Choosing the right video games

If you bought an Xbox 360 over the holiday season, then you are probably already enjoying live TV, movies, music, and more on this amazing entertainment hub. But if you bought the Xbox 360 for your kids, then the number one activity is almost certainly going to be video gaming. And when it comes to video games, you want to make sure that your kids are not just playing games they enjoy but games that are age-appropriate.

Now most parents could be forgiven for thinking that the video game industry is dominated by M-rated titles such as Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed. But as the graphic below shows, M-rated games represent only around 5 percent of the titles released each year. Even if you factor in Teen-rated games, then there are still over 1,000 new titles each year that are regarded as suitable for children age 13 and under.

When checking on the suitability of a video game, the first place to start is with the Entertainment and Software Rating Board (ESRB) rating system, which is referred to above. The ESRB conducts an in-depth review of the content of every published game, and assigns one of six different ratings: Early Childhood (EC), Everyone (E), Everyone 10+ (E10+), Teen (T), Mature (M), and Adults Only (AO).

The symbol for the game’s rating will appear on the front and back of every game box. The back of the box will also have a short description of any questionable content, e.g. “Lyrics” or “Mild Suggestive Themes.”

If you still have any questions on the suitability of a title, you can check out the game’s Rating Summary, which can be found on the ESRB web site. Rating Summaries include a detailed explanation of the content that factored into a game’s rating, including specific examples. The ESRB also has a mobile app for the iPhone, Android phones, and Windows Phone 7, which allows you to access the Rating Summaries right from the store.

One thing to remember: most ratings and Rating Summaries will not cover online interaction. You need to make sure you are comfortable with any component of the game that involves accessing the Internet.

If you are looking for games specifically for the Xbox 360, then the Xbox web site is a great place to start. The games section lists over 1,400 Xbox titles and you can sort them by popularity, by genre (action & adventure, educational, puzzle & trivia, etc.), or by game rating. There is also a separate section for the 60+ titles that have been released for Kinect. Each individual game has an overview of the content and several screenshots to give you a better idea of the overall content.

Web sites such as Family Friendly Video Games and Common Sense Media also provide helpful tips on choosing appropriate titles. Don’t rely on what your children tell you, or on the claim that “everyone else has it.” You are selecting games for your child to play, not someone else’s child.

But by far the best way to choose a great game for your children is to get involved with their gaming activities, and even pick up a controller yourself. You’ll get to know their interests and enjoy spending quality time with them – and you might just discover that video gaming is way more fun that you thought it was!

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