Switch… it off: Parental Controls

I’m pretty sure I always said that I was going to get a Nintendo Switch… right? … 

The day finally came and I now own my first (relevant) Nintendo home console! Regular readers shouldn’t panic however; I won’t suddenly be warping over to the ways of the plumber and given that one of my first purchases has been the widely anticipated retro throwback nostalgathon ‘Sonic Mania’ (despite how much of a liar he is), it’s safe to say that I’m still staying true to my Mega Drive heritage whilst accepting that times change. I’m also not planning on abandoning PC gaming, but hopefully the Switch will fill that gap in couch gaming, local co-op, and portable action that has been lacking despite trying to fill it with the Steam Link.

If forced to give a one word answer about my interest in the Switch, I’d have to go with ‘curiosity’; I’m interested to see how this hybrid home/portable console with confusing Lego-esque controllers and certain retro leanings holds up. Nintendo has always earned my admiration for thinking about how people game and how they interact with those games, even if not all their experiments work in the market place. It’s an innovative company with a new innovative product… and one of those innovative aspects is the parental control app….   

… which is one of the stranger gaming aspects that I’ve fixated on for a blog article; physical hardware review? initial thoughts on games?… even a technical spec rundown? No, I’ve chosen to jabber on about the one feature that (being as I’m not a parent) I have literally no use for. The parental control app is without a doubt one of the driest things about the Switch, and no amount of cute Bowser & Bowser Jr. animation can detract from that. It did however get me thinking as I’m still young enough to remember being a kid who gamed for probably more hours than was strictly appropriate and knew the, often uncertain, path of judging exactly how long it was appropriate to game for at any one time. As I mentioned earlier (and this is the disclaimer) I’m rambling on about what is a complex subject as a complete outsider; it is a delicate balance involving game appropriateness, a fair amount of gaming time to satisfy enthusiasm, online safety, monitoring and enforcing limits, and… ok, so there is no way I can actually tackle this subject, but I can run down each of the features of the Nintendo system and imagine how I would have felt about them as a young gamer.

homeworkfirstdemonstration1
The famous NES ‘Homework First’ lock… Yeah, I would’ve just tried every combination… 

Age Rating Restrictions

Being able to limit a child to games that are strictly age appropriate sounds… at least on paper… like a great idea. I guess it’s easy as an adult for me to look disapprovingly at young children playing non-appropriate games, but as a child I was certainly doing the same thing; I grew up with games like ‘Doom’, and ‘Duke Nukem 3D’ although I would argue that the cartoonish adult themes of the latter are tame in comparison to those covered in games like GTA. I like to think that as a youngster I would have worked pretty ingeniously to get around these restrictions, but if I had been met with a brick wall then I also think I could have asked my parents directly to let me play the games, and maybe it’s that conversation that Nintendo are trying to encourage rather than just the all out ban. I remember having this very conversation with my parents about a few games, one of which was ‘Resident Evil 2’ which became one of my all time favourites. An age recommendation is after all a recommendation and the main goal here is I’d guess to bring the parent’s judgement in to play; I think I would have found it annoying, but ultimately fair and for those more ‘mature’ games I was playing that they knew about gaming was much more satisfying than trying to catch a quick round of ‘Carmageddon’ without being caught.

Game Time Limits

Controlling the how much and when of gaming must be a constant battle for parents; especially with the Switch where a sneaky few round of Mario Cart in bed is a reality unlike when I was… no, wait… I played plenty of Game Gear games past bedtime and far too early in the morning. Subtle out of hours gaming and extended play session are nothing new, and limiting that time has been a struggle parents have faced since games were a thing. One of the bigger problems I faced in this respect was the inconsistency, some days ‘could’ be game heavy days, and others less so and in this respect at least the app adds a layer of infallible regularity to the system. The app also sidesteps, or at least tries to, the moment of “I’m going to turn it off!” followed quickly by “NOOOOOOOO!!!!” and tantrums. When gametime is over the app displays a small onscreen message and alarm to the player which importantly doesn’t interfere with play, this allows the player to make the choice about when to finish. Whilst the app does give the ability to switch the console into sleep mode forceably, it is strongly discouraged by Nintendo, and the idealist in me is hopeful that the constant alarm reminder would allow the gamer to reach a neat stopping point but not ‘forget’ that the session had ended and begin the next section. That being said I’ve no idea how well this would work in practice, but at the very least it would let parents discuss the amount of gaming time if the limits were regularly stretched. How would the ten-year-old version of me reacted to this?… probably badly… I have a feeling that the subject of how long I was allowed to play for would be a pretty regular *ahem* ‘discussion point’. So whilst the adult me applauds Nintendo for taking the best shot yet at tackling this, I can’t see it causing any less conflict around the subject – a small alarm telling you to stop playing is still being told to stop playing.

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Limited Online Interaction

The internet is a modern beast and as such I can’t really comment on how I would’ve reacted to being told I couldn’t chat online. I don’t think I would’ve been all that bothered; even now I’m quick to mute public voice channels and most of the games I enjoyed were solo affairs. It would be great if the world didn’t need this kind of feature, but Nintendo have undoubtedly made the right choice in removing the control of this type of interaction out of the hands of the young gamer; again though I think it would be important that the ‘block’ wasn’t outright without reasoning or some amount of leniency. Gaming with friends is an excellent social activity and ingame chat is a big part of that; I think I’d ‘get’ the dangers as a kid but would probably argue to be able to chat to friends ingame, which would probably be granted under some proviso like I had to play in a communal area of the house, or that a shorthand typist was on hand to take minutes.

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Usage Summary

This is the feature that I’m most enthusiastic about – I was tempted to activate parental controls on myself just to get my own updates! I think it represents a shift from ‘gaming is just something kids do‘, to ‘this is something the whole family does‘. Sure, I get that it’s another way to monitor usage, but if/when I have children of my own I’d be fascinated to see what they’re playing and talk to them about it. For example I have no understanding of Minecraft, but if one of my offspring was playing it daily I’d want to know what it was about? Why it’s interesting? What have you been building today? In recent years I’ve not only started taking notice what my friends are playing through the Steam activity feed, but have reminisced with my family about games we used to play; for example we all played Lemmings and my Mom (we discovered) would play ‘Spiro the Dragon’ after my little brother had gone to sleep, secretly completing the levels. Games, like other art forms, bring people together and I tip my hat to Nintendo for working this angle in to their parental monitoring tool set.

So those are my under-qualified opinions on parental controls (don’t panic if you were baffled by this post I promise more actual game related content will resume), but what I really want to know is have any parents used the Switch app? is it any good? or if not how do the parents out there (as gamers) manage their children’s gaming? 

6 thoughts on “Switch… it off: Parental Controls

  1. As a fellow Genesis kid, it is OK, you can come join Mario and company with the rest of us. They don’t bite I promise.

    Nintendo has some weird protections in place but as it works as my secondary (and sometimes tertiary console) I’m OK with their weirdness.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m glad you finally got one! I’m still waiting. I’m not sure for what, though.

    My parents had my old NES in their bedroom for a while in my youth. If I wanted to play, I had to sit on a horrible wooden chair and crane my tiny child neck up at a 19″ TV on top of a tallboy dresser. That was parental control enough to curb my playtime for a few years!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha! 😁 “Discouraging play environment” neat angle.

      Yeah, I’m enjoying BOTW (although my wife is taking every opportunity to grab it when I’m not looking so she’s much further into it than me) and Sonic Mania is fun and the right kind of game for the Switch I think (although I’m very biased given my fondness of the originals). I’ve even had a few rounds of Splatoon 2, although the WiFi in the lounge doesn’t seem to be stable enough really. 😕

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I absolutely love the Sonic Genesis games, and there’s a part of me that’s just screaming inside wanting to play Sonic Mania. My boyfriend had a stream going of someone playing it the other day, and it took everything I had not to sit and watch it. I don’t want to spoil too much.

        Breath of the Wild is a lot of fun. I think I’m the only person in the whole world that got a bit bored with it and put it down, but it’s likely I’ll get back to it again someday. I just have so many other games I’d like to play!

        Liked by 1 person

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