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Rio Ferdinand wants parents to turn on console family controls

Kick off a conversation.

Former football pro Rio Ferdinand is fronting a new campaign designed to encourage parents to turn on console family controls.

The video game industry has come under fire from the UK government in recent years as the conversation around loot boxes, spending on microtransactions and video game addiction has intensified.

During a meeting in June 2019, representatives from Epic and EA struggled to answer questions from MPs about how children play Fortnite and FIFA and the systems put in place to protect them.

In the meeting with the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, topics of discussion included play time, which the Epic rep said he had no idea about and the EA rep said EA doesn't track; duty of care to players, which, bafflingly, EA and Epic seemed to argue against; the potential for addiction and the World Health Organisation's recent high-profile classification of gaming disorder as a disease, which, frustratingly, EA and Epic failed to acknowledge; and loot boxes. Kerry Hopkins from Electronic Arts stepped in to say: "we don't call them loot boxes - we call them surprise mechanics."

The industry is under intense scrutiny, then. So, over to the UK Interactive Entertainment Association (UKIE), which represents the video game publishing industry in the UK. It's launched a new Get Smart About P.L.A.Y. campaign to encourage more parents and carers to use tools that manage screen time and in-game purchases on consoles.

According to a new report, only one in five parents of children who spend money in video games use the family controls built into the systems. A 2019 NSPCC study revealed just 19 per cent of parents of children aged 5-15 use family controls on internet-connected devices. Clearly, there's a problem.

Rio Ferdinand, who played for Manchester United and England during a glittering football career, is on board to help UKIE's campaign gain attention.

"My kids love playing video games but as a parent it is important for me to be able to manage the amount of time they play," Ferdinand said. "Family controls can help achieve a balance at home between screen time and other activities. They're easy to use and save a lot of arguments in the long run."

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You might have noticed the title of the campaign is Get Smart About P.L.A.Y. The P in P.L.A.Y. stands for Play with your kids. "Understand what they play and why." L stands for Learn about family controls (more on how they work here). A stands for Ask what your kids think. "Discuss ground rules before setting restrictions." Y is for You're in charge. "Set restrictions that work for your family."

It's true that console parental controls could do with some publicity. My conversations with parents of children who play games suggest console controls are fiddly, and most struggle to work out how to get it all up and running - if they even know they exist. But will UKIE's new campaign do enough to placate politicians who will no doubt return to the thorny issue of video games in 2020?

And, of course, UKIE's new campaign deflects from the root of the issue: that some companies have and continue to use exploitative mechanics designed to encourage people to spend more time and more money on games - without care for their well-being.

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