My extent of playing video games is limited to playing Asteroids, Pac Man, and Centipede at a friend’s house in elementary school, hanging out with the guys in high school while they played Madden, a brief MarioKart addiction, and then Tetris in college.
My brother always wanted to have a gaming system growing up and my parents always said no. As a parent, I can understand why they might have said no at the time- limitless time playing instead of studying or socializing, playing inappropriate games, cost, exposure to violence, etc. While the concerns are still the same, gaming companies are getting smarter about the kinds of tools they embed in their systems to control the types of games that family members can play or view.
I recently had the chance to try out an Xbox which is so much more than a gaming system. It is an entire media system that allows you to play music, videos, or pictures from it or your computer, access a live network to play with other gamers connected to the internet using Xbox Live, download movies via Netflix, and purchase games and other online content through their Marketplace. Since you can do so much with the Xbox and the ease of which you can access the internet and play games with complete strangers, I think the need for conversations about healthy gaming habits and parental controls becomes even more necessary.
Xbox has emerged as an industry leader in providing safe gaming experiences for families. They have embarked on an Entertainment Citizenship campaign to spread the word and include information about it with each system. Each Xbox comes with a PACT- a contract that stands for Parental Involvement, Access, Content, and Time and Family Settings booklet. The idea is to sit down as a family to discuss the kinds of media that are available through the Xbox, what is appropriate for each family member based on their age, and the amount of time that should be spent using it. In talking to Microsoft about PACT, they strongly believe that you need to “spell out what types of media are appropriate for each child and where, when and how your child may use them.”
While it may seem super- Pollyanna -goody -two -shoes to sit down and have a discussion like this, I’m a big believer in having a healthy media diet. Just as you wouldn’t let your kids eat cookies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, a healthy gaming diet ensures that screen time is only a small part of their regular activities.
How do you maintain a healthy gaming diet once you introduce a gaming system like an Xbox into your home? Each Xbox comes with built in Family Settings. You can determine your settings immediately upon plugging your system in or anytime. Settings are always accessible and easy to change. I was very impressed with how easy it was to set up Family Settings to control the amount of time the Xbox would be used and what our kids could access when they are old enough to use it on their own.
Family Settings aid parents in regulating content that their children see. Since you probably don’t want your 6 year old being able to play Grand Theft Auto, Xbox allows you to set controls for the entire console that will prohibit games of certain MPAA ratings from being played. We set our box to include only E games that are designed for everyone like Kung Fu Panda, Banjo Kazooie, Viva Piñata, and a downloaded game of UNO. The MPAA ratings also apply to video content. Since Xbox came out with a new feature where you can stream movies from NetFlix, you can also choose to control the video content.
Depending on the paramaters you place on your Family Settings, children can be prohibited from playing games or seeing movies containing certain ratings and accessing live gaming options. They will still have their own personalized Xbox Live account but you can rest easy that they will only be playing games you approve and are using the built-in safeguards to ensure their safety online.
Now if there’s an adult in your home who wants to play Grand Theft Auto after the kids are asleep, the ratings can be overridden by entering in a password. Xbox takes the Family Settings password very seriously…If you lose/forget the password, the Xbox has to be sent in so it can be reset. Xbox says this is so kids can’t call up pretending to be their parents in order to access content that Mom and Dad don’t want them to see.
Family Settings also aid in time management so there are fewer concerns about endless time with the Xbox. The Family Timer enables parents to set parameters around the amount of time games are played and movies are watched on the Xbox. Select a certain number of hours on a daily or weekly basis or leave the timer off.
Remember how I mentioned that you can join networked games with complete strangers or online friends with the Xbox? This is done through Xbox Live– something that is standard on all current Xbox models. When you set up the Xbox, you create a gamertag. The gamertag allows you to form an online identity and play networked games with others. The gamertag is kind of like a Facebook profile except think of your Facebook account as being open to everyone. Everyone can see who you are, ask you to be their friend, and engage you in live chat. As a parent, that freaks me out! I don’t even want strangers to see my personal gamertag nor do I want to chat with them.
So what do you do? Block the Xbox’s access to Xbox Live or set parental controls that help manage privacy to restrict friends on and off line. Parents set up an administrator account and can choose to have gamertags for their children linked to their own account. That way, parents can approve friend requests on behalf of their children, block friend requests, and ignore communications from other users.
While Little Miss Techie and Captain Computer are still too young, in my opinion, to be using the Xbox for games, we love being able to access movies via NetFlix. We can sit on the couch, add a movie to our instant queue, and have it instantly stream to our TV. This sure beats waiting a couple days for the little red envelope to appear in our mailbox. Hooray for instant gratification! We also have an Xbox Live Vision camera set up so we can do video chats comfortably from couch instead of crammed in my chair in front of the computer.
Soon enough our kids will grow up and will be clamoring to use the Xbox all day every day. We’ll have to find a balance of using the Xbox within the framework of a healthy media diet and when that time comes, PACT will give us a good excuse to sit down and talk as a family about the Xbox, our issues and concerns, and then determine priorities and a solution before enabling the Family Settings.
I just hope that we don’t have to do too soon because now that the kids are sleeping, I’m off to play Grand Theft Auto and Guitar Hero…And maybe some Deadliest Catch too. Thank goodness for Parental Control password override!
And now for the giveaway…Xbox has graciously provided Tech Savvy Mama readers the opportunity to win an Xbox Elite. This super sweet system retails for $399 and is a great gift for yourself or a super nice holiday surprise for someone else.
- Leave a comment with your concerns about having a gaming system in your home and what Parental Controls you think you would use for your children.
- Write a post linking to my site and giveaway then leave an additional comment with your permalink.
- Twitter about the contest (I’m @techsavvymama on Twitter) and leave another comment.
- Add me to your blogroll and leave an additional comment letting me know!
- NEW!!! Subscribe to my feed through e-mail or a reader and leave a comment for an extra entry!
Be sure to leave a valid e-mail address either in the text of your comment or make sure it is easy for me to find your e-mail on your site. Don’t make it hard for me to get in touch with you when you win the Xbox since I will choose someone else!!!
Huge thanks to Microsoft and Xbox for the Xbox Elite!
Fine print: To be eligible, enter by completing the above tasks and leaving your comments by Saturday, December 20, 2008 at Midnight. One person can enter up to four times by completing each of the tasks as outlined above. Winner will be chosen at random by random.org and will need to reply with their mailing address 48 hours to claim their prize. Xbox will only be shipped within the United States.
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Original post by Tech Savvy Mama