This years survey from Interactive Games & Entertainment Association – IGEA which included a study of parental awareness of game classifications, showed that many Australian Parents are not really using Video Game and App Classifications to make decisions before purchasing or downloading games for their children. Some of those surveyed were also quite confused by the ratings, and in some ways it’s not surprising.
Video game classifications, as written on a video game box cover in the physical form, is pretty clear. However there seems to be some confusion about the M and MA15+ classification, even though these classifications have been around for many years for Movies. But apps and games that are listed on online stores such as iTunes, Google Play and Steam are very confusing as parents try to work out, if the ratings suggested on the online stores are simply recommendations or restrictions that are legally binding?
Some video games previously banned in Australia can now be listed as R18+ , and there are actually many of them. It is important that parents are aware of the ratings more now than ever. Children under 18 are not allowed by law to play or purchase such games. One of the most popular of these games is Grand Theft Auto.
The Australian classifications for video games and apps are now in line with Australian TV and Movie classifications. Here’s a breakdown of the classifications ratings and what they mean.
Online Store Ratings
Many games and apps are being bought online, more so than in traditional “Bricks and Mortar” Stores, so it is important to make sure that parents check the age ratings on platforms like Steam, iTunes and Google Play. It’s all a bit haphazard to find game ratings online, if you buy a game from a retail store, look on the video game box, the ratings must be listed there.
The online platform and store Steam is a very popular way for consumers to buy and play game. This is due the community aspect of the platform – with forums, leader boards and messaging, and the price of the games, which are often much cheaper than games bought in a regular department store.
The age ratings on Steam are often difficult to locate, they are usually in the right side bar of the game listing, but often you can only see them at the very beginning of the Video preview of the game on its page listing on steam (see pic below). If you can’t find them on the game page on Steam, go to the developer website and see if it is listed on there. Or search for “Age rating for …………………..” using your preferred search engine, and see if you can find it. Doing a search on the EBGames website usually shows the Australian classifcation ratings. Common-sense Media have a large list of reviewed games and may list age ratings, but more importantly they have professional reviews of most games especially in regard to suitability for children.
iTunes & Google Play
iTunes age ratings for apps and games are often set by the developers, but not necessarily in line with the developers own terms of service in the fine print. For e.g the social media app Facebook is listed as suitable for children aged 4+ on iTunes, but is written as only to be used by children aged 13+ in Facebook’s terms of service agreement and help guide.
The Google Play Store list their app and game age ratings differently again. Some of the apps show a clear age rating and others only give a general idea like Mature or P.G.
Viewing the popular video app “Vine” across both stores iTunes and Google Play and looking at the review on Commonsense Media, you can see this app is listed as suitable for ages 17+ on iTunes and then ages 12+ on Google Play, but the developer of Vine says in their terms of service that it is suitable for kids over 13+. If you take a look on www.commonsensemedia.org they list the recommended age as 15+ Confused? The ratings on all the stores and on Commonsense Media are not necessarily the legal age restrictions, but appear to be only a recommendation from the store. This still doesn’t explain why iTunes have Facebook listed as 4+ when its clear that under 13year olds are banned from using it.
How To Check Suitability Then?
- Read the reviews on the store or on Common Sense Media.
- Search for “Is ……………safe for kids to play” for an online review.
- Read the game or apps Terms Of Service (The age rating is often listed in Privacy in the TOS).
- Go to the developers website from the link on the app store and see if the age rating is listed there.
- If a game is listed anywhere as 17+ really do some research to find out why. Most app developers don’t want their apps listed with a 17+ rating when their terms of service recommend 13+ . If iTunes or Google Play list an app or game as for adults only, there is usually a good reason why.
A good rule of thumb is that any app or game that is listed as a multi player game or is part of an online community, like Minecraft or Clash of Clans is probably only suitable for children over 13years of age (Minecraft do have an offline single player version). Any form of public social media, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, is also usually rated 13+ or higher. The reason for the 13years+ rating for many online platforms is to comply with COPPA which is an U.S Federal Law that was enacted in 1998 covering online platforms including social media set up to protect kids from having their personal information stored online.
Important: Any game rated R18+ will have the same level of adult content as a Movie listed as R18+. Keep in mind that video game interactivity also means that not only will your child possibly be exposed to an extreme level of violence, sexual violence, drug use and bad language, they will be able to take part in this environment virtually in simulation. Some of these games are multi player which means they could be playing online with adults that you don’t know. Note: Parents that buy R18+ games for their underage kids to play are breaking the law just the same as they would be if they hired an R18+ video for their child to watch.
Do you pay any attention to the age ratings or classifications? Have you found any surprising anomalies? Let me know in the comments.