In the wake of the Newtown shooting tragedy, the world once again turns its probing eye on the video game industry.
Numerous politicians are calling for new studies focusing on the effects of playing violent games, and community leaders in Southington, CT proposed an event that would involve the burning of violent and potentially damaging pieces of interactive entertainment. This event was recently canceled, as those in charge said the action wasn’t necessary; they were successful in generating “frank talks” between parents and children.
Two points of interest arise— firstly, despite over three decades of significant growth and an average participant age of 35 (according to recent ESA statistics), the mainstream media and the majority of the population apparently still believe all video games are for kids. Secondly, it appears those lobbying for change have forgotten the law that prompted the creation of the ESRB in 1994, which rates video games. For the uninitiated, these ratings are akin to MPAA ratings for movies; “E” for Everyone, “T” for Teen, and “M” for Mature. “M” is the equivalent of an “R” rating, as you must be at least 17 years of age to purchase the product.
In reading comments made by politicians and community leader since the Newtown elementary school disaster, I have found one common thread: Video games and children are always linked. To be more specific, violent video games and children are consistently tied together in these public statements.
Having been a game journalist for over eleven years, I have seen the strides taken in terms of storytelling, artistry, cinematography, and technical capability. One could make the argument that while the “normal” entertainment venues (movies, music, books) are stagnating, the only true innovation can be found in the rapidly expanding interactive entertainment field. Therefore, hearing politicians and parents who are still living in 1985 has long since grown tiresome.
The ESRB has been in place for 18 years and in my experience, the ratings are quite accurate and in some ways, even stricter than the MPAA. Developers have been creating games for adults for the majority of those 18 years. Violent video games and indeed, any games with adult/mature themes are not made for children. They’re not marketed toward children. And yes, it should be illegal to sell them to children. We took the necessary strides to pass that legislation (of which I remain a huge proponent) and the education and information has been available for a long time. “Grand Theft Auto” was never intended for children and hence, conducting studies concerning the effects of an 8-year-old playing GTA should be unnecessary. Kids shouldn’t be playing that game. The industry never wanted kids to play that game.
I believe violent media can and does have significant effects on developing minds. There should be no “frank talks” between parents and kids about the subject; parents should simply not buy “M”-rated games for their children. The town of Southington asked families to drop off their violent video games; presumably, games their kids were playing. What were those kids doing with such games? What were those kids doing playing games not designed for them, games with a big label on the cover saying the product is reserved for older individuals? In short, these families should have no violent games to destroy if we place responsibility in the proper place.
That being said, I believe a loophole for promoting violent games – and other violent media – exists within the advertising realm. Although certain games are not directly marketed toward children, commercials for such titles can still be seen by anyone. These commercials, along with ads I’ve seen for recent horror movies, push the boundaries and are not appropriate for people of all ages. However, seeing a ten-second commercial for something like “Killzone 3” is unlikely to have the same effect as playing the game for many hours. Of course, the game in question was rated “M.”
Video games have been a convenient scapegoat for far too long. Such accusations turn a blind eye to the important strides gaming has taken. Generalized ignorance is unfair to the many highly creative minds who work in the industry. We have rich, beautiful, complex worlds these days, and many are designed for everyone. We also have dark, violent, twisted worlds, which are only designed for a select few. Children are not a part of the latter group. The sooner the mainstream press, various politicians and above all, parents, understand this, the sooner we can stop wasting time asking unnecessary questions.