Sep 26 2013 4:30pm

Gaming Roundup: Do Game Ratings Work?

Baby Video Games

A few short months ago, the FTC released a detailed report discussing the success (or lack thereof) of various retailers in enforcing age restrictions on different forms of media, including video games, movies, DVDs, and music. Surprisingly (that is to say, surprising only if you attach any weight to the frequent, tired media refrain of blaming games for all that is wrong with the world), the FTC reported that not only are video game retailers the best at enforcing age ratings, but they have been the best for a fairly sustained period of time.

So where does it all break down?

Well, according to one Gamestop employee, things fall apart precisely when informed guardians opt to disregard explicitly stated content warnings administered by store employees. While this isn’t exactly uncommon, the issue has been pushed to the forefront again recently due to the launch of GTA V, a game that, while excellent in its own right, reminds us that some games are a harder M than others.

GTA V Video Games

As our anonymous employee notes, games like Halo and Skyrim may be rated M, but any versed gamer understands the difference between those specific franchises and, say, Duke Nukem, Saints Row, Manhunt, or GTA. The former, you might deem acceptable for a young ward to play. The latter? Yeah, notsomuch.

But then, this is a differentiation that knowledgeable gamer-guardians are in a position to make. The average guardian who doesn’t play but only buys games for their kids might not know the difference. And if this is the case, why ignore the advice of someone who knows what they’re talking about? If a sales clerk warns customers that a game they’re purchasing for a kid features graphic first-person lapdances and a brutal torture scene (regardless of whether or not it may be rooted in the context of satire or social commentary), you might expect at least half the would-be purchasers to set the game down, saying “Maybe when they’re older,” but instead, this employee reports justifications—“They’ll play it at a friend’s house anyways / I’m sure it’s not that bad / I’ll be around to watch them”—significantly outnumber the decisions to put the game back on the shelf. Is this apathy? A lack of common sense? Trying to keep kids pacified? Confidence that your 6-year-old is the exception to the norm? Or is it something else?

Simpsons Bart Bonestorm Sonic Video Games

Full disclosure: of course, many of us can speak to personal experience of playing games we probably shouldn’t have been playing at early ages. Many of us have likely thrown ourselves into games like Duke Nukem, Carmageddon, Wolfenstein, Mortal Kombat, Redneck Rampage, GTA, and Phantasmagoria during our formative years. But personally, at least, I made sure as hell my parents didn’t know about them, because I knew where they stood on the subject.

Over to you, Dear Reader. How old were you when you played your first game that you probably shouldn’t have been playing? And would you let a child play a hard M game?

In other gaming news this week, The Last of Us gets a new DLC, GTA Online nears launch, and Myst turns 20. Read on!

  • If you loved The Last of Us, you’ll be happy to know that Naughty Dog plans on announcing a new DLC for the game later this week. We’re crossing our fingers for an extended single-player campaign...
  • The GTA Online launch is just around the corner, and Rockstar is ramping up their release of tidbits concerning its gameplay. This week, the developer announced that GTA Online will feature multiplayer races, sports, heists, missions, a custom content creator, and a customizable avatar. However, be warned: Rockstar expects quite a few initial growing pains on launch as they adjust to the server load and glitches of an MMO world.
  • So, Metal Gear Solid V is looking pretty good, guys. Check out the demo for yourself.

  • Anyone remember Rockstar’s fantastic Bully? Well, writer Dan House is itching to revisit the universe and claims to have several new directions in mind that a sequel could take.
  • Valve is looking to transform your gaming experience via their recently-announced Steam Machine, which will additionally clean your carpets while you game on a multi-platform-capable, powerful, (hopefully) affordable new gaming system. Check out the link to learn how to make yourself eligible for beta-testing.
  • South Park: The Stick of Truth (the RPG you’ve all been waiting for this year, let’s face it) launches on December 10. In the meantime, enjoy Ubisoft’s latest trailer.

  • Finally, a very happy birthday to one of the most iconic PC games of all time. Myst turned 20 this week!

If there are games you’d like us to cover or blogs you think we should be following for more news, please let us know @tdelucci or @pritpaulbains.

Darice Moore
1. daricemoore
Since I came of age in the Time of Atari, when we all sat down and played Pac-Man as a family... there wasn't much in the way of violence/gore when I was a kid who gamed. My Mom still loves Tetris. (Me too.)

My own kids (age 10 and 5) are definitely more gamer than I am, but the most hardcore thing they play is Minecraft at this point (and the 10-year-old uses the "nothing jumping out at me" setting). 10yo also has a DS, though, and I had to do some fast learning to figure out which games were appropriate. For parents like me who don't know what the various games are, I've found that really is helpful.
Titanium Dragon
2. Titanium Dragon
Here's the thing:

We have freedom of speech. That means that people are free to consume what they want to.

That means people are free to make decisions you don't agree with about what they consume.

It is just that simple.

Frankly, though, I don't think it is that big of a deal. No study has ever indicated it does any harm to anyone, and the most likely outcome if any negative outcome occurs is the kid getting upset by the game and not playing it.
Brent Longstaff
3. Brentus
It's silly that Halo is M but Uncharted is T, by any standard. It just goes to show that if you care what is in your or your children's entertainment, then you need to do your homework and not just rely on ratings. Fortunately, between the ESRB, PEGI, and commonsensemedia websites it's not too difficult to tell what a game contains, although it needs to be a newer game for the ESRB description to be very useful. ESRB used to give vague, misleading ratings with no explanation of what they meant.
Titanium Dragon
4. Megpie71
Not having kids myself, I'd probably defer to their parents when it comes to making choices about which games they're allowed to play out of my collection. But here's the advice I'd be offering said parents along the way. I wouldn't let a kid under twelve be playing Final Fantasy VII (no matter how much I love the game, and its wonderful storytelling) because quite frankly, I don't think they're really ready for full on Jacobean revenge tragedies full of human experimentation. Then again, I've no doubt should this happen, the kid will be much more interested in the "beat things up" part of the storyline than anything else, and will no doubt make it across that blasted "swinging girder" puzzle in the early game a lot faster than I do. But I'm still more likely to hand over the Kingdom Hearts games than the Final Fantasy games to children under twelve (and still keep an eye on them while they're playing as well... just in case of traumatic territory being reached).

Yes, I would let a ten-year-old play the various iterations of The Sims I have on hand (I have all three...), despite the heavily-blurred shower scenes, and the potential for (gasp!) homosexual relationships, and (gasp! twice!) sexual scenes. This is because it's a game which is mainly about getting from one end of the day to the other, and really, the game imposes a certain amount of perspective on these things - you can't just have your characters having sex all the time, because they get bored with it and want to do things like eat and go to the lav.

No, Persona Three is right out. Not until they're in their mid teens at the earliest, and know their own limits with things like repeated images of suicidal behaviours. Bayonetta doesn't hit the list until they're eighteen and old enough to view porn in the cinemas - and even then they get to have Aunty Meg's Feminist Commentary on the Male Gaze, Female Objectification, and How This Game Makes It Clear They Weren't Selling To Women all the way through it if they're playing it at my place. Actually, a lot of the newer games will come with the "This Game Objectifies/Ignores Women" lecture (yes, Shadow Hearts: The New World, and Star Ocean IV: The Last Hope, I am looking at the pair of you) along with the gameplay, because as a female gamer, I tend to find it annoying when the only available female characters are basically there to jiggle at people and provide fanservice.
Titanium Dragon
5. AndrewV
About 15 years ago I worked at Target and remember us being strict about the "age verification" policy. I made dozens of little boys go get their mothers or fathers so they could give me their date of birth for the records. 90% of the parents, when they read the ESRB warnings, told their kids to get another game. All the other stores I was in contact with had similar stories. A handful of parents just shrugged and asked us to ring them up, but they were a distinct minority.

So while I understand that the FTC is just dying for something new to regulate, this is really not the area.

Also... what's up with calling people 'guardians' instead of parents? Is it offensive to other family members who raise kids?
Rich Bennett
6. Neuralnet
I am old enough to have grown up in the age of Pac Man etc. so game ratings werent really much of an issue for me growing up. Recently, maybe in the last 2 years, I have really had to pay attention to game ratings. I currently play a lot of games and now I have two boys (aged 7 and 10) who are big time gamers. I try to play "my games" at night after they have gone to bed, but inevitably I want to play on the weekend and so the boys end up watching me play sometimes. At first I didnt think anything of it, then my younger son started compaining of nightmares based on the world/music of Portal 2 (this was maybe ~2 yrs ago so he was 5) just from watching me play a little bit on a saturday afternoon, and it just sort of made me aware of how these games can be much more intense to a little kid who isnt used to them. Plus, boys that age love to playact the games out in real life and It is hard to convince my boys to be a little more nonviolent in their play. (I mean every game involves lightsabers, swords or guns it seems) So I guess I just dont think they need any more source material for an action packed /violent game... i.e. I would be dissapointed to see them playing assasin's creed in the backyard with their friends. So I try hard not to expose them to M rated games. (I had to play all of assasins creed 2 in one week while my kids were at their grandparents house - LOL)

One of the hard things for me as a parent trying to limit the violence/adult content my kids are exposed to is that the M rating is too broad I think. Is Skyrim really in the same league as GTA IV? I dont know... just how much more violent is an M rated game vs. a T rating? etc. I really want to get skyrim and diablo III but have held off becuase I know both of my boys will REALLY want to play those games, and I am honestly not sure if that is ok or not? it is hard to judge how "adult" a game will be until you actually play it yourself I think.
Pritpaul Bains
7. Kickpuncher
@5 - I know there can be a differentiation made, but I generally consider the terms "parents" and "guardians" as interchangeable. Honestly, I didn't really notice that aspect of my phrasing in the post until you pointed it out!

@1, 3, 4, 6 - Yeah, it's tough to gauge because the ratings are just wonky sometimes. Halo and Uncharted should in no way be rated any differently from one another.

@6 Neuralnet: FWIW, Skyrim is probably more kid-safe than D3 (and a better game, but JMO). There's the odd bout of swordplay or beheading but it's very traditional sword-and-shield gameplay, with a few fun magic spells worked in for good measure. Pretty safe content-wise. D3 isn't that bad either, but probably contains a bit more violent imagery that might be an issue if your younger child is susceptible to nightmares.

@4 Megpie71 - Have you played Persona 4? If so, how did you like it? I recently got a Vita but was at a loss as to what games to get for it... Persona 4 caught my eye.
Lisa Grabenstetter
8. magneticcrow
Yeah... the bluriness of ESRB ratings is just ridiculous. Stopped paying attention or taking it seriously back when, as a kid myself, I noticed that Super Smash Bros. Melee was rated "T" for "Mild Violence, Comic Mischief".

Guard your kids from that Comic Mischief, folks.

Definitely better to consult someone who's in the know.
Titanium Dragon
9. Gerry__Quinn
Even in the era of Pacman, you could always play Death Race!

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