What Parents Need to Know When Shopping for Video Game Consoles

Written by Patricia E. Vance, President, ESRB
November 23, 2021

With the holiday season upon us, many parents will find a new video game console on their kids’ wish lists. The holidays can be hectic enough without having to do additional research about the consoles your kids want. Fortunately, we’re here to offer some helpful tips about the video game console (or consoles) you are considering (or already may have in your home), some of the games that are available on them, and what each of them offer with respect to parental controls that help you manage the games your kids play, with whom, and for how long, as well as whether they can spend money on in-game purchases.

Microsoft’s Xbox Series X|S

In November 2020 Microsoft released not one, but two new consoles: The Xbox Series X and the Xbox Series S. They both play the same games but there are a few notable differences that may help you decide which is a better fit for your children.

Xbox Series S|X

Xbox Series S & Xbox Series X

  • Xbox Series X – The Xbox Series X is the fastest and most powerful Xbox ever. The Series X can play games via discs or download.
    • The Xbox Series X starts at $499
  • Xbox Series S – Xbox Series S has the same speed and performance as the Series X but it has 1440p resolution as opposed to the 4K of the Series X. Also, the Xbox Series S is an all-digital console which means it does not play disc-based games and, as such, is smaller than the Series X.
    • The Xbox Series S starts at $299

As mentioned, both consoles play the same games, as well as many games from the original Xbox, the Xbox 360, and the Xbox One. That’s about 20 years of video games to choose from! Some Xbox games that may be on your children’s list include:

A few of the exclusive game franchises you’ll find on the Xbox and/or Windows PC and nowhere else include Halo (Teen to Mature 17+), Forza (Everyone), Age of Empires (Teen), Flight Simulator (Everyone), and more. Additionally, Xbox users can subscribe to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate (also available for PC) starting at $14.99/mo. and have access to over one hundred games.

Both consoles play the same games, as well as many games from the original Xbox, the Xbox 360, and the Xbox One.

Xbox parental controls can be set on the device, through the Xbox Family Settings app (Android and iOS), or the Microsoft Family website:

  • Content and age limits:  Set age level for ESRB rating for games on Xbox consoles for each child (via app, console, and website).
  • Screen time limits:  Create screen time schedules for each child. Customize each day of the week with different ranges and what fits best for your household schedule (via app and website).
  • Manage friends:  See each friend your child is following, allow them to ‘Ask a parent’ to add a friend, or you can remove friends who your child is following. (via app and console).
  • Manage spending:  Add money to your child’s account and enable ‘Ask to Buy’ feature to when they want to purchase a game, app, or in-game purchase. View your child’s account balance and spending history (via console and website).

Nintendo Switch

Initially released in 2017, the Nintendo Switch™ system is still going strong due to its ability to play games both on TV at home and as a handheld. There are currently three variations of the Nintendo Switch console.

Nintendo Switch Color

Nintendo Switch

  • Nintendo Switch – This is the standard Nintendo Switch, giving your kids the ability to play their games both on the TV using a “dock” and in handheld mode with the system’s built-in screen.
    • The Nintendo Switch starts at $299
  • Nintendo Switch – OLED Model – This model was recently released in 2021. While it’s largely the same as the original Nintendo Switch, it boasts a larger OLED (organic light-emitting diode) screen. This sounds complicated, but what it really means is that the colors are more vivid, with crisp contrast when you play on-the-go. It also has some other improvements (enhanced kickstand for tabletop play and a new dock with integrated LAN port, etc.), but the new screen is certainly the main draw here.
    • The Nintendo Switch – OLED Model starts at $349
  • Nintendo Switch Lite – This is a handheld-only console. While it still plays nearly all the same games you’ll find on the original Nintendo Switch and the OLED Model, you cannot connect it to your TV.
    • The Nintendo Switch Lite starts at $199

Some Switch games that may interest your kids are:

A few of the exclusive game franchises you’ll find on the Switch and/or other Nintendo devices and nowhere else include The Legend of Zelda (Everyone to Teen), Super Mario (Everyone to Everyone 10+), Super Smash Bros. (Everyone 10+ to Teen, Pokémon (Everyone to Everyone 10+), and more. Additionally, Nintendo users can subscribe to Nintendo Switch Online for as little as $3.99/mo. and have access to over one hundred classics from Nintendo’s back catalogue.

The Nintendo Switch™ system has the ability to play games both on TV at home and as a handheld.

Parental controls can be set on the device itself, through the Nintendo Switch Parental Controls app (Android and iOS), and your Nintendo Account allowing you to manage:

  • Which games your kids can play based on the ESRB age rating (via console and app)
  • When and for how long (via app)
  • Whether communication can occur
  • If they can spend money on in-game purchases (via Nintendo Account)

PlayStation 5

Sony also released a new video game console in November 2020 – the PlayStation 5 – offering a leap in power from its predecessor. There are two slightly different options available if the PlayStation 5 is on your kids’ wish list for this year.

PlayStation 5 Console

PlayStation 5

  • PlayStation 5 – This console plays all the new games, as well as PlayStation 4 games, via either disks or digital download.
    • The PlayStation 5 starts at $499
  • PlayStation 5 Digital Edition – The hardware capabilities are identical to the standard PlayStation 5 – meaning all of the games will look and play the same. That said, this is a download only console, so you and your family will have to purchase games online via the PlayStation Store.
    • The PlayStation 5 digital edition starts at $399

Both consoles also play a large majority of the 4,000+ games from the PlayStation 4, as well as some games from the PlayStation 3 via Sony’s on-demand gaming service, PlayStation Now. Some PlayStation games that may catch your kids’ eyes are:

A few of the exclusive game franchises you’ll find on the PlayStation and nowhere else include Gran Turismo (Everyone), Marvel’s Spider-Man (Teen), Ratchet & Clank (Everyone 10+ to Teen), The Last of Us (Mature 17+), Final Fantasy VII Remake (Teen), Uncharted (Teen), God of War (Mature 17+), Horizon (Teen), and more. Additionally, PlayStation users can subscribe to PlayStation Now for as little as $9.99/mo. and have access to hundreds of games.

The PlayStation 5 can play most of the games from the PlayStation 4, as well as some games from the PlayStation 3.

PlayStation parental controls can be set on the device itself or through a browser-based portal on a computer or mobile device to manage:

  • Which games your kids can play based on the ESRB age rating
  • When and for how long
  • With whom
  • How much money (if any!) they can spend on in-game purchases

More Tips

There are dozens of great video game options for every family, but here are a few more tips for the holidays season, especially as the shopping competition heats up.

  • Check the Ratings – There are literally thousands of options for video games! Make sure you always check the ratings before you buy to make sure a video game is appropriate for your family. You can find ratings on:
  • Set Parental Controls – As mentioned above, every video game console has parental controls built in to help you manage what your kids play (based on the ESRB age rating), when they can play, for how long, with whom, and whether they can spend money on in-game purchases. However, each console has their own options and features, so be sure to explore how your new console can help you keep video games a positive experience for your family. If there’s time, hook up the console and set parental controls before you give your kids the new console. This way everything is set as soon as they unwrap their gifts. Visit ParentalTools.org for step-by-step parental controls guides.
  • Review the platforms’ shared Online Safety Principles – Nintendo, PlayStation, and Xbox have aligned on principles that prioritize protecting the safety of players, especially those most vulnerable – which include
    • Prevention: Empower players and parents to understand and control gaming experiences
    • Partnership: Nintendo, PlayStation and Xbox commit to partnering with industry, regulators, law enforcement, and their communities to advance user safety
    • Responsibility: Nintendo, PlayStation and Xbox hold themselves accountable for making their platforms as safe as possible for all players.

To read more about the platforms’ commitment to safer gaming and ensuring all players can have positive social gaming experiences in settings where respect and safety are mutual, please visit the Online Safety Principles pages for Nintendo, PlayStation, and Xbox.

Pat Vance - Headshot 2019Patricia E. Vance is the president of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). In her position, she leads the teams responsible for assigning age and content ratings to video games and apps, enforcing marketing guidelines adopted by the video game industry, and operating ESRB Privacy Certified, an FTC-sanctioned COPPA Safe Harbor Privacy seal certification program.