Video games have really struggled to escape their image of being a kid's pastime largely indulged by spotty boys in basements living out their dreams of shooting aliens in the face over and over. The reality is that video games have matured alongside the people (boys and girls) that have grown up since they first went mass market back in the late seventies and early eighties and really deserve now to be accepted as a serious platform just like TV and the movies. Sadly people can't stop holding them up as being singularly responsible for the corruption of our nation's youth whenever the media need a convenient scapegoat.
The perception that video games are for kids I think is the main reason that every time they're held up in the media as being responsible for the actions of a violent person, people aren't too quick to question it. After all, if you're not familiar with video games and have a faint recollection of PacMan and Space Invaders from your own childhood, then a clip of Grand Theft Auto, where it's possible to spend time with a Hooker, then club her to death afterwards to get your money back (all in glorious high definition) is going to see jaws on the floor across the land!
The fact of the matter is that video games are enjoyed by adults, as well as children and adults like to play games with adult themes. These same games should not be played by children, even if the science can't yet prove one way or another what the effects on their learning and world perception is. With storytelling and graphics being what they are these days, it would be wiser for most people to restrict their younger ones to age appropriate games, of which there are plenty.
With that in mind, last week I wrote about how to set up the Nintendo Wii with parental controls and this week it's the turn of the Playstation 3 is first and foremost a games console, but it's also a fine media player and the disc drive will playback both DVD and Bluray - which are equally capable of carrying content not suitable for younger eyes and minds. Fortunately Sony has provided a range of controls allowing the restriction of content according to the rules of the household.
So let's get the Playstation 3 fired up and look to see what's possible.
Once the Playstation 3 main menu is open, you'll want to use the controller to move left through the menu to Settngs and then down to Security Settings. Press the X button on the controller to select it.
Let's work our way down through the various options. Firstly we need to set a password. This should be a four digit code or PIN that the youngsters are not going to be able to guess. Out of the box, the PS3's password will be 0000.
Use the X button to select the Change Password option, enter 0000 as the original password, then complete your secret PIN code using up and down to scroll through the options and press the X button on your controller when you're ready.
Now the settings can only be changed with your PIN, meaning any restrictions you choose to enforce cannot be simply switched off again when no one is looking.
The next option down is BD Parental Control. Press the X button to select and you'll be able to set a restriction on the age limit of Blu-ray Discs played by your Playstation 3. For those not familiar, blu-rays are the next generation of movie disc, taking up the reigns from DVD. Use the controller and the X button to set whether this will be restricted or not. You'll be able to set the age limit in a subsequent step.
Using the controller to move down an option in the menu, next up we're able to set the region that you're in for the purposes of restricting both DVD and Blu-Ray content. I've set the UK above. Press X to bring up the submenu, up and down on the controller to pick your region and X again to select.
Moving on down the list, we're at DVD Parental Control and the first signs that Sony haven't put a whole lot of effort into this. We can switch off any restriction, or choose from eight seeminly arbitary levels of restriction. Now Nintendo and Microsoft managed to present clear age limits for their settings, so it's beyond me why Sony have decided to go this way. I can only give you a basic rule of thumb and you may want to try a few discs out to make sure the grown up stuff won't play without that PIN. If you have teen children and therefore want to allow 15 Rated movies (or T-Rated US friends) and below - set a limit of 5. If you have younger children, use lower numbers and check that their movies that you approve of are still okay. If you work for Sony - please do something about this.
So we've done DVDs, now Parental Control next on the list provides the restrictions for games and once again, we have a list of arbitary levels, except this time there are eleven! Again, some experimentation is probably required, but a hunt round the internet suggests that for pre-school children, set at 2, for young children set to 3. Pre-teens set to 4, teens at 5. If you want to restrict only the very violent 'adults only' grade stuff, the numbers should be set under 9.
The last option has Sony thankfully play it nice and safe and that is to enable or disable the PS3's ability to surf the internet. A lot of parenting guides recommend that children, even well into their teens only have access to the internet from a family space like the living room. Of course, what parents might not realise is that even games consoles like the Playstation 3 are perfectly capable of surfing the web and these could easily have their home in the child's bedroom. Enabling this restriction puts pay to that problem.
So there we have it. Movies, games and the internet can all be limited to safer levels using the PS3's parental controls. These controls are not the last word in good parenting when it comes to this stuff, but they're a useful tool that I'm afraid your child is unlikely to thank you for.