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Configuring Parental Controls (part 3) - Defining Computer Time Limits & Configuring Game Settings

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Defining Computer Time Limits

Although computer use can be helpful to children who want to complete homework assignments and play games, parents might want to place limits on how much time their children spend doing these activities. The Time Limits link in the User Controls dialog box enables parents to define when the computer is accessible to children. Figure 11 shows the dialog box that enables defining days and times of the week during which children can log on.

Figure 11. Defining when children are able to use the computer

When time limits are set, children that attempt to log on to the computer at times that are disallowed receive the message shown in Figure 12.

Figure 12. Viewing a message about logon times

Additionally, if a user is logged on to the computer when the end of an allowed time period is approaching, he or she is given a warning message. The user is then logged off of the computer automatically when a blocked time arrives.

Configuring Game Settings

Like other types of media, entertainment software such as games can contain a broad array of different types of content. Parents might feel that certain types of content are inappropriate for their children. Windows Vista Parental Controls provides the ability to define rating levels for games. Child accounts are restricted to running only those games that meet the requirements defined by their parents.

Choosing a Game Ratings System

Numerous third-party organizations have been created to help parents evaluate the content of entertainment software titles. As with other types of content ratings and filtering, reviews of content are subjective. Some settings might be affected by culture. Before defining gamerelated content restrictions, parents can first choose the type of ratings system that they want to use. This is done in the Parental Controls dialog box by clicking the Select A Games Ratings System link. Figure 13 shows an example of the available options.

Figure 13. Selecting a game rating system for use with Parental Controls

For example, in the United States, the most commonly used game rating system is the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) system. Other standards organizations are also available to support other countries or methods of evaluating content. Parents can get more information about each system by clicking the links to visit the appropriate Web site. The selected system affects the options that are available for placing game-related restrictions.


Defining Game Restrictions

Use the Games link in the User Controls dialog box to define requirements for entertainment software. Figure 14 shows the available options.

Figure 14. Configuring Parental Controls settings for games

The first option determines whether game-related restrictions are enabled. If Yes is selected, parents can choose to block or allow games based on ratings. To do this, click Set Game Ratings. Figure 15 shows the available options for a computer that is configured to use the ESRB ratings system. The specific available options vary if other standards settings are chosen.

Figure 15. Configuring game restriction details

Although many games will submit to receiving ratings by standards organizations, some entertainment titles might not. The first set of options enables parents to determine whether games with no rating should be allowed or blocked. Next, parents can choose from the available ratings levels to determine which games can be played. It is also possible to add additional filtering based on types of content. These filters are enabled by selecting the appropriate check box. If a particular game contains one of these types of blocked content, the child is unable to play it (even if it is otherwise allowed based on its rating).

Note: Managing the online experience

Many modern games enable players to interact with others by playing online. Although most online players conduct themselves in an appropriate manner, there is always the possibility that children will be able to access unwanted game content or comments while playing online. For this reason, parents should supervise their children if they are allowed to play online-enabled games.


Allowing and Blocking Specific Games

In addition to configuring automatic restrictions based on games’ rating levels, parents can also choose to block or allow specific games. This feature works by providing a list of games that have been installed and registered on the computer. Figure 16 shows an example.

Figure 16. Allowing or blocking specific games

There are three main options for each title that is available in the list:

  • User Rating Setting This option specifies that the current settings for allowed games will be used to determine whether the game is allowed. Therefore, this option does not allow or block the game explicitly.

  • Always Allow This setting specifies that the game title will always be accessible to the child, regardless of other game restriction settings.

  • Always Block This setting specifies that the game will never be allowed for the child, even if it meets the requirements of other game restriction settings.

It is important to note that the settings defined here override other rating-related settings. When a child attempts to run a game that is blocked, he or she sees the dialog box shown in Figure 17. Additionally, the Games folder displays blocked games with an icon that clearly shows that they are not allowed.

Figure 17. Viewing a message indicating that a particular game has been blocked


Note: Managing access to games

Some of the options related to blocking and allowing games on a computer running Windows Vista rely on the game to register itself with the operating system. In some cases, children might be able to download games from the Internet and run them directly. Game-related restrictions might not apply to these programs. As with many security and privacy features, it is important to use game ratings in conjunction with other Parental Controls options.

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