Children can spend dozens of hours per week, sometimes even what amounts to whole days, playing mobile games. Apart from paying close attention to the time children spend on mobile games, we always try to remind parents to keep an eye at the other risks involved in mobile gaming and gaming in general.
We’ll start by saying this – video games are not inherently bad or good. In moderation, they can be a part of a fun and well-balanced pastime.
But regardless of how accepting you are of video games as parents, there are a few things you should know about the mobile games your children are playing. Apart from a game being a bit too violent, or sexually explicit, games can harbor other pitfalls which, if not addressed properly, may pose risks to children.
Specifically, in addition to the content displayed in a game, parents should be aware of:
- The ability to interact with other players in multiplayer games
- The ability to spend real money on the game through micro-transactions
- In-game ads
Multiplayer games and in-game chat
Some games can be played by a single player, while others require multiple players to cooperate (or compete) online. Naturally, many multiplayer games allow players to communicate with each other, through messages or in-game chat. Games that allow users to interact or communicate like that should be treated like any other social media or messaging app. For example, ground rules for online privacy and safety should be observed just as carefully as on Facebook, Snapchat or any other social media, mainly – not to give out personal information on in-game chats.
Competitive games might also generate a very toxic type of interaction. Imagine what a combination of regular competitive “trash-talk” and internet anonymity can produce. If your child plays any competitive games, you may want to ask him to block any other players who use abusive or inappropriate language.
Children should learn that the best way to deal with players who use abusive language is to block them and move on.
Micro-transactions and not-so-micro in-game purchases
Many games are given for free but include “Micro-Transactions” – small purchases that are made from within the game with real money. That’s how these types of games make their profit, and it’s one of the most popular business models in today’s gaming industry.
Some games are “pay-2-win”, meaning those small purchases give players real advantages within the game (like a powerful weapon). Other games just offer cosmetic improvement (like character costumes), or lock some of their content behind a paywall (as in – more levels or zones to play with).
Either way, these games are excellent at making their users dish out the cash. As parents, you should be aware that these games exist, and make sure your child knows to ask for your permission before spending real money on micro-transactions. In the case of teens, they should know to only spends money responsibly, or not at all.
If you wish to eliminate the chance of an accidental purchase, you can remove all payment methods from your child’s Google Play or App Store accounts.
You can find the instruction on how to do that here:
Ads in mobile games
Some games, especially free ones, serve their player ads. On Android devices, for example, the ads are mostly displayed through Google’s ad network, Just as in any other app downloaded through Google Play. This means these ads target users based on the data collected about that user in the past.
The content in the ads should fit the game’s content rating (which we’ll talk about soon), so that a game rated ‘Everyone’ should not contain ads displaying mature content. However, highly inappropriate ads have been presented to children before, so this system is certainly not fool-proof.
If your child’s exposure to ads is a concern for you, you might want to help her or him avoid games that display them. You can check if a game displays ads at the top of that game’s Google Play or App Store page.
The game’s content rating and what it means
And finally, we reach the content. Just like films, television and music albums, games have a content rating, designed to help parents decide if a game is suitable for their child.
The ratings for mobile games in North America are:
Everyone – This game is generally suitable for all ages. It may contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language.
Everyone+10 – This game is generally suitable for ages 10 and up. It may contain cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language and/or minimal suggestive themes.
Teen – This game is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. It may contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
Mature – This game is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. It may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
Adults – This game is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. It may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
This rating is what you should be looking for if you’re worried about adult content and themes in your child’s game.
How can parents know about the games their child is playing?
Children love trying out new mobile games, and doing so is extremely easy. Anyone holding a phone can download a multitude of games within minutes, and children definitely make the most of that freedom.
Parents should definitely make efforts to be aware of the games their children play, and what these games bring into their child’s phone.
One way to know about new games on your child’s phone, is to use Jiminy. Jiminy is a parental monitoring app that will let you know about the games and apps your child is using, and many other useful tidbits about your child’s digital life.
Apart from Jiminy, taking an active interest in the mobile games your child plays is definitely a good idea. Who knows, your child might introduce you to a few games you’ll enjoy as well.