Friday, November 16, 2012

Topics in Internet Safety

 CLICK HERE to read articles that Wired Moms were talking about in 2009 - in some ways we have made  improvements and in other ways we still have a great deal of work to do.

Friday, June 8, 2012

News from E3: Video Games for families


Wired Moms E3 recap
By Johner Riehl, Founder & Editorial Director, FamilyFriendlyVideoGames.com

There’s no doubt that the 2012 video game trade show called the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) which just concluded in Los Angeles sent a strong message about the future of video games. But it may not have been the best message for families.

Sure, the group that puts on the show, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), touted some impressive statistics about the broad demographics of gaming in a press release highlighting the show. We now know that 49% of American households own a video game console. And that 40% of parents play video games with their kids once a week. These are great facts, and are trends we’d love to see continue.

But yet, from both a family perspective and from an industry perspective, the focus at the E3 trade show on gory and violent games was striking. For parents who may already be a bit fearful of the impact of violent video games on their children, hearing about the next wave of games that involve heavy doses of torture, profanity and bloody death may make them want to invest their money on educational apps instead of game consoles.

However, we waded through gore and found a few console games that families can look forward to this year. These games are set to provide fun, wholesome and in some cases active bonding experiences, and are all perfect for playing together.

Here are the best games for families to play together that we saw at E3 2012:

Wii-U and NintendoLand – By revealing more details about their next generation Wii, Nintendo cemented their status as the trusted brand for families who play video games together. The Wii-U will feature two tablet controllers called GamePads which can be used in games like NintendoLand to allow for all-new types of cooperative and competitive gameplay, such as playing a four against one game of hide and seek, or allowing for a player to help others from their unique GamePad perspective. The games in NintendoLand are based on popular franchises like Zelda, Donkey Kong, Animal Crossing and more, and centered around a theme park setting which is great for family play. The Wii-U will be available this holiday season, with NintendoLand as one of the launch titles, and both are shaping up as absolute must-haves for families.

RabbidsLand – Ubisoft’s Rabbids franchise is long known for a sense of humor that is chock full of bodily noises, toilet jokes and three-stooges-style slapstick. Basically, it's right in the wheelhouse of any elementary-aged boys (and their dads). This new title for Wii-U will play like a board game, and pit the Rabbids against in each other in any variety of sophomoric circumstances in the virtual RabbidsLand theme park. We can’t wait to play this one at our weekly family game night when it comes out this fall.

Dance Games –The two best dance franchises for families are coming back for more this year. Just Dance 4 uses the Wii-U gamepad to let one player help select the dance moves that are coming next for up to four of their friends and family. Dance Central 3 for Kinect features celebrity choreographers like Usher teaching routines and moves that are used in real-life concerts. And there’s even Just Dance Disney Party designed for younger kids to dance around to Disney favorites from movies and the current slate of shows on the Disney Channel.

Kinect TV Games – Designed in conjunction with the real-life shows, Kinect Nat Geo TV and Kinect Sesame Street TV from Microsoft place parents and kids into the onscreen action, allowing for co-playing opportunities as well as simply co-viewing. For example, after watching a lesson from Nat Geo about how Grizzly Bears eat, you’ll need to get off the couch and swipe and chomp fish like a grizzly bear on-screen. These are the ultimate play-together experiences and are great for families with young kids. The Kinect TV games are due out this holiday.

Skylanders Giants – If you’re family hasn’t gotten into Skylanders yet, you definitely should as it’s clearly becoming one of the biggest toy and gaming crazes since Pok√©mon. Just as in the 2011 smash hit, this holiday’s Skylanders Giants from Activision allows players to take their real-life toys and place them on the portal of power to control their creatures within the video game. It’s a perfect two-player cooperative experience, figurines from the original Skylanders will work with Skylanders Giants, and there are nearly 40 new figures to collect this holiday season. Start saving now, because Skylanders Giants are bound to be THE hottest toy for the holidays yet again.

Epic Mickey 2 – This game is being published by Disney and is designed with the fact that parents will be playing with their kids in mind. That alone should be enough to convince you that this will be a great cooperative experience for families, but the improved graphics on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, along with lessons learned from last year’s darker-themed Epic Mickey, leave us with high hopes for Mickey and Oswald as they travel through classic Disney environments, applying paint or thinner as necessary to solve puzzles and defeat bad guys.

Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes – Nearly any conversation about playing games together includes a Lego game of some sort, and this year’s entry in the Lego series will definitely appeal to nearly everyone in the family. Featuring non-violent and perfectly-challenging gameplay, as well as the trademark Lego sense of humor, Lego Batman 2 will let players take control of Batman, Robin, Superman, Wonder Woman the flash and dozens more DC comic characters.

Johner Riehl is a freelance writer focusing on family technology and online safety. As founder and editorial director for FamilyFriendlyVideoGames.com, a site that provides reviews and recommendations geared towards families, he examines hundreds of family-friendly games and apps every year. He’s also been a PR rep for Nintendo, Microsoft, Midway and more. TWITTER: @FamilyTechDad & @FmlyFrndlyVdGms

Monday, April 23, 2012

Apple vs. Parents - who's to blame?


With word coming through that a group of parents is suing Apple over bills racked up via in-
app purchases through freemium games like Smurf’s Village and Tap Zoo, it seems like it’s a
great time to offer some refresher tips for parents who let their youngsters play on their iPods,
iPhones and iPads.

These apps are free to download but offer shortcuts or extra in-game items to players who are
willing to spend real money. While many adults are able to do a thorough cost-benefit analysis
on whether spending that money is really worth it, kids just aren’t equipped to fully grasp the
value of a dollar at that age, especially when the spending seems to be taking place only in-
game.

Additionally, young kids are playing these games and can’t even read, or have learned basics
such as OK or Yes in order to continue. So they unwittingly rack up bills as they try and
progress through the game.

As the founder of FamilyFriendlyVideoGames.com, a website dedicated to providing information
on games and apps that are appropriate for families, you’d think I would have known better than
to let something like this happen to me. But in 2010, my three-year old son managed to rack up
more than $100 worth of Smurfberries on our iTunes account. When alerted to the charges, I
immediately sent e-mails to Apple and Capcom (the game’s publisher, who has since changed
their name to Beeline Interactive), and after a couple of phone calls the next day we were
fortunately able to get the charges reversed.

Officially, the breakdown was pinned on the fact that my iTunes account was still logged in
when my son had played (even though I know it had been longer than 15 minutes since I
downloaded the game). But that’s not the point. The larger point is how easy this App and
others like it made it for my son to unwittingly rack up a big bill.

I was lucky to be able to get the charges reversed, but it turns out I wasn’t alone. Others who
should seemingly know better have had it happen to them. While researching this subject for
the Modern Parents’ Guide series of books, we’ve talked to game developers, executives at
mobile companies, and other tech-savvy parents who have had similar experiences. If we as
experts had our kids falling into this “App Trap,” then what does that mean is happening to other
families around the country?

There are some basic tips that every parent should do before allowing their kids to play Apps on
their device.

The first thing any parent should do is go in and disable the ability to make in-App purchases.
It’s actually pretty simple, and we’ll detail the steps for you here:

To disable In-App purchases, locate these settings by tapping Settings > General >
Restrictions. To Enable Restrictions, tap Enable Restrictions and enter a passcode. The
passcode will be required to make changes to these settings. You should then scroll
down, and the first option after the Allowed Content heading will be In-App Purchases.
You will want to make sure that this is setting is turned to “Off.”

While you are there, you can also choose to restrict access to the following applications
and features on the device by switching them to “Off”:

- Safari
- YouTube
- iTunes
- App installation
- App deletion
- Camera

- FaceTime
- Location
- Account changes
- Multiplayer games in Game Center
- Adding friends in Game Center
- Music and podcasts
- Movies
- TV shows
- Apps

(this process can also be found here: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4213 )

While you’re there, you should also manage settings for ratings for Movies, Music & Podcasts,
TV Shows and Apps, setting them at a level that’s appropriate for your family.

All of these settings can only be changed with the four-digit passcode you select for the device,
so make sure your kids don’t have access to that if you’re worried they may try and manually
override those settings.

Additionally, many families choose to use only iTunes gift cards which they purchase at a real-
life store as a way to purchase items from the App store. That way, there’s no chance for a
credit card to be used to rack up these large bills.

As parents, we absolutely bear responsibility to keep a close eye on our children’s media
consumption, and should have a good idea of the content of any games and activities they’re
engaged in. So while some may complain that these refunds are ludicrous and families should
pay for letting their kids play unattended in the first place, the truth is there’s an expectation (and
it’s not an unreasonable one) that the games are kid have access to aren’t being designed to
trick them into spending money. As an expert and a parent, it’s with great interest that we’ll be
following Apple’s response and the rest of the developments in this case.

Has something like this happened to your family? Do you think this case is ridiculous and that
it’s the parents’ responsibility to pay these bills? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Johner Riehl is a writer, author and expert on issues regarding families and technology. As
founder of FamilyFriendlyVideoGames.com, he highlights games that are fun for playing
together, and as featured writer and co-author of Scott Steinberg’s Modern Parents Guidebook
series, he’s interviewed and compiled research from hundreds of experts and sources about the
topics of online safety, kids’ media consumption and more. He lives in San Diego with his wife
and three sons.