At this week’s Digital Life event, Microsoft introduced out a new educational campaign under the tag “Safety is no game. Is your family set?” in conjunction with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and retailer Best Buy. The goal? to provide parents and other “caregivers” information and tools to make gaming and other interactive entertainment “safer, more secure, and fun for children.”
(We assume the message Microsoft wants to send is not that games are unsafe, insecure, and no fun unless you get on this bandwagon.)
Part of the campaign will focus on providing hands-on time with video games, including explanations of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB), and how to use the Family Setting in Microsoft’s Xbox 360, Xbox Live service, and Xbox Live Vision camera to make sure children only access appropriate material and features. The Family Settings features offers password-protected settings which determine who children cann interact with online, and what video games can be played based on their ESRB ratings. The permissions also control what DVD movies can be played, whether Xbox Live memberships can be set up, and access to the Xbox Live Vision camera.
“With success comes responsibility. We are unwavering in our commitment to address the genuine concerns of families on how to keep interactive entertainment safe and fun for our children,” said Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices Division, in a statement. “In addition to our current Family Settings feature in Xbox 360, we have built in robust but easy-to-use parental controls in Windows Vista. Windows Vista serves as a good example of how we are working to incorporate the Family Settings feature into our products to ensure that parents can decide and set the parameters for their families.”
As part of the campaign, Microsoft is setting up a 20-city bus tour demonstrating Xbox safety features, as well as a “nationwide listening tour” to hear concerns of parents and caregivers regarding children’s’ access entertainment content. Microsoft also plans to roll out in-store safety materials and conduct a national ad campaign promoting the Xbox 360’s Family Settings.
The move comes as the video game industry faces increasing legislative and community challenges regarding the availability of violent and sexually explicit games to minors, even when those games carry an “M” for Mature rating from the ESRB. Although legislative challenges to these games are being routinely overturned, a significant portion of the video gaming audience would seem to be concerned about the nature of content and activities being made available to children via video games. The industry maintains that it’s self-policing activities—through organizations like the ESRB and via actions like Microsoft’s new campaign—are sufficient to inform parents and caregivers about their choices, and that government does not need to regulate or censor the industry.