Many parents have found themselves in this situation: they want to surprise their child with a new video game but just don’t know what and how to pick. You might’ve heard that video games can be super violent, addictive, dangerous, or one of the other fear-mongering phrases popular media likes to throw around.

While some video games are violent in nature due to being made for the adult crowd, a lot of games are perfectly suitable for kids and teenagers. In this article, you’ll find several methods for choosing what games to buy, checking their ratings, and which red flags to look for.

Check the Ratings

A common misconception among parents is that the rating you see on the box, for example, M (ESRB rating) or 18+ (PEGI rating), means that it’s the level of difficulty of a video game. It is, in fact, the level of mature content the game will display. That can range from gratuitous violence and foul language to depictions of substance abuse and shocking or horror scenes. A platformer like Super Mario Odyssey has you jump on Goomba’s heads with a “boing” sound accompanying the action. Due to its cartoonish nature, the game has an “Everyone 10 and up” rating. Meanwhile, when you see Sub Zero rip people’s spines out in Mortal Kombat 11, you can be sure that the game’s rating is M, as it is not recommended for players under the age of 17.

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There are two ways to check the ratings. The first one is heading to your local video game store and looking at the box. The front cover will have the rating, while on the back, you’ll see a more detailed explanation with additional boxes that show what kind of content there is in the game. If you’re shopping online or would rather check the ratings beforehand, you can use the ESRB website and its search feature to find the games and see their rating summaries. Speaking of ESRB, the website also has a handy Family Gaming Guide (esrb.org) that we wholeheartedly recommend reading through.

Okay, but what about mobile games? Luckily, they all have ratings on their respective download pages on Google Play and Apple App Store, right next to their names. That being said, with mobile games, there are additional things you need to keep in mind before your child starts playing them.

Avoid Games With In-Game Spending and Loot Boxes

Video game developers constantly seek new ways to generate revenue, not just by selling their games. Mobile games usually don’t cost much, and there are tons of free-to-play ones, but they still have to be profitable. The companies behind such games add ways for players to use real money and purchase add-ons and various benefits inside the games themselves. There are many different types of these in-game purchases: downloadable content or DLC, microtransactions, boosters, loot boxes, packs, battle passes, and premium subscriptions, to name a few.

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Buy Me A Coffee

Despite the games’ ratings, in-game purchases are usually not mentioned on the boxes, even though they’ve been around for more than a decade. For example, the popular soccer game series FIFA is rated E, but it offers players ways to spend real cash by purchasing packs of cards in the Ultimate Team mode. Fortnite, another huge game among young gamers, tempts players to buy various cosmetics and subscribe to the seasonal battle pass system. Many of these tactics are designed around fear of missing out (FOMO), which is a popular marketing tactic in many fields, including casinos. As a matter of fact, loot boxes are considered gambling in some parts of the world due to their addictive nature of “just one more pull.” These are incredibly frequent in mobile games, so keep that in mind.

Try the Games Beforehand

A great way to filter out what’s good and what’s potentially harmful in games is to just see what it’s all about and make your own judgment. There are demo versions of games free to download, while services like Xbox Game Pass and PlayStation Now let you sample hundreds of games for a small monthly fee. Game renting, unfortunately, isn’t as popular as it used to be, but there are still some shops and services that offer it. Ultimately, you can check with the store clerk whether you’d be able to return the game if you opened it and found the contents inappropriate for your child.

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Another way to “try” the games is by looking them up on YouTube. Videos marked with terms like gameplay, long-play, or playthrough are made by people who want to show an uninterrupted chunk of the game in one big video or spread across several clips. You can get a pretty clear picture of how the game works and looks from these videos since they’re raw footage, not a montage like in a trailer. While you’re browsing YouTube, you can also find some excellent parents’ guides for popular games that go into great detail about the activities and possible red flags within games that are popular among the younger crowd.

Play Games With Your Child

In the end, you know your kid better than anyone else and certainly better than any ruling board or game developer. Sitting down with your child to play a video game together or just asking to watch and hang out with them while they play is usually the best option. Through a shared activity such as gaming, you will get to know your child better, what they like, and how they interact with the games they enjoy. You’ll figure out what games to get them next, and your young one will be grateful that you’re interested in their hobbies. You might even end up picking the next game together. That’s something no parental control tool will ever manage to do.

Note: This is a guest post. Daniel Korolija, Content writer of GamblingCollective.com has requested us to share this article from our website.

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