So Long, Pong
I have come to the conclusion that I am somewhat naive when it comes to things like video games. My personal video game history involves things like Super Mario Brothers on my brother’s Nintendo, or Tetris on my first computer. But those sorts of games are nothing like the video games of today. I was shocked and practically stunned silent the first time I watched my (adult) brother and husband play Grand Theft Auto. Honestly, it was appalling, completely lacking in any redemptive qualities.
If you’ve got teenage sons, you almost assuredly know what I’m talking about. Here are some interesting things about the world of video games that you may not have been aware of:
- although we tend to think of these games as fodder for kids, the actual average age of gamers is now 29
- The Entertainment Software Review Board (ESRB), which is a self-regulatory body for the video game industry, provides game reviews that focus on four areas: violence, sexual content, language, and controlled substances
- Ontario currently uses the ESRB ratings for games sold in this province, and the ratings are overseen by the Ontario Film Review Board, which is the same body that rates films shown in theatres (the OFRB’s page on video games can be found at http://www.ofrb.gov.on.ca/english/page15.htm)
- treatment and portrayal of girls and women is not a focus for the ESRB, so their ratings do not reflect the fact that most women in video games are sex trade workers such as strippers and prostitutes
- submitting a game to the ESRB for review and rating is completely optional (most game publishers do, though, because it’s harder to sell an unrated game)
- ratings are based on an age-appropriate scale, with imprecise language (such as “Titles rated T (Teen) have content that may be suitable for ages 13 and older” or “Titles in this category may contain violence.”)
As a parent concerned about video game content, you’ll have to be proactive. There isn’t one objective body looking out for the best interests of our kids, so you need to be aware what the ratings do and don’t mean.
Start by understanding the ratings system and knowing what the ESRB rating is for each of the games that comes into your house. But don’t let that be the only place you get your information from. Take a look at some of these sites where you can find other reviews:
- Common Sense Media has a great site that allows users to rate games, as well as search for games by title or platform (great if you’re looking for an age-appropriate gift)
- Parents Television Council provides information mostly for t.v. and media literacy, but they do have a section on games as well
Sit down with your kids and play the games yourself. That’s the only real way you’ll get a true picture of the content. And have a conversation with your kids while you’re at it, about what they find so appealing about the games, how they feel people and/or women are being portrayed, and about your concerns. This will hopefully empower them to make educated choices in the games they play, and feel good about declining to play a game that they know neither of you would want them playing.
Use your family meeting to discuss rules and limits to “media time”. Get in touch with the parents of your kids’ friends, and see what the rules are in their houses. They may have different standards than you do; that’s important to know up-front.
And lastly, don’t hesitate to contact your local politicians with your concerns. Stricter legislation around rating and banning games is the first step, and your representatives need to know that their constituents consider it to be an important issue.