Everyone knows the USK logos on the packaging of video games. However, the fact that one also adheres to the stated age ratings is a completely different matter. Often it is parents' lack of media literacy that enables children to play video games that are not age-appropriate. Because the Christmas season and with it the Christmas business is approaching, the Ministry for Children, Family, Refugees and Integration of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia draws attention to the colored age labels on video games.

Video games are fun and often convey learning content in an entertaining way or are used for education. "If games are not suitable for children and their age, they can cause nightmares, stress and dullness when it comes to depictions of violence," says the North Rhine-Westphalian Ministry of Family Affairs, which calls for age ratings and playing times to be observed for the protection of minors in digital games.

USK seals reflect content

It is not a killer game debate that the NRW Family Ministry wants to lead. Rather, the information is intended to provide information - especially in the high-turnover Christmas business. Parents and legal guardians must not shift responsibility to game developers or publishers who produce the games until they are ready for the market and then publish them. It is the parents who need to know what they are giving and to whom they are giving it. The USK seal is a valuable guide.

The USK, the abbreviation for entertainment software self-control, is a body that is responsible for the age rating of video games as well as game trailers. The age recommendations have long since become mandatory age classifications, the revision of the Youth Protection Act was decisive for this. The age rating must therefore be clearly visible on both the data carrier and the game packaging.

All games marked in this way have been tested in a nationwide uniform test procedure by independent youth protection experts according to binding criteria and approved by state representatives for the respective age group, explains the North Rhine-Westphalia Ministry of Family Affairs.

The USK knows five or eight different classifications:

  • Approved without age restriction (USK from 0 / white)
  • Approved from six years of age (USK from 6 / yellow)
  • Approved from twelve years of age (USK from 12 / green)
  • Approved for ages 16+ (USK XNUMX+ / blue)
  • No youth approval (USK from 18 / red)
  • Additionally: classification pending (USK rating pending / gray)
  • additionally: INFO PROGRAM (white)
  • additionally: TEACHING PROGRAM (white)

In the trade, titles with the USK seal may be openly displayed, the age of the buyer must be checked when buying. That alone makes it clear how important the decision is that parents have to make in the interests of their children. The USK seal is intended to help parents orientate themselves, because the really essential factor in making a decision is: Knowing the video game. Parents should therefore not rely on the colored seal alone. With good reason: There are definitely games that are approved for children or young people due to their content, i.e. are basically suitable, but can still contain components that could be viewed as critical in individual cases. Nowadays, among other things, this affects monetization mechanisms in games, such as in-game shops. If older children are particularly susceptible to such concepts or if children are prone to media addiction due to their development, even an approved USK game may be the wrong choice.

Ratings side by side: USK from 18; the non-binding PEGI and the Australian "Mature Accompanied (MA 15+)". Photo: André Volkmann

Ratings side by side: USK from 18; the non-binding recommendation of the PEGI and the Australian “Mature Accompanied (MA 15+)”. Photo: André Volkmann

On the other hand, one shouldn't fundamentally demonize video games. There are many factors, influences and values ​​behind a game: for example art, culture, education, entertainment or social interaction. It is therefore important to take into account the age rating of the entertainment software self-regulation (USK) and not to blindly rely on it. Depending on the game, this can apply in both directions.

The North Rhine-Westphalian minister for children and young people, Joachim Stamp, says: “We want to support families in the safe use of digital games, especially in the corona pandemic. Adults should consider the age ratings when buying games. In order to be on the safe side when it comes to protecting minors and avoiding negative consequences from playing, the USK age code provides reliable guidance. "

And there is another tip from the Family Ministry: In addition, parents should make sure that their children take regular breaks while playing and that they do not exceed an age-appropriate playing time during the day. Because playing for hours without a break can have a lasting negative impact on the development of children and adolescents. As a guideline for the daily game time on the screen, the NRW game guide recommends up to 45 to 60 minutes for children between the ages of seven and thirteen. For young people aged 14 and over, a jointly agreed time budget per week is more suitable than a daily maximum. However, you should then take regular breaks. As a rule of thumb, there is a 15-minute break for every 60 minutes of playing time.

Information on how to use digital games in the family is also available at www.playeratgeber-nrw.de, a media project funded by the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

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