, offend or scare – a three year old. That’s completely different from saying that a three year old would be able to play it.

There are literally hundreds of sites filling this gap for hardcore players – the IGNs and Gamespots of this world – telling them all about the games that suit each and every gaming preference. But UK parents looking for advice will find slim pickings.

There are, however, some great US sites that fill this need from different perspectives. What They Play offers well-informed advice for parents from industry experts. Its focus is on information rather than opinion, the guiding principle being that by providing parents with details about the games their families are playing, they will be empowered to make appropriate decisions.

Common Sense Media also offers information about game experiences, but uses this to apply its On/Iffy/Off rating system. They are a little more hands-on with their advice and offer suggestions about the age groups for which a game is appropriate.

In the UK though, there is less choice, and because a lot of what makes a game good for a particular age or ability of player relates to the culture of the player, American sensitivities and interests can prove to be quite a mismatch.

One site that aims to connect families to the games that will best fit them is www.familygamer.co.uk, where I have been involved in developing parent’s guides. This takes a little of the What They Play approach, providing authoritative information about what a game is like, but then goes on to offer an opinion about which family members would get the most out of a particular experience.

We often come across games aimed at a hardcore grown-up audience that, through serendipity and circumstance, end up being great for a much younger audience. Wipeout HD on the PS3, for example, is a real hardcore game, but because of the six-axis tilt steering and strong driver assistance feature it is also a great first driving game for the very young. My three-year-old son not only enjoyed the bright, crisp visuals, but could actually complete a race in this fashion too. And I got to share the experience with him.

Stories like these have shown me that while the BBFC and PEGI ratings do a great job of keeping parents from buying inappropriate games, we could really do with a lot more advice about which games are a good match. You can find interesting and appropriate games in the most unlikely of places – it just takes a little be of exploration and research.

[This post originally ran on GeekDad UK. Some editing by Ken Denmead.

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