How to know what video games your kids are playing

October 18, 2011 | By | Comments (8)

A couple of weeks ago my 9-year old son started playing the online game, Wizard101.

According to the web site, “Wizard101 is a free to play MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) Wizard school adventure game with collectible card magic, wizard duels, and far off worlds that’s safe for kids and fun for players of all ages! The game allows players to create a student Wizard in an attempt to save Wizard City and explore many different worlds.”

Until now, we have done a very good job of avoiding the online gaming world. While we’ve set up accounts with Lego, Webkins and American Girl, our children haven’t spent anytime through these sites. And while my husband set our son AND daughter up with accounts, he was the first to admit that he didn’t know anything about the game because “it looked okay.”

Turns out my video game playing husband fell into a very common trap – not taking the time to check out the game our children would be playing.

Last Christmas I decided to buy him a hot new video game, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. As I handed the game to the cashier at GameStop he asked me for whom I was buying the game. When I told him it was for my 38 year old husband he replied “oh, that’s good. I just like to check because this is a very violent game, and I find many parents are buying it for their children without knowing.” He also said that many parents chose not to buy the game after he told them about the content. (I was very impressed he took the time to check).

So what can we do as parents to know what games our kids are playing? Here are two house rules:

Check the rating. The Entertaiment Software Rating Board (ESRB) provides a ratings guide similar to those for movies and television. The game should carry one of the rating symbols. If it doesn’t, or you can’t find the rating, you can look up the game through their web site,, or using one of their free apps.

Not surprisingly, Assassin’s Creed is rated M for mature meaning “Titles may have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.”

Wizard101 is rated 10+ meaning it has “content that may be suitable for ages 10 and older. Titles in this category may contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language and/or minimal suggestive themes.”

That’s not to say we haven’t made exceptions to the rules – for example, our 6 year old daughter is allowed to play some of the 10+ games we have (eg Lego Star Wars) but that decision was made because of our second rule.

Play the games. Soon after our son started his wizard training, I also started an account. Immediately upon entering the Wizard City I was approached by various people asking me to be friends or to join their group. While the amount of allowed interaction appeared to be limited, I did realize right away that we would want to lock down some of his account settings to limit these interactions.

By playing the game I also became familiar with how the game was played, what he was talking about when he asked to buy crowns with his allowance (crowns are used to access premium areas, buy spells and clothing, etc), and because I made him be my friend in the game, I can find him whenever we are both online. The unexpected benefit is that, for now, our son loves when I come online and we battle side-by-side, or I visit his wizard house and see his pets.

Quick tip – If you are a Mac user, you may find yourself frustrated as you try to play PC-only games like Wizard101. I ended up purchasing a license for CrossOver, a PC emulator that allowed me to play the game on my Mac laptop.

I know managing what my kids are doing online or electronically is going to get harder and harder as they get older. So tell me, how do you know what video games your kids are playing?