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Parents' Ultimate Guide to Steam

Is your gamer obsessed with Steam? Here's everything you need to know about the popular but permissive PC gaming platform.

Topics: Gaming

If your kids are into video games, it's only a matter of time before you start hearing about Steam. Launched in 2003 by Valve and now boasting over 150 million users, Steam has become one of the most important platforms in the world of PC gaming. It's a one-stop shop where you can buy, sell, and store games, plus do tons of other stuff like trade items, watch demos of up-and-coming titles, and interact with a passionate community. Steam also runs some sweet sales (often timed to line up with school breaks).

Steam is to gaming what Netflix or Amazon Prime Video are to TV. Like other content-streaming platforms, Steam has oodles of content, but the quality varies a lot, and not all of it is age-appropriate. While it has plenty of fantastic, family-friendly games like Rocket League and Sid Meier's Civilization VI, it also has games where the main draw is the graphic violence or explicit sex, like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive or Grand Theft Auto VThe platform has even come under fire for boldly announcing that it would sell any title, no matter how extreme (including a controversial 2018 school-shooter game that was only removed for violating Steam's terms of service).

Fortunately for parents, Steam has parental controls that let families pick and choose precisely which titles and features their kids can have access to. So is Steam a dream platform for die-hard gamers or a nightmare for parents? Check out these frequently asked questions to learn more about this versatile gaming platform.

What is Steam?
How does Steam work?
What age should my kid be to use Steam?
Is Steam safe for kids?
Is there chat on Steam?
Are there parental controls on Steam?
Are there privacy or security settings on Steam?
Does Steam cost money?
What is Steam Wallet?

 

What is Steam?

Steam is an online platform from game developer Valve where you can buy, play, create, and discuss PC games. The platform hosts thousands of games (as well as downloadable content, or DLC, and user-generated features called "mods") from major developers and indie game designers alike.

How does Steam work?

Steam is a cloud-based gaming library. One of its most popular features is the ability for users to use any computer to play games they buy/download to their Steam accounts. This also allows users to store a large collection of games without using too much computer memory. To use Steam, you have to download and install the Steam "engine" or app on your computer. Once you do that, you can access the full library of games, software, and forums.

What age should my kid be to use Steam?

Steam requires users to be at least 13 years old to use the product. Because of the platform's communication features such as open chat and community forums, Common Sense Media also recommends users be at least 13 years old to use it, although many available games are not appropriate for young teens. But with the right settings and monitoring, parents can use the platform to find and download age-appropriate games for younger kids.

Is Steam safe for kids?

Like any other app store or video-streaming platform, Steam can be extremely safe or extremely iffy depending on the content kids are exposed to. While there are thousands of family-friendly games available on the platform, many of the games on Steam feature graphic violence, swearing, or sexy stuff. Kids can also find plenty of swearing and mature content in the groups and forums. And the trading system can expose unsuspecting gamers to scammers. However, Steam also has robust parental controls (see below) that can greatly reduce the risks kids face while using Steam -- if parents take the time to figure them out.

Is there chat on Steam?

Steam supports both text and voice chat. You can add friends and chat individually or in groups with both people you know and people you don't know. You can also join public chat rooms and talk to anyone on the platform. Keep in mind that not all of these chat groups and community forums are game-related. Groups related to just about anything, from TV to sports to memes, also attract users to Steam. Many teens share their handles with each other so they can play games and chat with their real-life friends. Steam members are generally civil, but parents may want to stay on top of who their kids are following or engaging with online.

Are there parental controls on Steam?

Steam offers a sophisticated set of parental controls called Family View that gives parents full control over what their kids have access to on the platform. Steam offers step-by-step instructions for setting up Family View, which are worth reading since the interface can be overwhelming and complicated for newcomers or non-gamers. However, once enabled, parents can choose whether kids can play any game or only games they've approved and added to the Family Game Library. Family View also lets parents control whether kids have access to the Steam store, community-generated content, chat, forums, or online profiles. All of these features are PIN protected, so kids can't easily override them. There is also the option to set your account preferences to restrict titles that feature frequent violence, gore, nudity, or sexual content and to warn about mature user-generated content, but these aren't PIN protected.

Are there privacy or security settings on Steam?

Steam profiles are public by default, but the platform does allow you to make your game details, friends list, description, comments, and group ownership private or only available to your friends list. Steam also has a security feature called Steam Guard that provides an additional level of security to an account. It uses either an approved email address or two-factor authentication via the Steam mobile app to protect accounts from hackers.

Does Steam cost money?

Steam itself is free to download and use, but many of the games available do come with a cost. Some games are free-to-play or cost as little as $1, but new releases from the biggest and best developers can cost as much as $60–70 each. Savvy gamers can wait for one of Steam's many sales for serious savings. Keep in mind that when you buy games from the Steam store, you can only play them on the Steam network.

What is Steam Wallet?

Steam Wallet is a way that users can buy games or other content on the Steam store. Users can either add money to a Steam Wallet using a credit card or buy a physical Steam gift card at a store or supermarket and enter the code to access the funds. Using Steam Wallet can be a useful way for parents to manage their kids' spending on Steam, especially since some games are pricey to download or offer in-game purchases that can add up fast.

Frannie Ucciferri
Frannie Ucciferri is a graduate of UC Berkeley, where she earned a degree in cognitive science and taught a class on "Arrested Development and Society." Her passion for reading and writing is paralleled only by her love of Bay Area sports, especially baseball. When she isn't playing with her dogs or trying out great new restaurants, you can probably find her watching Pixar movies, Parks and Rec, or one of her favorite girl power movies and TV shows.