Yeah, we know. That’s why it’s rated M for Mature. It says right there on the box that it includes “Intense Violence, Blood, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Partial Nudity, Use of Drugs and Alcohol.” So yeah, we know. No one is trying to argue the fact that this game shouldn’t be played by children. The ESRB knows. The gamers know. The stores know. The stores know they’re not supposed to sell the game to a minor. If someone decides to ignore such a rule, that’s the fault of the individual, and maybe they should be fired. As opposed to, I don’t know, blaming the retailer or the game’s production company. Otherwise, the kids are getting it because their parents are buying it for them. A parent can judge what they believe is safe for their child. Unless they don’t know if it’s safe. Maybe they don’t bother to read the content descriptors. Maybe they simply don’t care. Maybe they’re just oblivious.
Gamers know where to find such things. We know what websites to visit, what magazines to read, what TV channels to watch. We know that Grand Theft Auto is a violent game, that it’s full of “strong language,” and that – I know this will be a surprise for some – you steal cars. Do the parents know this? Where do parents get their information from? I can’t imagine that many parents spend their free time watching trailers and reading previews at IGN.com. Or that they all have subscriptions to Electronic Gaming Monthly. Some of them probably watch the news. If they watch Fox News, then they all believe the entire point of Mass Effect is to gallivant across the universe raping alien chicks instead of saving that universe from the ultimate evil. So often I have seen parents (or grandparents) who know very little or nothing at all about the game their child wants them to buy. They simply have a list, and they know their child wants this game and that game. Often they have no idea what that means. Sometimes all they know is “It’s a Mario game.” At any given time there are multiple Mario games on the shelves, so that doesn’t help. Sometimes they don’t know what system the game they’re looking for is on, which is often because they simply don’t know which ones their child owns. I’ve met parents who, when given a description of the game, decided that maybe they shouldn’t be buying a game like GTA for their 9 year old. Then they asked what they should buy instead. When asked what sort of games their child was interested in, they could not give an answer.
It’s understandable that an older generation not raised on games may not understand them. So why isn’t the gaming community trying to help them understand? Or maybe the correct question would be: why isn’t the gaming community given a voice? Goodness knows we try. Goodness knows we’re ignored, at least outside our own circles. It does little good for gamers to argue about video game violence on a channel like G4, which is watched by fellow gamers. We already know. The demographic for the sort of people who are currently unaware read People Magazine, not Game Informer. They watch Oprah, not X-Play. Substitute any other talk show/sitcom/news show or entertainment magazine in there; there’s not a lot of (true) information about video games. So why doesn’t Oprah start a “Safe for Kids Video Game of the Month” list? Even Good Housekeeping could devote a page or two to informing parents about safe games for their children. Articles like that couldn’t be written by just anybody of course; a gamer would have to write them (maybe even a gaming parent), someone who knows and understands video games, but instead of gushing over artistically beautiful blood sprays points out the issues in games that parents are concerned about. How easy the game is to play, how violent the game is, the language content, the sex content, how realistic these things are. With a ratings system based not (only) on how good a game is, but on how appropriate it is for a child. I’m sure parents would rather their children read books or go outside, but if they’re going to be playing video games, at least the parents can be informed about their content.