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PS3 parental controls? Not so easy

The PlayStation 3's parental control system is much more awkward and unintuitive than the Xbox 360 and Wii systems.

On Tuesday, I wrote about the misinformation surrounding Mass Effect, a highly rated Xbox 360 game. I pointed out that, even if the game contained the obscenities various news outlets have falsely claimed it to have, parents can easily restrict their children from playing it on their Xbox 360. It's a simple matter of entering the "Family Settings" menu on the Xbox 360 dashboard, making up a passcode your kids won't find out, and setting the level of the games you want them to play. Keep it set to EC or E if you have young kids, T for teens, or even M if you just want to keep junior from playing the really naughty AO-rated games that you can't even find in most stores.

It's similarly easy to manage mature games on the Nintendo Wii. Enter the Wii system menu, access Parental Controls, select a passcode, and then enter the rating of the games you want your kids to play.

Unfortunately, if you have a PlayStation 3, you're going to have a much more awkward time. While the Xbox 360 and Wii's parental controls are transparently based on ESRB ratings, the PS3 uses a mysterious and seemingly arbitrary system of parental control "levels." You can set the PS3's parental controls from level 1 to 11, and neither the menu nor Sony's support site offer much context for what the levels mean. The lower the level, the PlayStation 3 site says, the greater the restrictions on games. Unfortunately, actually figuring out which games will be blocked by which level will require a bit of trial and error. The PS3 obfuscates DVD parental controls, too; while the Xbox 360 lets you choose the MPAA ratings of the DVDs you want to play, the PS3 again offers an inexplicable gradient of levels. Blu-ray discs aren't quite as awkward, but they could certainly be better; instead of levels or MPAA ratings, you can enter the age of the user to restrict Blu-ray playback.

According to GamerDad, level 5 under game parental controls should limit the system to T-rated titles, and level 3 under DVD parental controls should limit it to PG-13 movies. It's not the most certain system and you might have to nudge the levels up or down an increment or two to make sure the right titles get blocked and the right titles play, but it's at least a start.

The Xbox 360 and the Wii both have simple, transparent parental control systems, and it simply makes no sense that the PS3 doesn't. ESRB and MPAA ratings are the best methods currently available to determine the mature content of games and movies. There's really no reason for Sony to simply ignore these ratings in the parental control system in its PlayStation 3. A firmware update could potentially add ESRB and MPAA ratings to the system's parental controls, but you probably shouldn't hold your breath.