A lot of parents and other concerned individuals have been up in arms about the content that is found in video games. People feel as though a lot of games are riddled with gratuitous violence and overbearing sexual tones. This may be true for some games, but not all. Even games with tones of violence and sexuality are generally presented with a healthy amount of context. However, with the public looking in from the outside, context is a hard thing to find.
With the advent of radio and television, the FCC was created to self regulate the industry so as not to have the government involved. This was followed by the MPAA in the film industry. With the gaming industry, we see the ESRB or Entertainment Software Rating Board. Although, studies show that more people believe that the government should regulate games than there are people who believe that the government should regulate music, movies and television. To me this says that people are afraid of the effect of games compared to movies, television and music. My personal perspective is that people are generally afraid of things they don’t understand and gaming is no exception.
Currently, the ESRB has a system in place that rates from E-AO; E being everyone, T being for those 13 and up, M being mature for 17+ and AO which is for adults only. In America, AO games aren’t sold at retailers. If someone at the age of 16 wants to buy a game that is rated Mature, he or she has to have a consenting adult with him or her. There are those out there who think that the ratings are unclear and difficult to understand for adults. Many people are pushing for a rating system that holds the same standards in all media to make the alphabet soup that is ratings a bit more coherent. Also, quite a few people feel as though it’s still too easy for children to get a hold of M rated games, but studies also suggest that it isn’t as easy as getting an R rated film or an explicit CD. That being said, shouldn’t we be more worried about the distribution of movies and music?
Even considering the ratings system that restricts the sale of games to minors, many adults feel as though explicit games are marketed to youth. Being that the average gamer is now 35 and the average buyer is 39, this may not be the case as much as people would think. While a lot of children buy video games, the market is heading in a more mature direction with more mature buyers out there. Most kids don’t have 60 dollars to blow on a video game and not too many parents are willing to do that on a regular basis. While I can’t whole heartedly say that mature products aren’t marketed to the youth, they don’t have the same advantage that say, big tobacco has to marketing to the youth.
An argument that has also been used over time is that being that the industry is bigger than a simple house hold; the responsibility should be on them to make sure that games with sensitive material aren’t marketed and accessible to children. Not only that, but it’s suggested that it may be their social responsibility to restrict the sexual and violent nature of video games across the board. This is another one of those arguments that has been going on forever about nearly every single industry out there. Yet, over time we are becoming more and more exposed to mature material in our day to day. Other cultures even vary on what they are most concerned with. Here in the US, a lot of people are extremely concerned with sexuality and have an easier time accepting violence where as Europeans have the opposite outlook on matters. With the fingers pointing in every direction, assuming a role of accountability can be difficult.
While large companies have their profits to worry about and households have their children to worry about, it may seem to be obvious to say that the child’s welfare takes precedence over the profits of these power house companies. Though, I should think that parents’ number one concern is to be involved in their children’s activities and what goes on in their life; not to find who should be to blame when their children are exposed to inappropriate material. While it’d be nice to know that others have your child’s welfare in mind, it’s simply not a fact. Luckily, it’s my belief that a child’s parent can be a bigger influence on them than any videogame, movie, or musician could possibly be. I have a few great suggestions I have for parents that are concerned with their children’s exposure explicit material:
1. Go with them to purchase the games. If you go with them, this makes you more apart of their experience and will affect the way they purchase games. They are a lot less likely to try and pull the wool over your eyes when you are with them buying the games. It’s important that you see and inspect what they want to buy. This brings me to my next point.
2. Read the ratings. It seems obvious but a lot of people simply look at the box art or even just read the names and decide whether or not it’s appropriate for their children. Also, in the ratings it says why the game is rated what it is rated.
3. Know your concerns. The game will say if it features drug use, drinking, violence or sexual imagery. Make a deliberate decision as to what you are okay with your child being exposed to. If you aren’t active in your opinions you are more likely to let things slide or make ill-informed decisions. What you are okay with depends on your values and how your children do with certain material.
4. Know your children. Children may seem mature or immature for their age but there are also some specific things that they may handle better or worse than others their age. If you see that your kid often imitates violence or is extra handsy with the opposite sex, these things should be noted. Some children handle certain imagery better while taking poorly to other types of imagery at a much more mature level. There are some great ways to figure these things out.
5. Be involved with your child. When you first get a game for your kid, watch them play it. You can even play it with them. It won’t matter if you are bad at the game. When something comes on screen that makes you uncomfortable, you can put it into context. Or, if need be, you can restrict them from playing that game any further. Have conversations with them. If you ask them what they’ve done in their game and they say something like “I saved a girl from an alien race that was attacking a colony of people”, they are probably okay. Though, if you ask them how they like their game and they tell you they love blowing people’s heads off, there may be a problem. If your kid is too young, they shouldn’t be playing games like these and there is a way to prevent this whether you are in control of what they are buying or aren’t. This brings me to my final point.
6. Set parental controls. All consoles have parental controls and they are generally easy to get to. The guide that is given with your console should have an easy to find page explaining how to do this. You can set it by rating and content. This will prevent your child from playing a mature game that they’ve gotten a hold of without your knowing. This is password protected. If you are concerned about the security of your password, the burden is on you to keep it well hidden.