Experts in digital safety
Want to live your best (or worst) life? That’s exactly what BitLife, the simulation game downloaded by millions around the world, allows players to do. In its very own app description, BitLife encourages users to “simulate adult life” and “play choices that horrify your parents”. With such vivid descriptions, we simply had to investigate to see if BitLife is really safe for kids, and what parents can do to make gameplay less “horrifying”.
What is BitLife?
BitLife is a single player life simulation game in which users make decisions based on a series of multiple choice questions presented to them as they get older (within the game). Such is life, the game follows the player from childhood through to adulthood, and invites them to make a series of decisions which will affect their future, such as what to study at college. While playing, users can decide what they want to do with their free time, what they want to spend money on, and who they want to form relationships with. They can buy properties, go for workouts at the gym, and tend to their garden – all activities the average person might experience during their lifetime.
The profiles and storylines behind the life simulator are all made up – BitLife is like a role play app, and while this simulation might sound relatively innocent, the app introduces more mature themes as the character grows, such as the character’s sexual activity and alcohol use. And while the majority of activities the user can engage with are run-of-the-mill, there are also more immoral decisions and activities to be encountered, such as whether to engage in criminal activity.
What do kids like about BitLife?
1. Life simulation
From The Sims to Animal Crossing, kids have been playing life simulation games for decades. Their popularity rests in putting people in charge: simulation games mimic many aspects of real life, and it’s appealing for kids and adults alike to be in control of how, and when something happens to their in-game character.
2. Social sharing
BitLife also has a social aspect to it, in which the user is encouraged to share milestones and events with their friends on social media. Kids may enjoy sharing the different scenarios they’re faced with, and their own individual outcome.
3. Choosing their own destiny
Another appeal of life simulation games is the fact that there’s no right or wrong way to play them. Within these games, your child is invited to make their own decisions – learning from successes and failures.
4. Simple gameplay
Relying on few visuals, the multiple-choice format is easy to navigate, which makes it simple for children to quickly understand how to play.
Is BitLife safe for kids?
The themes brought up across gameplay in BitLife are inappropriate for very young children, and most teenagers. However, if you are a parent of young adults or older teenagers, you may decide that playing BitLife could be an opportunity for you as a family to discuss some of the themes the app brings up.
A significant amount of the decision-making is based around themes which would mostly be considered inappropriate for children, including drug use, the user’s sex life, criminal activity, and much more.
How old do you have to be to use Bitlife?
Bitlife’s maker, Candywriter LLC, states that “our Services are not directed, or intended for children under the age of 16” in its terms and conditions.
On official app stores, however, the recommended age rating is higher, with Apple classifying it as suitable for 17+, and Android labeling it with their “Mature 17+” tag.
Is Bitlife free?
While it’s not necessary to buy anything in the game to make it playable, in-app purchases are designed to be frequent and difficult to click away from, so it’s possible children could accidentally say yes to in-app purchases as they navigate the app.
There is an upgraded version of the app, called Bitizenship, which offers:
- No more in-app ads or ad placements
- “VIP access” to special locations
- The ability to change your character’s appearance
- Interaction with extra characters (including teachers and bosses, but also the Mafia), who are off limits in the free version
- The option to join a prison gang or hire a hitman
Players can also remove in-app purchases, but not access any Bitizenship features, for a lower one-time payment price.
Additionally, for a higher price, Bitlife players can unlock “God mode”, which allows them to make edits to names and people’s appearance throughout the game.
In-app advertising in Bitlife
Most of the promoted ad content tends to be for similar life-simulation style apps, which often feature mature themes as part of their storyline. It’s possible that your child could be prompted to download apps which contain much more inappropriate content than the BitLife game itself, especially as in-game ads are run frequently and are unskippable.
How can I make BitLife safe for my kids?
With younger children, we’d certainly recommend blocking the app entirely, but with older teenagers, you may want to have an open and honest discussion surrounding the app and how it might not fit in with your family’s values.
To help make BitLife safer for older teens, you could try:
- Ensuring your child is using apps which are age-appropriate with a parental control tool such as Qustodio, which allows you to see which new apps your child downloads, and to investigate further if you’re not sure of its content.
- Due to BitLife’s addictive playalong structure, if you do decide to let your child play the game, implementing time limits would be a good way to restrict the amount of time they engage with the life simulator.
- Finally, using a parental control tool can also help you to block apps such as BitLife until you consider your child is mature enough to use them.
Qustodio’s final advice on BitLife
In theory, life simulation games can be a healthy way for kids to learn about the real world, and experiment. As every in-game action has a consequence, it’s a good way for children to learn from their mistakes, or lack of them. However, BitLife isn’t the best example of a life simulation game. While the simplistic form makes it easy to play, it’s more mindless than mindful entertainment, and as it’s scattered with random prompts to make unrealistic life decisions, or even illegal ones, the case for any educational aspect is difficult to plead.
As a parent, you know what’s best for you and your family, and what kind of games and apps you’re comfortable with your child playing. We’d suggest seeking out more complete, age-appropriate life simulation games, such as ones that allow your child to decide the fate of individuals, families, or even whole cities and communities.
With the right life simulation game, your child can get creative with design, explore and develop their planning and problem-solving skills, and so much more. That game certainly isn’t BitLife!