Working in game sales for the day job, I quite often have parents buying new video games, and new game consoles, for their children.That’s great, let the younger ones game on cutting edge hardware for their time, just as I did in the 90’s.
The thing is, it isn’t the 90’s anymore. Gaming hardware is completely different today than it was 25 years ago. These days, game consoles are more like full fledged computers than they are the very task-dedicated systems of the cartridge and CRT days. The biggest change though, from the days of old to today, are the fact that, much like computers, these new systems have hard drives or other onboard storage to save game data, and, just as importantly, to update games with new content or to fix flaws in them, just like gaming on the PC.
This is great for most gamers, who have full control of their consoles and probably game online all the time anyway. We get our patches, download and purchase DLC, and enjoy our games to the fullest. What of the little ones, though? How do they fare in this?
The answer is not so well. I’ve noticed a strong trend for parents to simply not connect consoles to the internet at all. No, don’t mean just not allow the children to play online, which is understandable, but they actually refuse to ever once connect the system to the internet in any capacity.
This is just insane to me. Once you hit the most current consoles, the Wii U, the Xbox One, and the Playstation 4, game patches are almost mandatory (and indeed, for quite a few games, they are absolutely mandatory to even play the single player game), while other games use internet connections as a method of copy protection, or to enhance the game experience even in single player.
That’s right. If you don’t have the console connected to the internet, there are some games that are impossible to play! No, I’m not defending games that have these requirements, but that is how it is, and that isn’t the subject of this conversation. Even for games that don’t require online access, or mandatory patches, the game updates that are provided are still good to download as often they fix critical flaws in the game present at launch. The version on the disc is often unfinished code, after all, and patches to finalize the game on, or after, release are incredibly common.
Why don’t parents connect these consoles to the internet? The number one reason is that they don’t want the children exposed to random people online. The problem with this fear is that you, as a parent, have complete control over your child’s online gameplay access. All consoles feature parental controls which games have to acknowledge to even be released on the console. You can very easily disable all online gaming, all communication, or just elements you want to protect the child against, and still have the console connected to the internet to download updates and additional content.
I’m sorry to say, but it seems that most parents are too lazy to learn how to use these features. They often refuse to do such when I propose such to them, saying “it’s easier to just not hook it up.” Children often talk about a game not working right, and the parent will ask me about this, as they think everyone who sells games knows everything about every game. We don’t, but I don’t get mad, I of course try to help. My first, and usually only question, is always if the console was connected to the internet and the game was updated. It often never is, and that is the reason the child is experiencing a problem in the game that was fixed at release.
Worst of all are those parents who return games, saying they don’t respect the parental control setting on the console. The games certainly do, and while I don’t say this, I can say with almost certainty that the parent never set up the content controls. This happens most often with the online shooter Destiny, a game which is always played online, but does not require you to converse with others at all.
I’m not saying everyone refuses to set parental controls, and I’m also not saying anyone is bad if they can’t quite figure them out, or don’t know. I do fee, however, that console manufacturers make good effort to let parents know these options exist on their game consoles, including such information with the documentation that comes with the system, the games, and via their websites.
I say all this not to be judgemental, so please, don’t take it as such. I do however feel bad for the children who have an inferior game experience because for whatever reason their parents aren’t doing what they should to assist the child in enjoying their new game console. I love gaming, and I see children day in, day out, who remind me of myself as a kid, getting excited about Mario or Sonic, or Minecraft or Halo, who knows what!
I just want them to have as much fun as I did, while they still have that chance to be kids. I feel parents should know as much about what their kids are into as they do, and considering how technologically infused our culture is, I see no reason any parent couldn’t easily learn how to work with console parental controls to give their child the best experience possible.
Here is a selection of official pages and community posts on some console parental controls. If you are a parent reading this, please be sure to look up information for the specific console you / your child owns. They should also be easy to find in the account or settings menu for most any game console.