Shopping for video games this holiday season? What you need to know

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(BPT) - Are video games at the top of your kids' wish lists this year? Chances are good that they are. In a recent survey of U.S. adults and children aged 10 through 17 by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), kids were most likely to ask parents for video game–related presents (72%). It's not surprising, as there's a video game out there for every player, and video games are a fun activity that can also engage friends and family in interactive play.

In the survey, a majority of both girls (59%) and boys (86%) say they plan to ask for video game gifts, with the top five requests being for game subscriptions (39%), game consoles (38%), game gear/accessories (32%), in-game currency (29%) and physical video games (22%). And they're not just for kids — about 1 in 3 (32%) adults say they plan to buy video game gifts for themselves or others for the holidays, with that number jumping to 57% for parents.

"More than 212 million Americans play video games regularly, so it comes as no surprise that games are at the top of this year's wish lists," said Stan Pierre-Louis, president and CEO, ESA. "Whether a family is getting a new console, updating their controllers and headsets or adding to their library with new games and expansion packs, we know video games are a great tool for families to play together and connect during the holiday season and beyond."

Before you head online or to a store to do your shopping, it's important to take steps to ensure the games you choose for your kids are appropriate for their ages, and that you're comfortable with their content.

If you're a parent or caregiver — or other relative looking for games for the kids in your life — the ESA encourages taking these three steps before purchasing and gifting video game items for kids, so you can relax and let them have fun playing games they love.

1. Check the age and content rating information

The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) assigns age and content ratings to video games and mobile apps to help parents and caregivers decide which are appropriate for kids. Parents should look out for the ESRB's three-part rating system:

Rating Categories suggest age appropriateness. Ratings include E for Everyone, E10+ for ages 10 and older, T for Teen, M for Mature for ages 17 and older or AO for Adults Only.

Content Descriptors highlight content leading to the assigned age rating. ESRB has over 30 Content Descriptors to let parents know when a video game contains language, humor, violence and more.

Interactive Elements provide upfront notice about interactive features that may be important to parents. For example, the "In-Game Purchases" label lets parents know when a game offers the ability to spend money for additional in-game content, and the "Users Interact" label lets parents know when a game allows user-to-user communication.

You can find ESRB rating information on the front and back of all video game boxes, and on product detail pages on digital storefronts.

2. Make use of parental controls

Tools exist on virtually all game devices to help parents and caregivers manage gameplay experiences for their family. Parental controls can include:

  • Filtering games by ESRB age rating
  • Managing time spent playing games
  • Controlling — or preventing — spending
  • Limiting — or blocking — communication with other players
  • PIN and password settings to prevent unwanted changes
  • Regular playtime reports

3. Have family conversations about responsible online behavior

Video games are a positive and meaningful outlet for billions of players worldwide. To help your family enjoy their games, it's important to communicate clear household rules around limits (such as time of day and duration of play), the types of games allowed and when it's appropriate to spend money — then set up parental controls around these rules.

In addition, games increasingly allow interaction with others online. You'll want to consider whether family members should be able to interact with other players and if so, with whom. You can decide to activate parental controls to block online communications. In some cases, parents can curate their kids' friends list to only allow communications with people they know in real life.

If children are allowed to interact with others online, remember to discuss appropriate behavior, including treating other players kindly and respectfully. It's also key to have conversations with children about interacting with strangers online. If they're allowed to talk to strangers, make sure children understand what to do if they encounter another player behaving inappropriately. Remember: Kids can always mute, block and report players, and if they're unsure what to do, let them know they can always ask you or another trusted adult for advice.

Learn more about nurturing ongoing conversations around video games in your home by checking out ESRB's Family Gaming Guide and tools for parents, and following the ESRB blog. Steps the video game industry is taking to help protect everyone in the player community can be found on TheESA.com.