ESRB vs Curiousity: How We All Win

Google+ and XBox Live are a haven for awesome post-generating content.

Today’s discussion: should a 13-year-old play Saints Row 3?

Everyone was semi-stumped, because they had eight year olds who played Call of Duty.

Someone then asked me when the gaming world became such a scary place that we had to start policing what the younger generation plays. I remember playing Mortal Kombat as a 10 year old, at a time when you weren’t considered an actual person unless you’d seen Scorpion’s Fatality. My sister remembers watching me play Tomb Raider and as a matter of fact, she was my guide on those tougher puzzles. I didn’t really have a good answer for this person as to when the anti-gaming violence craze kicked off because truth be told, I vaguely recall the rush of anger towards Mortal Kombat and Doom and then it’s all a blur since then. Enter the Entertainment Software Rating Board, or ESRB.

The ESRB is the US version of PEGI and CERO, but for the purposes of this blog, I’m considering ESRB and PEGI on the same level. CERO just cannot be compared, as Japan is just more liberable with regards to game violence than the rest of the world. The agency rates interactive entertainment according to a scale much like that used by the Motion Picture Association (E is for Everyone, MA is for Mature audiences only). It operates on the notion that parents have absolutely no clue what a video game is about before purchasing it for their children, and thus offers a handy system with which to gauge potential purchases. This isn’t to say that the ESRB ratings work particularly well though, since at the end of the day it relies on watchful parents to NOT purchase mature-rated games for their under-17 brood just because it was requested/demanded.

Does not stand for 'Minors Approved.'

Does not stand for ‘Minors Approved.’

Of course, the answer to the question “when did it all become a pot of crazy sauce?” could be considered slightly obvious but if you ask ten people the same question, you’ll get ten different responses. Games just aren’t as cute and cuddly as they used to be, are they? Those days of playing Golden Eye with Big Head mode activated are long gone. Pixelated blood has come a long way, my friends. The answer to Lancer assassinations, Grand Theft Auto and Agent 47 has been to try and limit the exposure and influence that that pixelated blood possesses on the younger generation by relying on the ESRB/PEGI boards to tell parents what to buy. But that’s near to impossible because guess what, parents/teachers/regulatory boards/etc? Kids are curious creatures. The age-old management system for this curiosity? Talk to them. Don’t just buy them a game and let them load it up and then turn around shocked if foul language suddenly dominates their vocabulary. I do believe that what we listen to, watch and play influences us, particularly at young and impressionable ages. But I don’t believe that it all has to be negative, even if the actual game content is predominantly violent.

For example, a story:

When GTA: Vice City popped onto the scene, my cousin was about 10 years old. He had always loved to watch me play games and so I upgraded him to a PS2. The one request his mother had was that I not play GTA or any similarly violent games around him. Nor was I allowed to buy them for him as a gift. I agreed but I also discussed with her the way in which my father handled my introduction to the genre of violence. He sat me down and spoke to me about it. Differentiated the fantasy from the reality, and made sure that I remembered it. He even played a few games with me, something which, if you know my father, is an occurrence as rare as a quiet night at home for Lindsay Lohan. I wasn’t allowed to have every game with a gun though; it was more like, once every other title. But that was back when kids said “I want” and their parents said “I’ll think about it.” The issue is that in many cases, we’ve become a “Yes, dear” society with regards to our youth. When I see 13 year old kids with iPhones, I wonder what fresh Hell they unleashed on their parents to get it. That’s a discomforting thought, but it stems from a personal experience of seeing the rudest kid of life practically kicking his father in the shins so he could get a copy of Modern Warfare. He got his copy because his father wanted to shut him up and end the embarrassment.

The end-result is that when tragedies occur, people begin discussing the perpetrator’s habits like this:

“Oh he constantly played Call of Duty, Manhunt, Gears of War, Halo. A real serious gamer, always kept to himself.”

The knee-jerk reaction by those in charge is this:

“We need tighter ratings on games! Slap some warning labels on there! Slap some! SLAP!”

Look, people: If warning labels, ratings and regulations had any true and measurable impact, the tobacco industry would be non-existent. The ESRB can’t do it all, just like a government can’t do it all, and so forth. It truly does take a village, and we’re the village. As a parent, you can determine the way these games influence your sons and daughters with a combination of the word “No” and an ongoing conversation about the fantasy of gaming contrasted against real life situations.

Be the kind of parent whose son is aware of the fact that women should not be treated as they are in Grand Theft Auto or Saints Row.

Be the parent whose daughter is aware that women do not look like those in Dead or Alive, that she is more than her appearance and that that is not what defines her.

Be the parent whose kids know that male Commander Shepard romancing Esteban in Mass Effect 3 is perfectly normal.

And that’s how we all win.


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