Microsoft Corp. plans to incorporate content-control capabilities in its upcoming Xbox video game console, allowing parents to block violent or sexually explicit games and DVD movies.
The Xbox, expected to hit stores this fall, will be the first console that allows parents to disable certain games, a feature similar to the V-chip screening device embedded in many television sets. Sony's rival, PlayStation 2, allows users to disable the DVD player, but not games.
"It's relatively easy to do, and it's something we've built into the design," said John O'Rourke, Microsoft's director of games marketing.
Parent groups and policymakers applauded the move but cautioned that more could be done to prevent children from being exposed to inappropriate content.
"We absolutely support technology that will help parents make choices about their children's media consumption," said Patti Miller, director of the media unit at Children Now, an advocacy group in Oakland, Calif.
"However, I don't think this type of technology takes away the industry's responsibility to our children. They still need to be conscious of the message they are sending our children about sex, violence, race, class and gender."
Sony and Nintendo declined to comment on the Xbox parental-control technology. Neither the Sony PlayStation 2 nor Nintendo 64 gives consumers the option of blocking games based on their ratings.
Most console games and games played on personal computers are assigned one of five ratings from the industry-sponsored Entertainment Software Ratings Board.
The Xbox will rely on these ratings to let parents filter games. Game publishers can add a small notation to the game identifying its rating. The console would then scan a game disk for its rating and refuse to play games that parents have locked out.