Video games – a long history of commitment to protection of minors – it’s in our DNA

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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  • Every day is safer internet day for video games companies whose adaptive tools help parents and caregivers take charge of safe video gameplay.
  • 38 countries use PEGI, the ever-evolving pan-European system for the age classification of video games.
  • Video games companies make parental control tools available on all devices that allow parents and caregivers to set limits on spending, screen time, interaction and to manage access to age-appropriate video games. Their example is increasingly followed by mobile and PC video games platforms.
  • The industry runs regular media education campaigns targeting national audiences in local languages, to draw attention to PEGI and all the available parental controls, and to provide parents, caregivers and players with tips and support.
  • Games change, platforms change, society changes. The industry is constantly adapting holistic safety measures and targeted controls to provide a safe environment for everyone, and for our young players in particular, to enjoy the fun, the education and the social interaction that this incredibly popular pastime provides.

With research showing that more than 51% of Europe’s population, and 76% of children aged 6-14 play video games across Europe, a safe online environment is a number one priority for the video games sector, and always has been. EU Safer Internet Day was celebrated last month but every day is safer internet day for the companies whose use and management of effective, adaptive self-regulatory tools provides a valuable case study in the protection of minors for the wider creative and technology sector. We firmly believe that we can help EU institutions meet their policy goals on child safety online. Whether you are a parent or caregiver of a video game player, a player yourself or a policy maker working to ensure minors are properly protected online – or maybe all of the above – we have a story to tell and best-in-class examples of how to do it.

Back in 2003, the industry set up the ever-evolving pan-European system for the age classification of video games, PEGI, in response to a Council of Europe request for a harmonised age rating system. Used in 38 countries, PEGI is a very accessible and dependable system, combining logical iconography for parents and caregivers at the point of purchase with a robust Code of Conduct for companies – a set of rules to which every publisher using the PEGI system is contractually committed. The Code deals with age labelling, promotion and marketing, and provisions to ensure a safe online environment (ranging from a coherent privacy policy and appropriate reporting mechanisms to online community standards and the removal of inappropriate content).

PEGI pays close attention to industry developments and adjusts its system accordingly. In 2018, the in-game purchases descriptor was introduced, informing the consumer about the possibility of in-game spending, while an additional notice notifies consumers about the presence of in-game purchases that include random items (such as loot boxes, card packs or prize wheels). Additionally, major console, PC and mobile platforms require that video games published on their platforms disclose the probability of obtaining in-game virtual items from purchased loot boxes. Many major publishers also disclose this information.

We believe parental autonomy must be respected. We have a responsibility to empower children to play responsibly and help parents and caregivers with tools that can be set up in the most appropriate way for their child. In addition to PEGI and strict privacy tools, video game companies make parental control tools available on all consoles and devices that allow limits to be set on spending, screen time and in-game communication. Their example is increasingly followed by mobile and PC video games platforms.

We know from research that 97% of parents who have agreements with their children on in-game spending monitor such spending, that only 1/3 of children are allowed to spend within games and that 69% of parents are aware of PEGI labelling. Our members are committed to the ongoing development of parental controls, making them simpler to use, and also to provide customised features to allow parents to apply settings they feel are appropriate for their own children – but there is always more to do.

We have these great tools – but how do we ensure everyone knows about them? 

The industry runs regular media education campaigns  targeting national audiences in local languages, to draw attention to responsible gameplay, PEGI and all the available parental controls on the games and consoles.

Our “5 tips for parents” is a great guide for how parents and caregivers can take charge if necessary and provides links to how to use controls for different games – created for parents during the first COVID-19 lockdown when children were using video games more than usual to connect with their friends, for education and fitness and to support their mental well-being. The European Commission’s Better Internet for Kids portal is also a great resource.  The new Xbox family app, for example, provides a convenient way for parents and caregivers to create child accounts, including setting screen time limits and content filters, viewing weekly activity reports, managing communication settings and ensuring children have age-appropriate access to video game play. Sony PlayStation’s parent account includes tools that include child-friendly privacy information that a child can understand, a grief reporting procedure, a password for checkout, and granular settings that can be set for different age groups – and much more.

PEGI and other actions taken by the video games industry are an essential part of the future European cooperation framework for digital media literacy, including awareness raising on digital fundamental rights, such as the rights to privacy and children’s right to participate in leisure and digital artistic and cultural life. Digital media literacy is essential for helping children, parents and caregivers to counter unfair practices and harmful digital phenomena.

The work of a responsible video games industry is ongoing: games change, platforms change, society changes. We will constantly adapt our safety measures and controls to provide a safe environment for everyone, and for our young players in particular, to enjoy the fun, the education and the social interaction that this incredibly popular pastime provides.

We are always open to dialogue with policy makers, parents and players. We are proud of Europe’s self and co-regulatory achievements and the high bar it sets for the protection of minors in Europe.

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