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Stir: Game Ratings

A Supreme Court decision on the violent video game ban is expected this fall.

There is currently California legislation being weighed in the United States Supreme Court that could change gaming as we know it.  The general idea of this legislation is to ban violent video games and fine retailers up to $1,000 per incident for selling violent video games to miners.  Should this become law, retailers would certainly limit their liability by refusing to carry these titles, in turn causing game studios to change the products they offer.  This amounts to censorship, but several courts have already ruled that video games are a protected form of speech like movies, books and music – but that has not stopped California law-makers from taking this to the Federal level.

This law would also put into place a new government regulated ratings system – forcing all games to also carry this new rating.  There are  several states waiting in the wings to see what the Federal Court determines to be constitutional.  With the potential revenue stream of fines and fees to rate games, cash-strapped states (like California) are lined up to sell off a little bit of our first amendment rights.

If the Supreme Court were to rule that the ban is not unconstitutional, this will spread like a brushfire – and if this becomes the norm in the United States, much of the world will follow thus crippling the gaming industry.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Let your voice be heard.  Take a look at who is supporting or opposing this law here in this list of briefs submitted to the court.  If you would like to sign a petition to help stop this ban – just click over to the Entertainment Consumers Association to learn more.

Note: All of the statistics quoted in the photo inserts are from the ESRB and can be found here.

WHAT OUR WRITERS HAD TO SAY

Cooper Bibaud | Thirsty Robot | ProfileTwitter | Personally I never look at ESRB ratings, and as a result they hold zero sway over wether I purchase a game or not. With that said, I do believe they are helpful to some. I am a smart gamer, and have been forever. I had good parents who were able to teach me the difference between what’s real and what’s fake. I’m also a mature, responsible guy who can take entertainment for what it is.

I believe the ratings themselves aren’t very useful to me, but they do help parents who may not be as informed or up to date on videogames. Like this Halo thing. Is it about an angel perhaps who prances around delivering gifts to good children? Maybe. But they can also just look down at the ESRB rating and see it contains mature content, language etc. Or, they could invest some time into their children’s hobbies, be involved, read up, stay informed and parent their own kids so their kids can responsibly play whatever they want. I’m a firm believer in the fact that it always comes back to the parents.

I don’t find them as valuable as ratings for movies, and I could care less if they existed or not. But I do see their relevance It does get on my nerves however when an ignorant parent looks at the box of the game, sees a gun, looks at the mature rating and automatically says “nope.” I know some parents don’t want violent content in their children’s life, but honestly, if you’re doing a decent job as a parent, it really shouldn’t matter what they’re ingesting. So really, my thoughts on the ESRB ratings aren’t really thoughts on the ESRB ratings at all. It’s a fine system, it’s just the uninformed idiots that misjudge them.

Sarah Brannan | FFXPrincess | ProfileTwitter | I believe that game ratings do help in most situations. It’s how they are USED that can be the problem. A friend of ours won’t let their son play games that are rated higher than his age. The good thing? Dad doesn’t get them either (if they’re what the son wants) unless the child is at a friends and isn’t aware. I find that a very good way to use the ratings.

40% of all gamers are female. The Frag Dolls (above) are 100% female.

The problem comes when people don’t use the ratings, then blame games. If you purchase your 10 year old a game rated Mature, don’t go off blaming the industry that your child is seeing too much gore. I mean seriously. It’s like buying a cup of coffee that says “Very hot, will burn.” purposly dumping it on yourself, then blaming the restaurant for it burning you. (If you haven’t met them yet feel lucky because there are people out there like that.)

As far as banning them completely in some country’s, well, that’s their rules and I’m sure they have their own reasons for banning them.

Scott diMonda | WCC5723 | ProfileTwitter | ESRB seems like a thing of the past, because let’s face it how many times have you be cursed out while playing a “M” rated multiplayer by a person that might not even be 15. I don’t think it really hurts game sales because parents are buying the game for their kids anyway and I am at fault for this too as I buy games for my children that are rated out of there age group. But on the same note it is a parents responsibility to teach their children the difference from right and wrong and I really don’t think little “Johny” will go out killing people because he played to much GTA.

As far as games that are banned in other countries I do see the sensitivity issues but once again they are games and if you turn on the news you might see a graphic depiction of a local gang war or even and ongoing war in that country. So does videogames make the person? No we have choices and as responsible people we play games that we want to and not worry about ESRB ratings because once we turn of our favorite console we know the difference between right and wrong.

Only 17% of all video game sales in 2009 were titles with an M rating and only 25% of gamers were under the age of 18.

Nathan Hardisty | Bananahs | ProfileTwitter | With the Supreme Court weighing in on whether video-games deserve 1st amendment protection (essentially dictating whether or not we have government regulation) now is the time to show the power of game ratings. There needs to be more enforcement in game ratings given how I can wander into GAME with my mummy and buy any 18+ game I want. The same goes for film, if the minor is obviously the one who plays video-games then they have a right to restrict the sale. This won’t stop me buying my games anyway. there’s the internet for that, but it would shut up a lot of people. Making it actually illegal with a fine is way too far however, as that will essentially kill off an entire market.

There does need to be tougher regulation, but not by the people who don’t understand them. I believe we have the best ratings system in the world because we’re so damn hip and young and cool LAD.

William Johnson | StylelessKnave | ProfileTwitter | I definitely follow and agree with game ratings. ESRB is definitely needed to align and guide gamers. I have a little brother, who I recently wrote about playing Red Dead Redemption, and Modern Warfare with me. And though our parents would usually allow him to play if I was there moderating him, recently they decided that he was not mature enough to play these games at all, whether I’m there or not. Which is actually, the more I thought about it, great. He is seriously not at the age to know not to repeat some of the things he’s seen, he and his friends are not mature enough to know that they need to filter some of the things that they say outside of the house while they are at school, or at their baseball games, or even when they are staying the night over at a friend’s house, or if a friend is staying over here while I have the 360 over. The ratings system is not for older gamers, but we need it for the younger generation of gamers.

48% of parents play video games with their children at least weekly.

Tym Kaywork | vttym | ProfileTwitter | It’s important for parents to be able to tell what their children are playing.  Game ratings help educate parents on what they are purchasing just like a nutrition label for food or a movie rating does. I think the ESRB has done a fairly good job in staying out in front of the process for another reason as well; keeping the government out of the process (at least in the US). Its not a perfect system, but it works well enough.

Stewart Loosemore | Stigweird85 |  ProfileTwitter | Game ratings are a big issue for me; as I wrote in my very first article here (cheap plug so sue me)

For me, game ratings are a definite requirement and should be more strictly enforced at least in the UK.

Here, in the UK, the BBFC ratings are law and are not recommended ratings or as I once heard in a shop a difficulty rating. The BBFC do the ratings on games and movies(although what used to be called PEGI are also involved) they use the same logos as they do on movies and the logo is self explanatory, a big red 18 means for 18+ only. Despite this people still buy their kids Modern Warfare, GTA and Red Dead Redemption and are then shocked at the mature content involved.

However, I don’t believe that video games should be treated any different from any other form of modern media. While I support the idea of enforcing minimum age in the UK we already do that here for movies and it is the norm; applying the same rules in America where movies are not restricted would set a dangerous precedent.

67% of U.S. households play video games. In 2010 the average gamer plays 8 hours per week.

Mervyn Robinson | Rut3g3r | ProfileTwitter | I’m a firm believer in controlling access to explicit material, whether it be violent or sexual content, in games or films. As an adult, I should be able to watch what ever I want, but I don’t want my son to see such things till I think he’s ready. Games Ratings don’t seem to do anything to control the sale of inappropriate material – I work with young people and I’m often depressed, but not surprised, by the games and films they talk about. This is partly due to poor implementation by stores, but mainly due to parents’ belief that games are just ‘for kids’.

Jeff Schenning | JeffS49 | Profile | While I haven’t really paid attention to them since I was a young’un (back when any material with an age restriction was a source of titillation), I think it’s a necessity to have game ratings in some form.  Games being banned is a different story, and is an example of the “violent video games —> actual real life violence” stigma that still lingers around the medium.  Games are like any other form of media – as long as the parent gives it proper context, it’s harmless fun.  Which is what ratings are about in the first place: giving parents the information they need to make an informed decision about what they let their kids watch or play.  The responsibility is on them at the end of the day, and it’s sad to see so many pointing accusatory fingers at an entire industry.

Jordan Silverthorne | Silverthorne | Profile | For someone like me, game ratings are completely pointless. Most adults who play games have at least some idea of what they’re getting into when they pick up a new title. Think about it; when was the last time you bought a game and thought “I have no idea what this is about. I hope it’s appropriate for me.” Chances are that if you come to websites like this on a regular basis, then you know full well what you’re paying for.

2009 video game sales topped $10.5 Billion. Nearly half (48%) was rated E for Everyone.

HOWEVER, not everyone who buys a videogame is a well-informed consumer. If I had a dime for every time an ignorant parent bought their nine-year-old a copy of Grand Theft Auto, I would be a very rich man. Game ratings exist because non-gamer adults need to know what they’re buying for their kids. There are plenty of M rated games out there with non-descript titles and box art. Take Heavy Rain for example; how many people would be able to tell that the game features nudity, intense violence, strong language, and drug use just from looking at the box? The ESRB makes it simple to explore the full extent of a game’s content at a glance.

Thankfully, retailers have taken steps in recent years to inform the public about ESRB ratings; none of the major retailers will sell an AO rated game, and most restrict sales of Mature games to those who are age 17 or older. Gamestop has actually taken one of the most drastic steps; they inform parents of a game’s full content rating at the checkout counter… even though it may cost them a sale. Ratings may not mean too much to you or me, but for millions of parents out there, they’re a lifesaver.

Patrick Talbert | AzraelPC | ProfileTwitter | I don’t really pay attention to game ratings because I don’t really have to right now.  I don’t believe that they hurt sales unless they are rated AO, in which case the developer will take out what’s needed to get it to an M.

Banning games in countries is atrocious. If every country had a ‘freedom of speech’ law, it would be akin to taking that away.

MY FINAL STIR

93% of the time parents are present at the time of purchase or rental of video games.

Chris Forbis | MensaDad| ProfileTwitter | I very rarely pay attention to game ratings because I usually inform myself about titles before buying them.  With a house full of gamers including adults, teens and a toddler, we play games all across the rating spectrum.  While I would not play survival horror games like Saw around my 4 year old, he does enjoy riding around on the horses in Red Dead Redemption.  The ratings are great for the uninformed consumer but enforcement of these ratings with penalties to retailers is a slippery slope that we should not attempt traversing.  Quite frankly, if your nine year old is wandering the mall with $60 to spend with no adult supervision, an M rated game is certainly not the worst thing they could do with their money.

The rules for Stir are simple.  I pick a topic and ask the Platform Nation writers, editors and staff to send me their opinions.  Thanks go out to all the Platform Nation writers who contributed to Stir this week.  They are all part of the best writing team in the industry and I couldn’t do this without them.

Now, drop down into the comment box below and let us know what YOU think about GAME RATINGS.

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