A Parent’s Guide to Video Game Safety | An Interview with Aubrey Quinn, Senior VP at ESA

Aubrey Quinn, Senior VP at ESA provides parents and guardians with important information about children and video game safety.
Aubrey Quinn Prima Interview

As the holiday season approaches quickly, many parents are choosing what to buy for their children. The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) conducted a survey and discovered that 72% of children are expected to ask their parents or guardians for video games this year. Many of these children will be obtaining consoles or online video games for the first time, and if you’re a parent who hasn’t been exposed to the video game ecosystem previously, it can be daunting to understand what you need to know to make an informed decision on what works best for your family.

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Prima Games had the opportunity to conduct a timely interview with Aubrey Quinn, Senior VP at the ESA and mother of three herself, to ask questions about the balancing act of keeping children safe while allowing them to enjoy an ever-expanding hobby.

A Parent’s Guide to Video Game Safety

Priscilla Wells: For those unaware, could you briefly explain what the Entertainment Software Association is and the role that it plays in the video game industry?

Aubrey Quinn, Senior VP at ESA: “The Entertainment Software Association, or ESA, is the voice and advocate for the U.S. video game industry. Interactive entertainment is among the most dynamic, widely enjoyed forms of entertainment in the world. I have the very cool job of getting to talk about the numerous benefits of playing video games, such as advancing creativity, bringing communities together, building new skills and promoting overall well-being.” 

What is the Entertainment Software Association doing to provide support for parents who may not have grown up in the video game sphere and find the process of understanding and moderating aspects of video games, such as game monetization and online communication difficult?

“The industry prioritizes creating positive experiences for the entire player community and invests in creating easy-to-use tools for players, parents and caregivers to manage numerous aspects of gameplay.

For nearly 30 years, our industry has been a leader in responsible gameplay. Since 1994, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) has assigned age and content ratings to video games and, more recently, mobile apps to help parents decide which are appropriate for their family before purchasing or downloading. ESRB’s three-part rating system includes Rating Categories to suggest age appropriateness, Content Descriptors to explain the reasons behind the age rating assigned and Interactive Elements to highlight features such as in-game purchases and user-to-user communication.  

In addition to assigning age ratings that appear on digital storefronts where parents can purchase or download video games and/or apps and on all video game boxes, the ESRB enforces marketing guidelines to ensure that games are appropriately marketed and provides extensive resources to help parents understand the rating system, how best to manage games in the home, as well as how to set up parental controls on popular games and platforms.

Beyond ESRB ratings and descriptors, video game systems are designed to put parents in control. Parental controls allow parents to manage which games their kids can play based on the ESRB-assigned ratings, when and for how long their children can play, whether their kids can spend money on in-game purchases or new games, and with whom their children can communicate (if anyone). These controls also require PINs and/or passwords to change the settings. On some consoles and platforms, parents can also get regular playtime reports, so they know what their kids are playing and for how long. ParentalTools.org provides clear, step-by-step guides to help parents activate parental controls on all major video game consoles and other devices. Vamos A Jugar is a similar resource for Spanish-speaking households.”

More than 212 million Americans play video games regularly, which is quite a large number. Is there a breakdown of this number? What is considered regularly? And what is the demographic breakdown?

“The ESA publishes as annual report called the Essential Facts About the U.S. Video Game Industry. In 2023, we learned that more than 212.6 million Americans – or nearly two-thirds – play video games at least one hour a week. Some of the data points that jumped out most to me this year are the ones that defy antiquated stereotypes and help redefine who is playing video games. (The answer is everyone!)

For example, 62% of adults (18+) play video games. Almost as many adults over the age of 45 play games as kids under the age of 18. The average age of a video game player is 32. The gender identity of gamers is split 53% men to 46% women, meaning roughly half of all gamers are women.”

What tools and services are available for parents looking to introduce their child to the world of video games who want to do it safely?

“I encourage parents who are introducing their families to video games to look at three things:

First, understand ESRB ratings. ESRB’s three-part rating system includes Rating Categories to suggest age appropriateness, Content Descriptors to explain the reasons behind the age rating assigned and Interactive Elements to highlight features such as in-game purchases and user-to-user communication. ESRB ratings can help parents make choices on games the same way the ratings systems for movies and TV shows help us make decisions on which content is best for our families.

Second, game systems are design to put parents in control so spend the time to understand your device (e.g., console, PC, mobile device, etc.) and the parental controls available on it. Parental controls allow parents to manage which games their kids can play based on the ESRB-assigned ratings, when and for how long their children can play, whether their kids can spend money on in-game purchases or new games, and with whom their children can communicate (if anyone).

Third, talk to your kids about your rules and expectations. Set clear household rules about when it’s okay to play games, which games are allowed in your house, if they can interact with others online and if they can spend money. And then use parental controls to help enforce those rules. 

But just as importantly, have fun! Play with your kids. We know that 76% of parents play video games with their children, which is a great way to understand the games they like to play and what they like about those particular games.”

More information is available through ESRB at parentaltools.org

As a mother yourself, what does screen time look like in your home, and how important is it to you to maintain a specific boundary in relation to children’s access to screens?

“I have three kids, ages 19, 17 and 10. That wide gap in ages means I handle screen time, including video game playtime, very differently for my youngest child than I do her older siblings.

I use parental controls to limit the amount of time my 10-year-old can play, as well as what time of day she can play. I’m able to vary the hours for weekends and weekdays, and when she wants extra time, she requests it through the console, and I get notified by the app on my phone. It’s a one-step process for me to approve (or decline) her request for extra time. I also use parental controls to filter what games she’s able to play (in our house, it’s E10+), prevent her from spending any money in games, and block her from communicating with other users. The only person she has permission to play with online is her oldest brother, who is a college sophomore across the country. As a mom, I absolutely love seeing my 19-year-old son and my 10-year-old daughter play together virtually. They wouldn’t have that kind of playtime and connection if not for video games.

I don’t have rules for my 19-year-old now that he is at college and doesn’t live at home most of the year. My senior in high school knows he can only play at specific times, but I’ve relaxed the boundaries on what types of games he can play and who he can interact with online as he’s gotten older and more responsible. He has his own debit card information connected to his purchases and so we’ve had conversations on in-game spending. If he wants something, he must save up for it and budget for it – the same way he would for physical items.

Academic research shows that not all screentime is created equal and that playing video games can have a positive impact on social, emotional and mental health. Researchers also find that playing video games bolsters key cognitive skills. 

One study found that a couple of hours of gameplay a week helps improve attention control and reading. It concluded that the effects are long-term and that action video games strengthen a child’s ability to learn how to learn. I love that!

If my kids get two hours over a weekend for screen time, I always prefer that they play video games – where they’re using their brain to think creatively and to solve puzzles – over simply consuming content on a device.” 

The ESA survey stated that 72% of children aged 10-17 are most likely to ask for video game related gifts this holiday season, so if you had one piece of advice for parents looking to buy video games for their young children this year, what would it be?

“Play video games with your kids or as a family. When you play with them, you spend quality time with them. You create memories. You have a whole lot of fun. Your kids will see that you’re interested in their interests and engaged with them. And you also get to see firsthand what they’re playing. That way, if you decide you want to implement different rules at home or use parental controls, you’re doing it from an informed place.”

Video games, when consumed healthily, can positively impact an individual as stated above, and also as a whole family unit when playing together. With an abundance of different ways in which parents can handle access to video games, one can feel confident that gifting a video game to a loved one this year will bring laughter and joy to all around. If you’re unsure what to buy, Prima Games has published a video game gift guide for 2023, which covers nine family-friendly video games that you can feel confident about purchasing this holiday season.

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Author

Priscilla Wells
Priscilla is both the weekend editor and a freelance writer at Prima Games. She began working at Prima Games in early 2023. Prior to this, she spent nine years writing for both her own personal gaming blog, and other related websites. Priscilla has grown up playing video games, and most often plays her PS5 and Nintendo Switch consoles. You can find her playing Final Fantasy XIV, RuneScape, Pokemon GO, or lost in the latest RPG to release. She is an Australian living in the United States with her American husband, three children, and her Basset Hound. Before moving to the United States, Priscilla obtained a Bachelors of Secondary Education majoring in English and Japanese Language. This allowed her to teach English and Japanese in a high school setting. You can follow her on Twitter/X at @Cilllah