Well it turns out it’s been a fair old while since I last wrote a individual blog for OHO, so now feels like the perfect opportunity to have a good old rant. I don’t know if you saw but last week the news was literally buzzing with a story about a little boy who had run up a bill for £1,700 by purchasing in game content on an iPad app, in the space of around 10 minutes. Now let’s start off by congratulating Apple, as they have refunded the parents all of the money that their little brat wasted away on the content. This is something that they did not have to do so it’s reassuring that even money hungry corporations have a little commonsense in them from time to time.
I have to say that I have absolutely no sympathy for the parents. If you leave a 5-year-old child (someone who has no understanding of what currency is) unsupervised with a device that is tied to a credit card then quite frankly you get what’s coming to you. Children are incredibly tech savvy, with all children born post the year 2000 coming out of the womb with a laptop attached to them rather than a placenta. If you’re a parent you need to learn about the interests and hobbies of your child, regardless of what it is. If you’re a butch bloke who has a daughter you can’t not take them dancing or not buy them dolls because it isn’t something of interest to you (apologies for the massive stereotyping, its the best I can do). You have to actively engage in what your child is interested in and nurture them.
I say this because it links into something that is very near and dear to me; gaming. One of the biggest complaints about modern video games is that they are now incredibly realistic and ferociously violent. Very fair points. However, when a parent of an 8 year old complains that Gears of War isn’t suitable for their child and that games need to be censored I have to say (in the most sarcastic and patronising voice imaginable) “NO! A game with a massive red BBFC logo in the bottom of the left hand corner of the box saying the game is not suitable for people under the age of 18 isn’t suitable for your 8 year old to play? Well I never!” The one thing that comes up time and time again that parents use as a defense for buying the children the games in the first place is that they don’t understand what games contain and its easier to give the children what they want. Well if you don’t understand something then why is your default position to let your children engage with it? Surely if it’s something that is alien to you then keep your children away from it! A survival instinct that humans have acquired through generations of evolution is to stay away and be scared of things we don’t understand, not to actively let their offspring dive head first into it.
There are safeguards to protect people as well, as long as you actively engage with them. On the gaming side (as with all media, this isn’t exclusive to video games) there are ratings systems to not only help parents decide what is and what isn’t suitable for their children to play, but to also empower EVERYONE as a consumer. “This game contains strong bloody violence” don’t like strong bloody violence? Then guess what, this game probably isn’t your cup of tea. Ratings agencies like the BBFC, PEGI and ESRB aren’t government controlled bodies; they’re funded by the industry that they rate; yet they are separate from it. This means that the art of making entertainment is not censored (this will only happen in incredibly extreme circumstances) and the consumer is able to be fully aware of what they are about to purchase. In the UK ratings by the BBFC are enforced by law, so when a game or film is rated 15 or 18 they aren’t censored in any way to achieve the rating but the shops selling them have to abide by the ratings unless they want to face prosecution. This is by far and away an incredibly positive thing. It means that developers are able to make the game they truly want, the consumer is given a detailed description as to why the age rating was awarded and children are protected from playing content not suitable for them. On the App Store side of things, the reason why the child was able to purchase the content so easily is because the App Store opens a 15 minute window from making a purchase where you don’t need to input your password again, its a balance between keeping the consumers details safe and treating people like adults who can tie their own shoelaces. If you’re thinking “well that’s a stupid system, someone should do something!” well guess what, you can go into your settings and turn off the 15 minute window so every time you make a purchase you have to input your password. You can even turn off in-app purchases all together. The safeguards are there, but you have to engage with it in order for it to be of any use.
As a parent if you buy your child a game/give them unrestricted access to an app then no matter how many safeguards are put in place, they will be of no use or effect whatsoever.
One final note, isn’t a news story about a child spending £1,700 on in-app purchases the best advertisement for contraception that you’ve ever seen?