Playing games online: how to avoid risks and stay safe Tips on choosing games, devices and setting up controls from Ukie's Andy Robertson

Boys playing on games consoleVideo games are everywhere and offer all manner of ways to entertain, educate and get creative.

Although at times they can feel a little confusing, take the time to understand them and they can be a positive thing for families to enjoy together.

These tips will help you decide which is the right game, tablet, smartphone or console and how to set up parental controls to keep your child safe when playing games online.

Choosing tablets, smartphones or games consoles

Deciding where and when you play games in the home is a key part of the puzzle. There are a range of different devices that can be used to play games, many of which you may already own.

Smartphones and tablet devices offer an array of different games. These are often free to download and play, and then require small in-app purchases to speed up progression in the game. Parents should ensure that they have a password set on their in-app purchases before letting younger children use their devices.

Game consoles are purpose-built to play games and offer a more substantial experience than a tablet device. These games are purchased via a download store on the console itself or as a boxed product in shops.

Setting up controls on your games console

Setting up parental controls on your games console when you first buy it enables you to specify which age rating of games and films can be viewed on the hardware without a password.

These settings also control the online interactions players can make with each other and whether voice and pictures can be shared. It's important to understand these possible online interactions and discuss appropriate behaviour with your child before they use these features. On some consoles you can also specify how long it can be played in a day before it automatically pauses.

Most consoles will also keep a track of which games have been played and when. On the Nintendo 3DS/2DS console for instance you can use the Activity Log to see what your children have been playing, for how long, and what time of day. No more secret midnight play sessions — well, not without mum and dad knowing about it!

Along with these settings, considering where you want your children to play games in the home is also important. Keeping the games console in a family space not only ensures appropriate games are played but involves the wider family in the creativity and fun.

All of this can seem hard to remember. But you can call our online safety helpline on 0808 8005002 and talk to our trained experts about setting up parental controls – or anything else you’re not sure about.

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Choosing the right game for your child

PEGI logos

Choosing the right games for your children makes sure they get the most out of them. Like films, games are rated by age. This is the single mandatory Pan European Game Information (PEGI) rating that appears on the front of the box and provides a simple traffic light system for ages:

  • green is advisory and marks 3+ and 7+ ages
  • orange is for games suitable for 12+ and 16+
  • red is for games online suitable for 18 +.

On the back of the box there is additional information about why a game has a particular age rating — violence, sex or drug references for example. There is also additional information available online from PEGI and the Games Rating Authority (GRA).

Children who play games with PEGI ratings older than their age group may find content that is potentially upsetting. For example, violent content or bad language that may be OK for an adult is more likely to upset a young child.

The combination of setting up the console to work for your family, playing in a shared family space and using PEGI ratings to make informed choices ensures that gaming is a positive part of family life.

Where to get more advice

Getting advice on games from other parents is a good way to find the best experiences for your children. And the staff in most high street stores are trained to offer age-appropriate advice and you'll find areas of the shop dedicated to family games.

Online research and videos are another good way to see and hear what a game is like before buying it.

Most games will offer trailers online to show what a particular game is like. Then there are videos like these two-minute family guides sum up the PEGI rating and offer a wider commentary of the game in one package.

As with any area of life there can be peer group pressure to play games with older ratings. By researching online, parents can make informed decisions about these purchases.

With so many games to choose from, strong alternatives to older rated games are useful to have to hand.

Sites like Ask About Games, run by UK Interactive Entertainment (Ukie), offer a place for families to share stories about which games have worked best for them.

This includes information about the wider benefits of games (educational, co-ordination, problem solving and team-work), but also about other things to bear in mind. For example, Ukie recommends that players should take regular breaks – at least five minutes every 45 – 60 minutes as a rule of thumb.

Got a question?

Want to know about online gaming, privacy settings or parental controls? Give our experts from O2 and the NSPCC a call today.

0808 8005002

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