Nintendo Hid a Lovely Letter to Kids, Explaining Parental Control

"It clearly says 'to guardians' ...... yet you opened and read it ...... but since you are already here...... just read it to the end."

The words come from a place that few players have ever noticed. In Nintendo Switch’s news center, there’s a notice describing its parental control feature, called "To Guardians". Recently, people found out that at the bottom of the notice lies a secret message to kids that might wander into this part by accident.

In the letter, Nintendo, who thoughtfully reminds parents to use parental controls, anticipates that the kids may delete the letter for more game time, and tries to guide them to instead communicate with their parents.

Nintendo’s parental controls have a very long history. It has been around for nearly 20 years, since the days of Nintendo Wii and DS, and has seen generations of children grow up.

Back in 2000, a year before Nintendo GameCube was released; Shigeru Miyamoto revealed in an interview that Nintendo was already considering the issue of parental supervision of children playing games. However, due to the limitations of the technology and the uncertainty of how to implement such features, it was not carried out.

It wasn't until a few years later that Nintendo's parental control features started to appear in the new generation of Wii consoles.

Parental Controls Interface on Wii

As for the actual implementation, Satoru Iwata was inspired by Mother 2, which he participated in developing years ago. In this game, after you finish a long adventure the character’s father will make a phone call to the player character and remind him: "Want to take a little break?"

Instead of just turning off the console directly, Wii's parental control system allows kids to negotiate with their parents to decide on their own game time, and use the console's time record to urge children to keep their promises.

On the parent’s side, they can not only set time limits for their kids but also block games that are not suitable for their children's ages from loading in the first place. This can also apply to restricting online purchases. On the NDS series, a similar system was implemented as well.

To help parents learn to use these functions quickly, Nintendo made a lot of interesting efforts.

When Nintendo first launched the Switch, they released a promotional video about the parental control system. The video features a father-and-son moment with Bowser and Bowser Jr.: After discovering Bowser Jr.'s addiction to Mario Kart 8, Bowser first gets angry and then quickly comes up with the idea of using the parental controls app to manage his child. Instead of interrupting his intense carriage race with the app, Bowser adjusted the daily play-time limit on Saturday after his weekend play timeout.

In order to let parents who may not know anything about electronic products understand the system and better supervise their children, the introduction of parental controls on Nintendo's official website is almost at the level of a how-to book. On Nintendo's Japanese website, you can even find a short comic with the theme of "parental controls". It introduces the basic functions of "checking your child's playtime", "using parental mode" and "monitoring the eShop store" in 3 chapters. It is a localized attempt to teach parents easily and intuitively.

You don’t even need to know Japanese to understand what’s going on

As for children who want to bypass parental controls to play games without restrictions, Nintendo has also anticipated this - aside from blocking most of the cracking methods, they will also send message alerts to parents who have the app installed when someone is trying to crack the password.

Comparing Nintendo’s parental control with the current age restriction system enforced in Chinese games, it’s not difficult to see the difference.

Nintendo has been approaching the issue intending to make families less hostile towards gaming. They must be hoping that this letter on the Switch will start a conversation and that the tools they have given parents will help them understand their children better. If they can help facilitate conversation between the two parties, or encourage children to show self-restraint, that is much more constructive for the family than just limiting access. It is an approach that perhaps the authors behind recent age restriction mandates could take a page from.

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