Game consoles remain on many children and young people’s Santa list. Here at Ineqe Safeguarding Group, we’ve been busy testing consoles and games to identify areas of risk to promote a safer gaming experience for all this Christmas. 

Video games are fun and remain popular among young and old users alike. There are an estimated 20 million people in the UK who regularly play video games. 

With all this fun, it’s important to remember that playing video games comes with risks. Some have in-game purchasing while others contain age-inappropriate content. These risks can significantly increase when a child is playing and interacting with other gamers online.

Our online safety experts have compiled the following top tips to promote a safer gaming experience for Christmas and beyond.

1. Choose the right game

Choosing the right game this Christmas for the gamer(s) in your care can be difficult. Some parents and carers feel pressured to buy a game which might not be age-appropriate.

To help you make the choice, we have explored the PEGI age rating system and highlight the designated ratings of the most popular games this Christmas.

You can use the PEGI (Pan European Game Information) labels found on all major games to help inform your decision. PEGI is the video game content classification system used for evaluating games based on their themes. It is broken down into the following levels:

  • 3 – Suitable for all ages
  • 7 – Includes content with scenes and sounds which might frighten younger children
  • 12 – Slightly graphic violence which is non-realistic/fantasy
  • 16 – Violence included which is similar to real life, bad language, and the use of drugs tobacco, and alcohol
  • 18 – Includes motiveless and gross violence, the glamourisation of drugs, and explicit sexual activity

The PEGI rating system also includes content descriptors which are symbols that quickly tell you the themes included in a game. Categories include: 

  • Violence 
  • Bad Language 
  • Fear
  • Gambling
  • Sex
  • Drugs
  • Discrimination

For help with teaching children about PEGI ratings, use our free lesson plan, available here.

PEGI Ratings For the most Popular Games this Christmas:

  • FIFA 21 – PEGI 3
  • Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War – PEGI 18
  • Spiderman; Miss Morales – PEGI 12
  • Fortnite: Battle Royale – PEGI 12
  • Watch Dogs Legion – PEGI 18
  • Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit- PEGI 3
  • Call of Duty: Warzone – PEGI 18
  • Minecraft – PEGI 7

If you are purchasing a game that is not on this list, you can check the PEGI rating here 

Always remember, PEGI ratings focus on in-game content and not communication between players in online games. Children and young people in your care may be exposed to offensive or inappropriate language from other players via their headset and live chat functions in many games. Using PEGI ratings and online safety advice can help promote safer gaming for children and young people in your care.

2. Begin the conversation about Safety Settings and In-Game purchases

Whether the children and young people in your care are starting or are experienced gamers, it’s important to have conversations regarding the risks and benefits of gaming. This is also the perfect time to talk to them about safety and privacy settings.

You might be met with opposition, but talking about why privacy and safety settings are important can help keep the gamers in your care onside. You might want to talk about what might happen if these aren’t enabled. Feel free to use the top tips in this article to help guide your conversations.

The gaming world and its risks evolve all the time, and naturally so will your conversations about keeping safe while gaming. It’s important not to feel like this is a thankless task or pointless conversation when explaining the importance of safety and privacy while gaming. Enabling these settings is something you and the gamer in your care can do together.

Explaining why safety and privacy are important will help support a child or young person’s understanding and respect for these decisions. It can help to focus on how restrictions on games will change as they grow older. This will give you a perfect opportunity to encourage the gamers in your care to continue talking to you about safety and privacy online.

Check out our Console guides below on the PlayStation 5, Xbox X and S series and the Nintendo Switch for more information on parental features, blocking and reporting.

Download Console Guides

Loot Boxes have been compared to gambling. This is because gamers pay for items with real-life currency and in-game currency without a full understanding of the risk and reward of these purchases. For more information about loot boxes, check out what our online experts said in our recent article.

Games now provide warnings on their labels if they include in-Game purchases.

Games that have in-game purchases include:

  • Fortnite
  • Grand Theft Auto 5 (GTA5)
  • Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales
  • Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War
  • Call of Duty: Warzone
  • FIFA 21
  • Roblox
  • Among Us
Remember, if a child or young person in your care wants to play online, they may have to pay for a subscription service if they are using a Playstation, Nintendo or Xbox console.

3. Usernames: Keep it random

When using consoles and games, users are required to create a username, which is sometimes called a ‘Gamer Handle’. This is the name you are identified by on your online gaming accounts (Playstation Network or Xbox Live). Whether they’re playing Fornite Season 5, or Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War this Christmas, children and young people in your care will need a username.

Xbox and Playstation assign random usernames and we advise that you keep them.

When the children in your care use a random username they are less likely to be identifiable online. If the gamer(s) in your care want to personalise their username, make sure they avoid using any personal information, such as first or second names, football teams, or school names.

4. Know when to take a break

For many children and young people, this Christmas might mean they finally get to play a game they have been dreaming about for weeks, months, or maybe even years. It’s important to ensure that the children and young people in your care remember to give screens a break over the festive period, even if it is Christmas.

Many of the top games this Christmas such as Fortnite are created to engage their players. One of our online safety experts refers to this as the Pringle Effect – i.e once you pop you just can’t stop.

Many of the most popular games this Christmas are designed to form strong gaming habits. Game designers use persuasive design tools that work to encourage gaming sessions that can last hours on end.

Encourage the gamers in your care to take a break or use the resources below to set a time limit on gameplay. For more information and support on taking a break from screens, read our recent article here.

5. Make sure the gamer in your care knows where to go for help

Gaming is fun and can have real benefits for children and young people. But it’s not without risks, as highlighted above. Gamers may interact with strangers via online games, where they might be exposed to age-inappropriate content, or experience bullying and harassment.

Make sure the gamer(s) in your care knows where to go for help if they need it. This can be you or any other trusted adult. It’s important that they have someone to talk to if they have any interaction which makes them feel uncomfortable while playing games.

To help the children and young people in your care have a safe and fun experience gaming, use our new resources to show them how to block and report people. By doing this together, you can be part of their gaming journey, positioning yourself as someone who they can go to for help. For more information, check out our recent video on trusted adults.

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