I was considered an adult by the time a ratings system for videogames reached Finland, so it never really affected me. I’ve been thinking about the issue over the years, seeing more and more anti-videogames stories in mainstream media.
Fact: Grand Theft Auto or the Hitman series are not meant for children. Fact: they are played by children. Most parents don’t seem to care, yet are eager to join in on the blame game.
My parents did check out what kinds of games I played and I had to explain what I was doing in them and why (yes, my mother was interested in my alter-ego’s motivation). They also said when they disapproved and explained why, although I was never banned from playing a game. Then again, this was back in the 8-bit days, the Commodore 64 being my platform of choice (well, C=128D, to be specific). I reckon that if I was a kid these days, I wouldn’t be allowed to play Hitman or the like, with highly realistic violence.
Most gamers seem to not understand why the ESRB is targeting gamers via the Penny Arcade campaign. It looks like the ESRB has sort of given up on the parents. Grownups seem to be either of the “anything goes” or the “ban the sick filth” school of moderation. Maybe if the little gamers themselves (say, under 16 years of age) understood that the ratings are there to protect them, their parents would also get it.
I firmly believe that a child shouldn’t play Counter-Strike all day. It makes you obsessive and aggressive. Kids shouldn’t discuss the best way to murder an unwitting man (or how to achieve it with a golf club). But this is just common sense. The ratings absolutely cannot achieve this, no matter how strictly implemented they are at the retail level. Parents must take an interest in what their children are playing – and why, and how. Better yet, they should play the games with their children.
The ratings are there just to inform the parents of the general level of, say, harmfulness of a game so that they can easily make a decision to purchase or not. They should understand that buying their kids a kid-safe game is not a permit for them to not care what their kids are playing. They should care, if only because the games are important to the children and thus they should be of interest to their parents.