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. And while the game is listed as 17+ appropriate on both the Apple and Google Play stores, it appeals to a much younger target audience. In its very own app description, BitLife encourages users to “simulate adult life” and “play choices that horrify your parents”. BitLife’s makers are clearly aware children are downloading and playing the game, but it’s essential for parents to understand what kind of content they are being exposed to as they use it. Let’s investigate: is BitLife appropriate for kids? And what can parents do to make gameplay safer?
BitLife – Life Simulator app ratings
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?
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.
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.
Another appeal of life simulation games is the fact that there’s no right or wrong way to play them. Within a life simulation game, your child chooses their own destiny, and is invited to make their own decisions – learning from successes and failures. Not all life simulation games are created equal, however, and BitLife differs from games such as The Sims in its simplistic, text-based approach. 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?
On the face of it, as a simple-format life simulation game, BitLife doesn’t appear too dangerous. As the storyline is displayed through text boxes alone, there’s no graphic visuals for children to come across. However, much 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.
In BitLife, in-app purchases are impossible to avoid during gameplay – while it’s not necessary to buy anything in the game to make it playable, tempting features such as time travel, the option to become president, and the option to remove ads or upgrade could be difficult for children to resist purchasing. In-app purchases are also 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.
In addition, the free version of the app shows ads as the user plays along. Most of the promoted 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?
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. This would require an open and honest discussion surrounding the app, and for them to play with adult supervision if necessary.
To help your child engage with apps that are age-appropriate, consider using a parental control tool such as Qustodio, which allows you to see how much time your child spends on particular apps, and to investigate further if you see them playing with an app which doesn’t align with your family’s values. Due to BitLife’s addictive playalong structure, if you do decide to let your child play the game, implementing screen 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!