It’s almost Christmas, meaning a lot of presents, and also new video games to play. Many parents simply assume that video games are for children, so as long as you limit their time, that’s enough. I’m here to tell you that isn’t the case.

Let’s take one of last year’s biggest releases on PS4, Grand Theft Auto V (GTA V). I know of many parents who bought this for their children following bouts of begging and “everyone else has it” and “it’s a really fun game”. I wonder how many parents realise that the game is R-rated for strong impact language and nudity, and high-impact violence, drug-use and sex? I can also testify to a highly disturbing torture scene.

Then there’s Metal Gear Solid V (MGS V), one of the most highly anticipated releases of this year. I have no doubt many parents also bought this game at the behest of their children. This is also rated R in Australia for high-impact themes and violence, with some bad language, sex and nudity. It also contains a scene with attempted rape.

Would you let your 8-year-old child watch a show like Game of Thrones or a movie like Kill Bill? If the answer is ‘no’, then you should really be looking at the games your children play as well.

I want to clarify, I’m not saying mature games should be banned. Games are made for all ages, just like movies and TV shows. Would you let your 8-year-old child watch a show like Game of Thrones or a movie like Kill Bill? If the answer is ‘no’, then you should really be looking at the games your children play as well.

So, how can you know what your children are playing, and whether they’re age-appropriate? Here are some basic steps every parent should be taking.

1. Read the rating

I can’t stress this enough. Australia has one of the strictest rating systems – the R-rating for games has only been introduced in the past few years (previously, they were refused classification and couldn’t be sold in Australia). Your first course of action should always be to look at the rating and see if it’s appropriate for your child.

If you’re not sure, look at the reasons why the game has that rating. It could be for bad language, or strong violence. Perhaps you feel your child is mature enough to handle such content, and that is your call as their parent. But if your 10-year-old is begging you for (or playing) an MA or R-rated game, that should set off alarm bells immediately.

2. Read reviews of the game

Reviews will generally give you a decent idea of the content of a game, and can be read in under 5 minutes. Read a selection of reviews, as many will cover different aspects or themes. A simple search for “[Game name] review” will give you a multitude of sites. Most won’t tell you outright if the game is suitable for children, but you should be able to form your own opinion from the descriptions and screenshots.

For example, if the reviewer states they loved the open world where you can do anything from wandering around and seeing the sights to robbing people at gunpoint and beating them up, the latter might alert you that you might not want your child playing this game.

IGN, Polygon, Gamespot, Kotaku, and Gamesradar are just a handful of the large, reputable sites that review games. There are a lot of resources out there, so use them well!

3. Watch your child play and talk to them about it

I know, this takes a lot of time you might not have. But beyond the rating and reviews, the most foolproof way is to put aside an hour or so while your child is on the console or computer and watch them play the game. See for yourself what’s happening in-game. Ask your child how they feel about events that happen as you watch. Ask what parts of the game they enjoy the most, and the least. Ask them why.

Ask your child how they feel about events that happen as you watch. Ask what parts of the game they enjoy the most, and the least. Ask them why.

Younger children, especially, are more than happy to share the things they love with their parents, and games are no exception. You might even find that although a particular game is rated MA, you have no problem with your young child playing it because of their level of maturity.

That said, it’s also worthwhile popping your head in every now and again to see what else is going on. Many blockbuster games have in excess of 40-50 hours of content (many have over 100 hours!) so the snapshot you see may not be representative of the entire game. Keep checking in, and make the effort to talk to your child first if you see any content you find objectionable.

4. Check for online multiplayer

So you’ve concluded that you’re happy for your child to play a particular video game. But there’s one more aspect, usually overlooked, that you should keep an eye out for. Online multiplayer means that the game can be played with others online. If the feature is available, it’s usually alongside the single-player part of the game, so you may not even be aware there is an online section. And believe me, it pays to find out.

There is generally no curation for online multiplayer – your child will be playing with whoever happens to be on the same server.

There is generally no curation for online multiplayer – your child will be playing with whoever happens to be on the same server. Yes, that includes teens and adults, some (okay, many) of whom may be using bad language and sexual innuendo in abundance. It’s not just limited to the older age group, either. Many have had run-ins with 10 to 13 year-olds who insult them, swear at them, or – for females – ask them to show their boobs (which is, amazingly, on the less offensive end of the scale).

I’m not saying you need to set a complete ban. But you should be aware if the game has online multiplayer functionality, and whether your child is in that environment. Most Nintendo games, such as Splatoon, create a relatively safe space for kids. But that’s not always the case, and you should always be keeping an eye on what your child is up to online.

(Also, if you discover you’re the parent of one of those foul-mouthed, sexually harassing children, I beg of you to discipline them, and well. In this case, the complete ban is a good option.)

Do you have any tips for keeping an eye on what your children are playing? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

It’s probably no big secret, but I’m a big gamer. I grew up playing video games, and I still love them to this day. But I’ve found that many people dismiss them as something for children or for geeks, or believe they have inherently less value because they ‘aren’t a part of the real world’. Many also simply say it’s not their kind of thing, but I’m here to respond that there is a much wider world of video games out there than the popular ones you see where people are shooting each other or beating each other up.

Video games can improve many different aspects of your life. Here’s how.

1. Improve your critical thinking

You’re defending someone accused of a crime. You’ve investigated, gathered the evidence, and now it’s time to interview the witnesses. The first person’s eyewitness testimony seems to point conclusively to your client’s guilt. But is that really the case? Is there something in your evidence that contradicts the witness’s statements? But what evidence, and which part of the statement?

Or, you find yourself on an abandoned island. There are contraptions everywhere, with no instructions. Pressing certain things sometimes has obvious effects, sometimes not. So you wander around, trying to work out what you’re meant to do. What is the cause, and what is the effect?

These games ask you to look at what you have, or to look at your environment, and to make connections between sometimes seemingly unrelated items. They’re about finding patterns. They’re about analysing data, making links, and formulating a solution based on the information at hand. The kind of skills you would use every day in a work environment, or even in your general life.

Suggested games: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (and the other games in the series), Professor Layton series, Myst, Portal (and Portal 2), The Talos Principle, Braid

2. Learn to innovate.

You need to catch a rat to give to a chef (don’t ask). After some exploration, you have quite a few things in your inventory. (You have thought critically to get many of those items.) Among those items, you have a box, a stick, some food, and a piece of string. So you tie the string to the stick. Then you use the stick to prop one side of the box open. Then you put the food into the box. Voila! A makeshift rat trap.

Or you need to force a soldier out of a locked hut, without him knowing that you’re there. Knocking or any kind of forced entry is out of the question. There is, however, a metal chimney on top of the hut. You climb up and try to remove the top, but it’s too hot. Your inventory contains bottled water, so you pour it over the top. Then you use a handkerchief to remove the cooled-down chimney. Finally, you stuff the now-empty water bottle into the metal chimney to block it.

With no way of escape, the smoke fills the cabin, the soldier runs out, and you have accomplished your goal!

While seemingly silly or irrelevant to your life, these puzzles encourage you to look at the items you have on hand and look at them from a different angle. You need to work out what properties these items have, and how they can be used in new and different ways in order to accomplish your goal. They encourage experimentation and innovation, and will help you to see things in your own life in a new light.

Suggested games: Monkey Island series, Broken Sword series, Day of the Tentacle, Grim Fandango, King’s Quest series, Machinarium, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis

3. Increase your empathy

Games offer a unique opportunity to walk a mile in someone’s shoes. They are interactive, so the player is actively making choices and is a lot more invested in the outcome. Do you choose to execute the traitor, or let them go? Will you steal from someone to make your own journey easier, or take the high road knowing that both you and your child will go hungry?

There are also other experiences that give you a glimpse into the lives of others different to you. Exploring someone’s house, seeing how they live, reading their diary. Putting yourself in the shoes of someone with depression and choosing how to deal with it.

Suggested games: Depression Quest, Undertale, Analogue: A Hate Story, To The Moon, The Walking Dead (Telltale game), Gone Home, Mass Effect series, Witcher series

4. Improve your teamwork and communication skills

One of my new favourite games is where one player takes on the role of disarming a bomb, while the other players are the bomb disposal experts. The bomb disarmer must describe what they see on the bomb to the experts, who have a manual that describes how to disarm the different modules. The experts cannot see the screen where the bomb is, and the disarmer cannot read the manual. Everything relies on communication between the two parties. And time is ticking away! If the timer reaches zero, the bomb will explode.

It gets especially challenging – and amusing! – when trying to describe a series of odd symbols to the experts (“a triangle with three legs!”) or explain the words on a set of buttons (“UR, no not you as in you and me, the letter U and the letter R, you’re… no not your, you’re!”), for example.

Or there’s another game where you have to complete a heist using each of your characters’ specific skills, and not get caught. Together you make your way through a house or a building or an entire area, supporting each other and warning of incoming guards or traps.

These games teach you how to communicate clearly and effectively. (Either that, or they wreck relationships!) It’s a skill that’s easily transferrable to any workplace or business. Whether you’re working on a large project or working with a partner, you will learn to stay focused on the task at hand and let others know exactly what it is they need to do.

Suggested games: Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, Portal 2 (co-op mode), Monaco, Journey

Are there any games that have helped you improve parts of your life in any way? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!

(Note that the suggested games lists are only a sample of games that I’ve enjoyed – there are many more out there that others also love!)

With the government’s new metadata scheme coming into effect, TV and movie studios forcing ISPs to provide customer information for lists of IP addresses, and content being locked down by region, you may have heard more talk about VPNs lately. But what are they, what do they do, and why do we need them? Here’s a quick and simple explanation.

What is a VPN?

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. It’s a private network, and users logged into a VPN can send data securely over the internet between computers that are connected to the VPN. These encrypted communications are useful when on a public network (such as public wi-fi) where any information being accessed or sent could easily be ‘overheard’.

VPNs are also used by many corporations to allow access to network data even when employees aren’t in the office, but for the purposes of this article, we’ll be talking about the former use.

Okay, but why should I care?

Think about all the sensitive data you access online. Emails. Online banking. Cloud storage, such as Dropbox or OneDrive. VPNs ensure all the data going to and from your computer is encrypted, which is especially important if you’re using public or shared wi-fi.

In addition, VPNs hide your actual IP address. It’s possible to track a person’s general location (down to a city level) from their IP address, as well as find out who their internet provider is. And your internet provider will know who is using which IP address at any given time. If you’ve heard of family or friends who received a warning letter from their internet provider after downloading a TV show or movie (which we at Leaders in Heels don’t endorse, of course!), this is how they were tracked down.

Same with region-locked content – the sites use your IP to determine where you are and whether you can stream a particular TV show or subscribe to a streaming service (eg. Hulu, BBC, HBO Go, etc.). A VPN gives you a different IP address, and makes you look as though you’re coming from America, or the UK, or whatever country they have their servers on. By using a VPN, you can look as though you’re coming from a different country and access locked content.

How does a VPN change my IP address?

Once you’ve signed up with a VPN provider, and have their software installed on your PC, you can connect to the VPN. On a very basic level, what happens is that all your outgoing data (eg. sending a request to a website) is encrypted and directed to the VPN server you’ve connected to. This means that all anyone can see of your activity is that you accessed a server in another country. It’s perfectly legal – you connect to a server every time you access a website!

Your request is then forwarded by the server to the website. To the website, the request looks like it’s coming from the country that the server sits in, as the IP address is now different. So anyone looking to locate you by IP address will simply find themselves looking at the location of the server, and not you. Any data the website sends back to your computer also goes through the server, so you’re never communicating directly with them.

Think of it as being a go-between for communicating with a stranger.

But won’t the VPN company see all my data?

First of all, your data is encrypted, so they can’t simply pluck your data from their servers. And good VPN companies will advertise the fact that they don’t keep logs. Your data passes through their servers to be forwarded, but nothing is logged. There’s no way to link your actual IP with the one they use to send on to the websites. So even if the government were to come to the company and demand to see information on all the people using their servers, there would be no information to give them!

Is there any way I can be tracked even when using a VPN?

In the end, nothing is 100% foolproof. But if you pick a VPN provider carefully, then no, you shouldn’t be traceable. There is, however, one thing to note: a recent security issue came to light where your actual IP address can still be leaked through a protocol called WebRTC. There are browser extensions that can block this from happening, though they may affect video calls, among other things.

But you can always check if your actual IP address is visible through sites such as IPLeak. Even without a VPN, if you click the link, you can see just how much information can be found on your location just with an IP address!

Anything else I should look out for?

As mentioned above, ensure that the VPN provider you go with doesn’t keep logs. There’s no point in routing your data through another server if all the information on who you actually and and where you’re going is being recorded anyway. You may also want to check how many devices you can connect to the VPN at one time. Each computer in your household counts as one device, as do your smartphones and tablets.

You should also check the locations where the provider has servers. These will be the locations where you can appear to come from. For example, if you did want to use a VPN to access region-locked content, make sure the provider has servers in the locations whose content you want to access!

Sounding good. Where do I start?

There are a number of reputable VPN providers around. Private Internet Access, TorGuard, IpVanish, VyprVPN, just to name a few. Do your research, look into what they offer and the price, and decide what works best for you.

Good luck!

Do you currently use a VPN, or do you have any other questions? Let us know in the comments!

With more attention being focused on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) in schools, it is important to see that girls in these areas have role models. So at Leaders in Heels, we’re having chats with female coders in Australia.

In this interview, we sat down with Nicky Ringland from Grok Learning, “a team of educators and software engineers who want to make coding fun for everyone”. Grok Learning is being used across schools in Australia and they have coding competitions starting on November 2nd. There are also support materials for teachers in the classroom, especially those who haven’t necessarily had a background in coding.

Why do you love coding?

I love coding because I love creating things with code. I love being able to solve problems, answer questions and generally make cool things!

What do you dream of programming one day?

I’m really excited about building a personalised learning environment that adapts to how each student learns. Traditional methods of education haven’t substantially changed in hundreds of years: a teacher lectures at the front of a classroom, students learn and are assessed on a subject, and then the class moves on to the next topic.

Whether a student scores 100% or 50% on a test, they still move to the next topic. I want to use technology to make sure students can master a topic before moving on.

My start-up, Grok Learning, teaches thousands of students to code in an online environment. Students can work through materials at their own pace, and those who find a particular concept easy can work quickly and move on to the next.

Real personalisation would involve developing specific profiles for different types of students. These profiles would adapt to how quickly they learn a particular topic, what questions they like, etc. Overall, it would make learning in general more successful, and certainly a lot more fun!

What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced in the industry?

The biggest challenge for me was deciding which industry to be in! I’m just finishing my PhD. I do research in the field of Computational Linguistics – making computers better understand language. When I started my PhD, I considered becoming an academic, since I enjoy teaching and research. Academia is quite tough, though. The prospect of getting Post-doc positions (which last only a few years) in far off places is exciting, but it is particularly hard when you factor family (e.g. partner’s job) into the equation. Thankfully, I found a way I can combine my love of teaching and computer science into a career that I thoroughly enjoy.

How have you overcome these challenges?

As I mentioned, forging ahead and making my own path, in this case, founding a start-up, let me continue to pursue my passions.

What would be one piece of advice you would give to girls/women wanting to code as a career path?

Get involved, ask questions, start small and think big. Computer science is the most versatile career around. From solving climate change, going to Mars, or curing cancer, coding is a critical skill as well as being a lot of fun!

I can’t count the number of times I’ve searched up addresses and phone numbers for restaurants on my computer, then had to retype it into my phone before leaving the house. Or the number of times I’ve put my phone on silent at work and missed important calls or notifications as a result.

But lately, that’s changed. I’ve been using an app called Pushbullet. It has apps for iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, and most major browsers.

Here are the three main ways that Pushbullet has streamlined my workflow.

1. Don’t miss important calls or SMSes

My phone is always set to silent when I’m at work. Office etiquette. But this usually means that I end up missing phone calls or SMSes that come through because I’m so focused on the work at hand. My caller and I then get to play phone tag with each other for the rest of the day, which is never any fun. Also, there are some phone calls (such as being informed a family member is in the hospital) that I really don’t want to miss.

With Pushbullet installed on both my phone and my computer, a notification pops up each time a phone call comes through. I can also choose to have applications send notifications to my computer – though the default is for all applications, I can select only certain applications so I don’t get bombarded (and so I don’t get anything inappropriate coming up on my work computer!

2. Reply to messages from desktop

I used to check my phone occasionally throughout the day for messages from friends, especially if we were meeting that night and still didn’t have anything planned. (I know I can’t be the only one who does this!)

Now I’m notified on my desktop, I can simply keep working until a notification pops up, then reply then and there. It doesn’t seem like much, but the time I no longer have to spend jumping onto my phone adds up after a while. Pushbullet lets you reply to Whatsapp, Line, Facebook Messenger and general SMSes (and other applications besides) right in the notification box.

While it’s true I could just open most of these apps in my browser, it’s far more convenient to simply reply as a message comes up. Not to mention, the SMS reply-from-desktop functionality alone automatically makes this a winner in my books.

And if you’ve got an meeting where you’re sharing your screen? You can temporarily turn off notifications from your phone. If you have the browser extension, clicking on options will let you snooze notifications for an hour.

3. Send files between devices

Usually, getting files from my phone to my computer – or vice versa – involves the use of email, Dropbox, or the good old standby of a USB cable. With Pushbullet, I can now drop a file onto my desktop client or share a file from my mobile, and it will send to all selected devices. Getting files from home to work, my work mobile to my home computer, or my personal phone to my work phone is fast and simple.

I’ve even sent files to some friends who also use Pushbullet, and it’s also a great way to flick a full-sized photo through from a mobile.


Although Pushbullet only streamlines my workflow in simple ways, these small time savings (and attention savings!) really start to add up. It’s allowed me to centre my workflow on my desktop, as well as coordinate the flow of information between my devices. Give it a try, and see how you can streamline your workflow as well!

The first question many people have is: why automate? The truth of the matter is, we can waste a lot of time using technology, whether it’s checking our social media, viewing YouTube or Vimeo files, or just general internet surfing. Setting up an automated system can save you a lot of time and effort, not to mention you won’t have to do all those boring, repetitive tasks!

But there are also good reasons not to automate. Setting up a system is like setting up a new habit. If the system doesn’t match your personality or way of doing things, you won’t stick to it, no matter how much someone else tells you that you will!

There are some things you should look out for if you choose to automate your personal life:

1. Devices will fail you. Your smartphone might run out of battery, you might lose your tablet, or your laptop could break down. If you rely on them to manage your life, you will find yourself at a loss while you scramble to find a replacement.

2. Data won’t always sync perfectly. There is nothing worse than trying to go to an appointment, only to find that not all the details are in your calendar – or in the worst case scenario, none of the details are in your calendar.

3. You rely on automation too much. I’ve found that sometimes, if an even isn’t in my digital calendar, then it doesn’t exist. This causes issues when you are expected to be somewhere (and forgot to reply to the invitation or didn’t the data!).

There is no shame in finding alternate ways to manage your data. Many people have gone back to using physical diaries, and making notes on paper instead of on their phone, because technology has failed them before.

But if you decide to automate your personal life anyway – because, let’s be honest, it does save a lot of time – here are two simple suggestions to get you started.

Personal finance

In this past year, our family has been trialing the use of personal finance apps. One of these apps is Pocketbook. This is an Australian app which helps you to manage your personal finances and check where your spending is occurring.

Simply download the app from the App Store (iOS only) and then create a new account via your desktop. It’s much easier to set up Pocketbook on your computer, and create the set categories to manage your finances. For me, the most valuable personal benefit is seeing where spending is going each month. I can also check how much money is in our personal bank account (and yes, I know there are the separate bank apps, but this ties everything together).

The other benefit is that Pocketbook detects bills, especially if they are on a recurring basis. It will even inform you whether you have enough money to cover them!

Calendar events

Another main area of automation is for calendar events. I use an app called IFTTT (IF This, Then That) to automate these tasks. IFTTT is a web and app service that lets you create what they call recipes, based on a trigger (something that happens) and a resulting action. I’ve mentioned it in previous automation articles as well.

Here are three of my favourite recipes for Google Calendar:

  • For those individuals who need to log their work hours, use this recipe in conjunction with Google Calendar.
  • This is a ‘DO’ recipe. It allows you to quickly create an event in Google Calendar simply by entering the information in a natural sentence such as “Meeting with Sam at 7pm”.
  • If you use Reminders on your iOS device, then this recipe automatically syncs them with Google Calendar so you get reminders on all your devices!

Thanks for reading the series on automation. We’ve also previously covered home automation and work automation. What do you use to help streamline your personal, home and work life? Let us know in the comments!

Check out Get Your Life Back ebook by Kasia Gospos, founder of Leaders in Heels, on how you can streamline and automate your business and life so that you have more time for what you really love.

photo credit: iPod Touch add events