Game Ratings & You

I hate to add fuel to a fire that should have never started, but the recent attacks on the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) have got me thinking of how much we seem to need protection from ourselves.

You see, this whole brouhaha launched when some content that some described as “sexually explicit” was discovered in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The fact that this material is only accessible on the PC version of the game (not the console versions) by means of hacking the application seems to be completely irrelevant. As a result of the mess, the ESRB changed Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas to Adult Only (AO) from Mature (M). (More Info Here.)

The issue is being brought up again with Capcom’s stylish puzzle-shooter, Killer 7. Again, the same attorney, Mr. Jack Thompson, is behind the crusade, and he is appealing to his prior allies, Sen. Hilary Clinton and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, for support. The drive is to have Killer 7 changed from an M rating to AO. This time, Mr. Thomson takes things one step further and claims the ESRB should be dismantled if they do not submit to his requests. (Article Here.)

So, why do I seem to be taking the side of the ESRB and the video game publishers on this one? Am I not opposed to such material in entertainment media? Don’t I believe that children should be protected from such content? Well, of course I do, and that’s why I say buyers should look at the label and see it is already rated M for Mature.

It’s very simple, M in the video game world is the equivalent on an R rating in the movie world, and R-rated movies with content much more explicit and disturbing are created and available in normal retail stores. We all know what an R rating means. Despite this, I know of people who won’t let their children watch a movie if it’s rated PG-13, yet these same children have several M-rated video games.

It all comes down to being responsible consumers. Game ratings will not change the content in video games any more than movie ratings have helped movies become more wholesome and moral over the last couple decades. We parents have to become more informed about what content is in the games, and the way to do this is easy: Flip over the box, and read why the game is rated what it’s rated.

For example, Katamari Damacy is rated E (for “Everyone”), and it is qualified with “Mild Fantasy Violence.” Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is rated T (for “Teen”), and its content includes “Blood,” “Suggestive Themes,” and “Violence.” Now let’s take Killer 7, which is rated M for “Blood and Gore,” “Intense Violence,” “Sexual Themes,” and “Strong Language.” Based off of those descriptions alone, do you think it is possible to make responsible buying decisions for your family? I do.

Of course, this brings up a whole slew of other issues. One issue is consistany. If we are to be this strict on the gaming industry, why has explicit material become so common on TV and in movies. After all, Jennifer Garner is allowed to run around in fetish costumes in Alias during prime time with but a TV14 rating while nudity is becoming more and more common in PG-13 movies, and don’t tell me that Desperate Housewives has no sexual content.

Another issue is that of built-in content versus mods and add-ons. This same Jack Thompson alleged that EA’s The Sims titles should be changed to an M rating from T because one can download nude skins for the characters off of the Internet. EA neither creates or endorses this material, but those facts seem to be trivial.

Mr. Thompson, the solution is not to dismantle the only industry watchdog. The answer is in responsible, informed consumerism on the part of parents and caregivers – unless I’m solving the wrong problem. If the problem is trying to figure out how to gain more media and political attention, then you have found a topic that will get you that attention.