Don’t Ban Video Games — Start Using the Age Ratings

pegi_collage.png

It happens once in a while. In fact, it recently did, and the probability that it will happen again is rather high. Someone goes postal, kills or injures people, and in the aftermath the media start to look for scapegoats. Oh, the police say he always played Counter Strike! Oh, his friends say he liked GTA! He must have been a truly deranged individual, so let’s blame video games (that we don’t understand) for perverting our youth. Our poor children! Your evil games turn them into gun fanatics, drug addicts and antisocial Satan-worshippers!

At this point in the story, someone usually demands tough legislation to take care of the “problem”. Ban violent games. Heck, ban games altogether. But I want to tell you something: the games are not the problem. The problem is you, the parents.

Let me illustrate this with a true tale, as witnessed in one of Switzerland’s largest electronics stores a few years ago. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas had just been released to much fanfare. As I walk down an aisle lined with stacks of CD-R spindles and backup tapes, my eyes meet the hand of a middle-aged lady, and it’s clutching something that looks like a game box. Sure enough, she’s carrying a copy of GTA: SA. Just as I finish wondering whether she plans to play that herself (and age is irrelevant for a gamer), I hear someone call from the other aisle. A boy perhaps eleven years old walks over, and the lady asks him “Here! Is it this one you want?”. She points at GTA. “Yes, mom, that’s the one!” replies a voice that is clearly pre-puberty. “Good then, let’s pay and go home.”

GTA: San Andreas is rated 18+. It’s not a game for children. It’s violent. It has bad language. Perhaps it is worth pointing out: you shouldn’t be buying your eleven year old child a game that is clearly marked as unsuitable for minors.

This is certainly not an isolated case. My officemate’s children were 12 and 15, respectively. What did they get as present from their father? GTA: Vice City. Can you guess? The game is rated 18+!

Now, how do you know that a game is not suitable for children? Obviously, many or most current parents grew up without video games, or in an era where the most violent scene on screen was an overweight Italian man jumping onto mean-tempered ambulatory fungi. But they don’t need to understand or play the games in order to judge them, because there are organizations that pre-judge every single title for them!

Especially PEGI, the Pan European Game Information system, makes it ludicrously easy to decide. Every game has an age rating right on the very front of the packaging, clearly visible in a rather self-conscious font. On the back, the rating is repeated along with symbols representing actual game content parents might find unsuitable for their kids. It’s split into “bad language”, “discrimination”, “drugs”, “fear”, “gambling”, “sex” and “violence”. Quite a sensible selection. The convenient scapegoat you’re always using (hint: violence) also makes an appearance and thus can be avoided conveniently and completely. I have used the official PEGI symbols to illustrate this article. I hope you agree that they’re easy enough to understand. If not, check out the PEGI website, the URL of which is also printed on every single game box.

The PEGI system is voluntary, yet I haven’t seen any games without PEGI symbols in almost four years — and PEGI was only established in 2003 to begin with. The ESRB system is also voluntary, yet I haven’t seen any North American titles without ratings in years. The game industry is doing more than enough. There is no need for yet more expensive legislation, there is no need to place the burden of parenting on the state instead of into your own hands where it belongs.

Parents, don’t cry out for someone to protect your children. The tools for that are already here, and they are free. But it is you who has to use them. Stop pointing fingers and face your responsibilities.


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Update 1, 2007-02-16

First of all, thank you for the very valuable comments here and on Digg. I hope to go through them soon and pick out a few opinions that didn’t have space in the original article.

In this update, however, I would like to point out a very creepy thing. Only two days after this article went up, GameStop has purchased a full-page advertisement in USA Today entitled “Respect the Ratings”, essentially saying the same thing we say, just with the spooky waxlike head of Steve Morgan tacked in the lower left corner. Their wording is more politically correct, of course, the important bit being “We share your responsibility.”

Next to GameStop’s campaign, the ESRB are providing a new website at RespectTheRatings.com. Essentially, this is a rewrite of content that has been available for years at esrb.com, but the new site has a simplified layout and is targeted specifically at parents. The site prominently says “Making the Right Choice Means Looking on the Box” — I greatly enjoy the fact that all of us seem to agree on where the problem is.

As several commenters have pointed out, GameStop has introduced very strict measures to make sure the responsibility lies with the parents alone. Similar reports from other stores are trickling in as well. The industry is regulating itself, and it makes sure to let you know. I think this might be even better than legislation. The law might “only” be able to fine someone or send them to jail if they sell the wrong stuff to a minor without a parent’s consent, but the minutiae of your work contract can be a wholly more painful weapon. Like a morning star, or a flail, perhaps.

PEGI symbols are © PEGI, used with permission.

23 thoughts on “Don’t Ban Video Games — Start Using the Age Ratings”

  1. This is nothing, i work at target in the electronics’s department, only on the weekends, and i have had at least 5 parents have bought a GTA game for 5-6yr old kids, and i ask them if they realize that its rated M for mature because of violence and what not and they still don’t care so they buy it for them. Here is the funny part, all of the parents were moms that bought it, when i tell that to fathers and grandparents they don’t get it. Its always the mother crying to the news “johnny was suck a nice lil boy it was the video games that did it . . . .”, guess what you bought the damn game so you are the problem.

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  2. Why do you think politicians and all the crazy groups are going after video games? The ratings aren’t working. Stores wont remind parents about the ratings. Stores sell 18+ and M games to minors. Those ratings might as well not be there. No one in the industry has been taking the ratings seriously. They don’t want to and wont until it’s forced upon them.. when they see that they have to spread to word about the ratings and get parents to see that ratings are important and that not all video games are for kids… otherwise, said games will become illegal and no one will be to blame except the video game industry.

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  3. Nobody gets it…I dont believe in banning violent games, but I do believe in restricting their sales to minors. Some parents are worse than others, and dont necessarily know what their kids are playing, but if you need your parents there to buy the game, maybe, just maybe, they might wonder why its rated M.

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  4. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. I am a parent of young children. I myself am educated enough to look a a box that says what the game is rated. I get so angry when people cry for tougher legislation on video games. Let alone that the new consoles are putting rating locks on the systems that will restrict certain games from being played. Games don’t kill people, people do. I grew up with many games in my life that could have caused me to go postal. But you know what, I know what is right and wrong and my home life was strong enough that I had support if necessary.

    If we could only focus on real important issues that cost society Billions: cigarettes and alcohol. Now there is a couple of industries that cost every person in the United States dearly due to health care and auto accidents. I am sure it is the same around the world.

    Maybe we need ratings on couples before they have kids to determine if they are fit and responsible enough to take care of children properly.

    My 2 cents

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  5. I’ m a manager at an EBGames store (Original name,I know) and corporate has actually now put into effect a rule that states if you are caught selling an M-Rated game to a minor (or even reserving it) you and the store manager will be terminated, and possibly the district manager. So my employees and I have begun to card pretty much anyone who buys an M-Rated game…the kids who we tell no? Get their parents and the parents could care less what their kids buy. Now..some parents do care and restrict them, but they are certainly the minority. Do not blame the industry, blame the parents who think entertainment is a fitting babysitter for their children and don’t bother to teach them good morals anymore.

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  6. As an ex Manager for EBGames (yes it is the old name). We made it a consistant practice to remind parents about what the ratings meant, and yet even so we had children have a friend’s parents buy them the game, an of age sibling, over age friend, some homeless guy out front…Seriously if the kid wants it they will get it. Think about how effective age limits have been in stopping underage cigarete or alcohol usage…lol
    I’ve had parents come in and scream at me about the games their children have been able to buy, only to see the child and tell the wife that it was a sibling, grandparent, or even spouse that bought the game not the child. I’m certainly not going to be the individual that sneaks into your home at night to make sure your child is not playing games that you dont want him/her to have, then holding me accountable for your lapse at supervision or setting sustainable boundaries is really really ridiculous.
    Might as well blame the Teachers for children’s inability to read, after they go home and play games, are babysat by television, sit in classes of up to 30 children using 15 year old outdated material, and have to meet math expectations set based on a failing district in an effort to keep up with Japan’s year round schools…
    Wait a second..

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  7. 1.) it is the parents choice. Not the government, on what her child plays. Parents know what is best for thier children.
    2.) video games dont make you crazy. If you do something crazy after playing games you prolly were going to do it before.
    3.) Ive played every single violent video game you can imagine since age 12 (im now 27), I saw kids around me do the same that entire time. Its a rare case that one loses it over a game (in fact i can say with VERY sure confidence that there has never been a case of violence directly related to a game influencing someone that was SANE.

    Its nice that you support voluntary systems…thats fine. But teh fact that you actually think games make ppl do soemthing makes you look like a fool in my eyes. Its like what Frank Zappa said when at the PRMC hearings-

    I don’t think there’s a problem. First of all, I don’t think music turns people into social liabilities. Because you hear a lyric — there’s no medical proof that a person hearing a lyric is going to act out the lyric. There’s also no medical proof that if you hear any collection of vowels and consonants, that the hearing of that collection is going to send you to Hell.
    — Frank Zappa, interview, WRIF, 1985

    Now apply that to vid games. The same applies and until you can show me ABSOLUTE proof that it does otherwise, you just some ignorant guy talking about how great rating systems are and how much better you can raise another persons children.

    The establishment of a rating system, voluntary or otherwise, opens the door to an endless parade of moral quality control programs based on things certain Christians do not like. What if the next bunch of Washington wives demands a large yellow “J” on all material written or performed by Jews, in order to save helpless children from exposure to concealed Zionist doctrine?
    — Frank Zappa, Statement to the Senate Hearing on “Porn Rock,” 1985

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  8. @JonGalt: Thanks for your comment. I was being sarcastic (I hope!) for most of the article, I don’t believe games have a deep enough influence to change anyone’s morals or behavior. If anything, some games might even improve a person’s ability to reflect on the consequences of their actions (certain RPGs come to mind). But that also is unproven, it’s just a gut feeling I have there.

    I, personally, would not mind getting rid of rating systems altogether. But do you remember what it was like before the PEGI and ESRB? Then the media blamed ALL games for the downfall of society. Since the rating systems came up, we’re at least down to “just” the violent ones. Also, put yourself in the shoes of a parent who doesn’t know the games and doesn’t want to spend time reading reviews. The rating systems at least offer some form of guidance. Otherwise you have all these people thinking “ah, this GTA thing has cartoon graphics so it must be okay for taking to kindergarten”.

    The rating systems are certainly not perfect, but as some of the replies show, the industry (from game publishers’ top management down to the retail store) is capable of regulating itself based on them. If the kids manage to sneak around the regulations, that doesn’t mean the industry has failed, and if (caring) parents believe their kid is mature enough to play an 18+ game with 14 years, that’s also fine. Why legislate?

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  9. I don’t think violence has anything to do with the videogames, before I started playing videogames I used to be pretty violent, but once I started I don’t think I’ve gotten in a fight/hurt anyone. Parents who don’t tell their kids its wrong to hurt people, are the ones to blame. Jack Thompson, once said that the Columbine shooters ‘trained’ in the game Doom, if anyone can answer me how someone can train to fire a real gun, in a VERY unrealistic video game, you can kick me in the crotch. Video games are just a scapegoat for people who can’t handle blaming thier own children for being complete FUCKING idiots, I use videogames as a release when I’m angry.

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  10. I am 15 myself and i agree that i play video games that are rated 18+ but it’s not just the fact these games are violent. If you are going to kill someone your going to do it regardless of whether or not you saw it in a game. But i do agree that parent do not do enough to stop there children playing violent games. the other day i heard a 8 year old say he was going to cave someones head in with a baseball bat and then made a reference to GTA:SA as an example and that was clearly the reason he even though about doing it. Parents do need to pay more attention to these ratings especially for young children. Although in england in most game shops if you go in with a parent and they suspect theres a young child with you they will not sell you the game.

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  11. As an older game player (49) I dont have to worry about the suitability of game content. However, I do have concerns for children. For example, My all time favorite stealth game is ‘Manhunt’ I like that it has no supernatural monsters to fight and that it is you against everyone else. I love the dialog even though it is not what you would want to hear in real life. I have been playing this game for years. I have not, as yet, had the desire to sneak around looking for a skull to cave in or a head to hack off. It has not turned me into a crazed killer.
    Unfortunately, I am not the only one in our family who has a copy of this game. Both my nephews, one aged 8 and the other 11 both have copies. And how did they get them. Simple, their mother bought them and gave them to them. They also watch any dvd they want to. There are no restrictions on them at all. And when I have confronted her I am told that everyone lets their kids watch and play what they want. And she is right. there is a class where kids are not restricted at all. And who is responsible? The parents of course. And they should be fined for doing so.
    as you have plainly pointed out, games have labels. Even if parents are not buying the games it doesnt take much effort to pick up the case and read it. Of course, that is asking alot of these parents. Much easier, when their kids have been arrested for a violent crime to blame the game companies.
    It is a pity that the game companies cant take the parents to court and sue them for bringing them into disrepute.
    Parents, have some balls and take responsibility. Or shut up. One of the two.

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  12. If people are going to blame the video game industry, then you’d think that they would blame other industries that depict violent behavior right? Well obviously, that isn’t true. Think about the film industry. They have been pumping out loads of violent movies, especially in recent years. But do you hear people blameing them for the problem? NO. It seems obvious to me that they are blameing the videogame industry because it is (reletively speaking) new.
    So what does the film industry have that the videogame doesn’t? Ratings that are essentially pushed into the faces of the public. As it is right now, for every movie ad I see, whether I see it in print, on TV or on the internet, I always see the rating. With videogames, I don’t see that as prominently.
    I believe that the videogame industry has to push the ratings like the film industry. That way, it will be damn near impossible to not see them. I mean there are many people that would get their children any videogame they wanted, but would not let them see any movie they wanted.
    This is by no means a perfect solution, I don’t think that anything really is. But, I believe that this would be a step in the right direction.

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  13. You all should be ashamed of yourselves.

    Where’d you get your appetite for violence? You weren’t born with it, cause I know lotsa dudes who don’t go ga-ga over violence. Mostly they’re the ones with guts.

    Many societies don’t have violent games — the ones that don’t beat up women, rape babies, and kill homeless dudes just for sport. Takes manly-men to do those things.

    As a matter of fact, in my experience, the dudes drooling over violence are the ones who feel they aren’t manly-men. They’re terrified that if they ever had to show courage in the real world, they might not cut it.

    So dudes, the more you fight for your violent games, the more the rest of us know who you really are (jelly on the inside). It’s kind of embarrassing. For you, I mean.

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  14. Children (As myself) Will learn tog row into life at some point sooner or later an will notice the wordl isint a fuzzy padded room with no guns language or voilince, Noooooo no that fuzzy room will soon melt into the cold concrete of life and alow life to peer its self into the new found mind waiting. When this happens the new mind will finely release, if he/she screws up in the wrong place at the wrong time, there going to be killed. Maybe randomly shot in a drive by or killed in a train crash, but sooner or later your children will tell you to step off and let them live there own life, nudety, voilince, sex, drugs, alchohol, gore, twisted freaks on normality its self, Is waht makes life livable, showing it in a game to a thirteen year old wont do much accept show him a thin thread of the fabric we call life. Weither it be by the war of man agianst his brother, or the ravaging of father time, You will die and no force will be able to stop it. I am not telling you how to parent you children and im not telling you to Not check the ratings or buy grand theft auto games for a three year old, but with public schools and long roads, at the age of ten your child NEEDS to know these things happen or he/she may be laying down soaked in crimson from there own body one day. Do you want your child to come up to a thug and go “Excuss me you really should’nt use that language in public, my mtoher said so.” I sure as hell wouldn’t do that. that would be like sending a five yea rold boy to Never land ranch in a bright pink box titled “MJ’s new monkey.”
    Dont restrain your kids from life and they wont restrain you from worrying about them. after all thats a parents job and if your kids home all the time being a perfect child until hes 50, there snothing to worry about (accept extreme mental damage)

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  15. athana, Humans wer emade for voilent acts. There is no such thing asa human who wouldn’t kill for something he or she desprettly wanted. There is no such thing as a personw ho would not fight for the lust and love of someone or something. ther eis no such thing as a world without murder.

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  16. Please. Video games were invented by a Zionist (Ralph Baer) at a Pentagon-affiliated defense contractor, Sanders Associates (now part of Lockheed Martin). They brainwash the sheeple and desensitize them to violence, then they tell the sheeple that they will protect them from video game violence as long as they lay down their liberties. Video games are nothing but a Zionist New World Order conspiracy to enslave the global population in global tyranny.

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