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Virtual Reality has lived somewhere between science fiction and a parlor trick for years. It has offered the tantalizing promise of complete immersion into a fictional world. It never really caught on in the past because we as a society haven’t had the technology to make it work well. Rendering images that are of a high enough resolution so that they feel “real” takes a lot of computing power. However, with the new innovations in technology, these limitations are all coming to an end this year.  Many technology companies have announced the impending release of several consumer products that purport to deliver a fully immersive experience.

How does it work exactly?

At the end of the day ,VR is a combination of a pair of really fancy monitors, a powerful computer, and a headset with motion tracking. The basic principle is that the headset holds those high resolution monitors close enough to your eyes that your brain will perceive the images as “real.” The motion tracking in the headset allows the computer to change the view on the monitor to match your movements. This technology is what will allow a virtual pilot look around their cockpit, or a driver look into the turn they are taking.

What can we do with it?

The short answer: all kinds of stuff. There are hundreds of companies developing VR software for a number of different purposes.  VR can be used in endeavors such as virtual tourism, educational programs, fully immersive video games and more… ahem… adult… forms of entertainment. VR has a lot of potential to create new and interesting experiences. Right now though? There isn’t much out there. A lot of what is currently available comes in the form of tech demos that show what VR is capable of, but don’t really do much else. This will obviously change as companies try to find ways to be the first to really capitalize on VR’s potential.

How much will it cost?

There are three headsets that are expected to come to market either this year or next: The Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, and the HTC Vive. Of those three, the only company to announce a price so far is the Oculus Rift. Their headset will cost $599. The other two companies should be following suit with price announcements sooner rather than later, but they have been tight lipped so far.

That is just the headset though. The Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive will both require pretty beefy computers to run them. They don’t do anything by themselves. A computer powerful enough to make these headsets work will likely be around $1,000 at this point. (The PlayStation VR has an advantage here because it will run on the wildly popular PlayStation 4 which costs significantly less than the required PC.)

Are our kids going to be asking for one?

We know that kids will ask for anything that looks cool and these certainly do, but there is no game or experience that is a must own right now (or even on the horizon). It is also worth noting that these devices are not designed for use by young and developing eyes just yet.

I think it is safe to say that we should keep our eyes on VR because it is interesting and could very well be a big part of gaming in the future. But, most of us won’t be buying one of these devices any time soon. 


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I am asked questions by concerned parents and caregivers everywhere I go. One of the most common subjects that I am asked about is the ESRB and how it works. I talked about it in a general sense when I posted my articles a few years ago about each rating category, but I didn’t really get down into the nitty-gritty of the process.

There is no time like the present is there? Here we go!

In 1994 the ESA (Entertainment Software Association) established the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board). This is a non-profit organization that assigns content ratings and establishes advertising and privacy practices for the “software entertainment” (Read: video game) industry.

There are two different ratings processes that the ESRB uses to rate games. They have a “Long form” process that is designed for games that will be sold on store shelves and a “Short form” for games that will be distributed on a digital platform (like the iOS App Store). The fact that mobile games are given a less thorough review is less than ideal, but the sheer volume of mobile apps released daily makes the Long form process impractical for use on them.

The Long Form Process

The long form process starts when the game’s publisher submits two key pieces of data to the ESRB for review. They are (quoted directly from the ESRB website):

  • a completed ESRB online questionnaire detailing the game’s pertinent content, which essentially translates to anything that may factor into the game’s rating. This includes not only the content itself (violence, sexual content, language, controlled substances, gambling, etc.), but other relevant factors such as context, reward systems and the degree of player control; and
  • a DVD that captures all pertinent content, including typical gameplay, missions, and cutscenes, along with the most extreme instances of content across all relevant categories. Pertinent content that is not playable (i.e., “locked out”) but will exist in the game code on the final game disc must also be disclosed.

Once this information is received a set of at least three ESRB raters reviews the content and they work together to decide what rating the game should be given. The ESRB staff will then review the information that the raters gave and might even do ANOTHER review to make sure there is parity between the recommendations.

Shortly after this is completed the ESRB will generate a ratings summary which goes into more detail and will include info about the contributing factors. This is where they get into the “why” behind the rating itself.

That rating is then returned the the publisher who has the opportunity to change the game to reduce their rating. If they choose to do so the process will start again. I would guess that HALO 5 went through a lot of these revisions as they deliberately went after a T rating.

Once the rating has been completed and the game is published the ESRB completes yet another review of the games to make sure that nothing snuck in and to ensure compliance with any of their changes. The packaging and the inserts are reviewed as well! (No stones are left unturned here!) A lot of the post release review comes in the form of playtesting which is really similar to what we at EFG do when we review a game. They, however, are mainly focused on the content of the game and whether or not it matches up with what they were told in the pre -launch screening process.

The Short Form Process

The short form process is intended for games that will only be available for purchase online. It is aptly names as it consists mainly of a questionnaire that is made up of multiple choice questions. The digital game’s publishers will answer questions similar to the above, but will also answer questions about location sharing, monetization and if the user is granted unrestricted internet access through its use.  These responses are used to automatically generate the rating category, content descriptors,  and interactive elements.

I’m sure a lot of you are wondering how the ESRB handles ratings issues. Mistakes can obviously happen since this is just a questionnaire and some people, are downright malicious. The ESRB makes use of a wide range of reporting tools through web based game distribution channels and reacts swiftly when games are rated incorrectly.

If the ESRB is made aware of these errors they will move swiftly to correct those ratings. In fact, if it is an obviously malicious act then they will move to have the game pulled from the stores entirely.


And that, my friends, is that. The ESRB Rating process in a nutshell.

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One of the questions we get a lot here at Engaged Family Gaming (especially since we launched our podcast) has been: “What is a “eurogame?” It makes sense that we would get that question a lot because it isn’t very easy to decipher what it means just from the context of a conversation.

Eurogame is a category of board games that is very diverse. The category is so diverse that you can’t even really call it a genre. In fact, I think it is easier to call the concept of a eurogame the result of a set of design philosophies being applied to a board game while it is being designed.

There will likely be disagreement from all over the place on this one, but I believe that there are six main pillars of design that, when present, qualify it as a eurogame.

Those design philosophies are as follows:

They are, generally, simple to learn.

One of the main driving factors behind Eurogames is that they are meant to be a social experience. This wouldn’t work if you had to assign someone a 50-page rulebook reading assignment in order to play. As a result many of these games feature rules sets that can be easily taught to new players OR learned quickly by observing players.

The reasoning behind this is simple. You can’t have a social gaming experience if you are playing alone.

They downplay luck and emphasize thoughtful strategy.

If you asked 100 people what they would find inside a board game box the number two answer (behind a game board of course) would be dice. They are considered so essential to the game play experience by the general public that the idea of a game without dice is alien to them.

The truth is that many eurogames do not rely on dice in the slightest. This is because they are designed to avoid players depending on the luck element of a dice roll in favor of encouraging thoughtful strategy. This creates better players and increases the tension between the people at the table.

This isn’t to say that dice are banned from the table. It just means that designers are very careful with how, and when, they decide to make dice rolling important for the outcome of a game. Instead, many games use dice as a way to add variety to gameplay. Catan is a good example here. The die is rolled on each player’s turn to determine what resources are generated and skilled players can expand their cities to mitigate the random effect of the dice.

They downplay direct conflict between players.

Many of the games we think about as “board games” pit one or more players directly against each other. The game mechanics involve directly taking resources or positioning from other players as you progress in the game. A good example is the much maligned Monopoly. The only way to truly win the game is to take all of your opponent’s money.

Eurogames avoid that type of conflict by having players compete indirectly. There may be competition for scarce resources, but rarely will you be directly taking from or eliminating other players in the game.

This strongly reinforces the social aspect of these games because it encourages competition without pitting players against each other directly.

They tend to focus on economic rather than military themes.

One of the most unique characteristics of eurogames is in their use of non military themes. In fact, a huge portion of the eurogame market focuses around economic themed games where players compete for shared resources and manage the efficient development of their own.

This might be the most important feature for us as family gamers since it is much more palatable to teach a younger child how to play a game about farming or city building than it is to teach them combat.

They tend keeps all the players involved in the game until the end.

Eurogames take the idea of being social experiences and carry them into all corners of design. Nowhere in their design process is this more evident than in their tendency to keep all players involved in the game until the very last turn.

This means that even if a play is losing, and badly, that they can have an impact on the game state and in some cases may even have a chance to catch up. In many cases scores, and even objectives, are hidden from players until the very end. This incentivizes all players to keep pushing to win regardless of where they THINK they are in relation to other players. Simply because the winner is not obvious.

They are, mostly, language independent.

Eurogames originated in Europe (I know. Crazy right?). This means that the game designers had to deal with multiple languages as their games spread. This created some barriers that limited the spread of text heavy games. The added cost of translating a game made it cost prohibitive for many games to move to other markets.

The result was a shift to language independent game components. Crafty game designers developed unique iconography for their games that could be used universally across all regions. This meant that in many cases the other thing that needed to be translated was the rulebook, which is much easier than, say, cardboard tokens.

There are by no means the ONLY things that define a eurogame. It is a very nebulous term with no universally agreed upon definition. But, this list includes what we feel are the primary pillars of their design.

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