The range of video games is now huge, so it’s easy to lose track between, for example, adventure or action games, learning and strategy games, simulations or role-playing games. As a parent, you may feel uneasy about allowing your child to play video games. After all, you always hear that they can be addictive or have other negative effects. But digital games can also serve important functions. As is usually the case with media use, the same applies here: The level and selection of content are crucial for responsible use. Age ratings provide some initial guidance.
Worldwide, Germany has the most binding legal rules for the testing and sale of video games. The protection of minors plays a major role here. Because, as with most entertainment, parents should make sure that video games are safe for the child’s age. The age ratings of the Entertainment Software Self-Regulation Body (USK) provide orientation.
For you as a parent, it is important to know that the USK ratings do not inform whether a game is already manageable or understandable for children. Nor do they constitute pedagogical recommendations. The USK age rating indicates whether the game is harmless from the point of view of youth protection, i.e. whether it does not contain any content that is harmful to the respective age group.
These USK labels can be found on every game package, every data carrier and usually at every reputable online store. The following age ratings are available:
Since January 2023, additional information has been provided in addition to the age ratings. These can be found on the back of the game packaging and in the USK title database. The notes provide information about the reasons that led to the age classification (such as “violence”, “pressure to act” or “drugs”). And they indicate which possible aspects of use you should pay attention to (such as “in-game purchases” or chats”). Here, the individual notes are explained in more detail.
For Europe, there is still the age rating of PEGI (Pan European Games Information) with the age levels 3, 7, 12, 16 and 18. Additional symbols indicate whether certain games address scary, violent or sexual content and the like. You can find out more about this at Spieleratgeber NRW.
IARC stands for “International Age Rating Coalition” and is a worldwide system for age rating online games and apps. Since these are becoming more and more important and the Internet knows no national borders, the institutions responsible for age ratings from different countries have joined forces and developed this age rating system. This includes a questionnaire that game developers of online games and game apps can use to independently rate the content of their products. In each country, this information results in a license plate that complies with the youth protection rules in force there. In Germany, this is done by the USK. Therefore, you can find the USK notices on many online platforms that use this system, such as Google Play Store, Nintendo eShop, Microsoft Store, PlayStation Store, Xbox Store and Meta Quest Store. However, you should not rely on this alone, as the USK only checks the game developers’ self-assessments on a random basis or in response to complaints. Additionally, use game reviews from educational platforms, such as www.spielbar.de or Spielerratgeber NRW.
Observe your child as he or she interacts with the content. There are children who do not yet understand content well, even though they are already suitable according to the age recommendation. There is nothing wrong with that, every child is different and develops differently. Just see if other offers are more suitable.