Extra Scenario: Rated M for Mature

The ESRB and its worldwide equivalents, in theory, are a great idea.  A set of easily identifiable ratings that help parents, guardians, and whoever else happens to buy games for kids know before they even pick a game off of a shelf the kind of content that they’re about to purchase.  It also helps the industry deflect a lot of criticism by saying “Hey, there’s a ratings system in place for a reason,” when some overzealous parents cry that gaming is making people violent.

I went to my local EB Games (Gamestop) a few days ago to trade in The Last of Us for GTAV (yeah yeah, welcome to last month, I know).  I happened to go in that particular day because I had the day off – I wasn’t planning on running into any crowds, let alone the one I did.  See, it was the release day of Annual Shooter Release Kind of Insultingly Close to Remembrance Day/Veterans Day* so the store was full of people who were ready to get their mediocre shooter fix.

**Editor’s Note – Remembrance Day/Veterans Day, or whatever your local holiday celebrated on the November 11th honours sacrifices made by brave men and women in uniform.  I always thought it was a little insulting if not incredibly insensitive to release a game that glorifies war and all of its atrocities.  Personal opinion, yours may differ.

No…no, it was full of kids looking to clog the online multiplayer with vitriol and their parents looking to appease their offspring for another few weeks until Christmas.

I normally couldn’t care less, but I happened to direct my attention towards a dad that had just come from the gym in the same complex, who looked like he’d been dragged there by his young son.  The boy was really well-behaved and waiting quietly in line, but that dad looked like he couldn’t have given two shits about clunking down the credit card for a pre-order copy.  And that kid couldn’t have been more than eight.  The teller even told the kid, within earshot of the dad that due to the graphic nature of the game, he couldn’t sell it to the kid, but to his dad.  I wondered if the dad even heard.  There was a mother with her kid right behind me in line, this one gawking at all the Annual Shooter gear high on the walls, and there were about six more behind her.

I’d never been at this EB Games before and I like to get to know the staff behind the counter in some hope of getting some preferential treatment in the future, so I won’t be annoyed by them when I come back.  So when I put my copy of GTAV on the counter, I engaged in a little bit of small talk with the clerk.  He told me all the cool things I could expect with the game, including the fact that it had some of the most brutal content in any GTA game he’d ever seen.  He then proceeded to tell me that he’d sold it to “so many six year olds…”

Although it shouldn’t have, in the fraction of a second that he took to finish his sentence, my heart kind of sank for a minute.  So many six year olds?  So many kids who clearly the game wasn’t designed for?  What the hell, man?!  The ratings system is there for a reason!  You have an obligation to play your part in ensuring that kids don’t get games that aren’t designed for them!  Don’t even fucking talk to me anymore!

For the kids

Censorship is a really hot-button topic, with wildly varying opinions on it. Some people opt to do away with censorship all together and others calling for more strict censorship policies.  I happen to fall somewhere in the middle – we can’t just let people whose minds haven’t fully matured yet look at and experience just anything – but there are exceptions.  Maybe they’re a kid that’s shown remarkable maturity for their age?  A kid who can handle all the twisted shit our adult minds can throw at them?  However it would be irresponsible to think that all kids are like that.  Or that all of their parents give a damn about what kind of media they consume.  Likewise, not all censorship is like that.

Why are some things censored and not others?  Fun example, staying within the same (even if it’s a different) medium – listen to an FM radio station (if you can) play Rod Stewart’s Hot Legs, a staple of oldies radio stations and Ted Nugent’s Cat Scratch Fever.  They censor out the word “pussy” on only one of them. but they both refer to the same thing, neither one of which is a cat, yet the Nuge is censored. When I worked in a grocery story, Lady Gaga’s Paparazzi censored out “cigarettes,” and Sheryl Crow’s Soak up the Sun censored out lyrics about communism and having a shitty job.  Yes, I am telling the truth; someone thought that those things were too offensive to play in a retail environment and went through the effort to make sure that we couldn’t hear them. Yet Mommy and Daddy will routinely go out and buy M-rated games for their kids.

Gotta schedule Timmy an optometrist appointment”

How much money and time is put into the system to ensure that a game gets a proper rating?  How much money is spent on this when parents like Dad of the Year will just whatever their way through the entire process?  Why do we even do this?  Why do we have entire countries that ban games due to their graphic content when the ratings system can be so easily undone?

I write this article on the heels of more senseless shooting deaths in the US.  The violence, while I’m sure only a fraction of what the rest of the world sees, is always tragic.  It’s a sad day when people lose their lives and my sincere condolences to anyone who has ever been affected by an act of violence either personally or has a friend or relative who has.

As gamers, we know that the blame is going to somehow circle back to violent video games.  In some little corner of the country (or continent, or wherever), someone is saying ‘well it’s all those violent vidiyagames.’  Forget the fact that there have always been people who are more interested in hurting people than helping them.  Forget the fact that there are different ideologies.  Forget the fact that it’s easier to get a gun than it is mental health care, the fact that there are millions of people out there who will pick up a video game and never, ever hurt anyone.  Somewhere, someone is going to try to pin another death on a violent video game and give us all another undeserved black eye while failing to really sit down and place that blame where it belongs. Or when a kid starts acting out what he sees in a video game, or starts swearing because the guys in the game he’s playing can’t go a few sentences without cursing up a storm.

You might be thinking that your parents let you play whatever you want and couldn’t have given a damn what you were consuming and you turned out just fine.  I’m willing to bet that if you started exhibiting psychotic behaviour due to video games, your parents would have gotten you the help you deserved, or at least monitored your gaming habits a little closer.

The ratings system is there for a reason – and if parents can’t be bothered to read and understand it well then they’re failures as parents.  If you can’t read that your kid’s cereal has peanuts in it and they have a peanut allergy, then you suck as a parent because clearly that cereal is not for your kid.

Oh, the rest of the teller’s sentence before I mentally flew off the handle?  He said “with their parents, of course.”

Of course.  It was almost as if he had to justify his selling practices to me.  He didn’t. Working in retail, I can guess what would have happened if he’d said he couldn’t sell the game to Mom or Dad for their kid.

No, it was an admission of defeat.  An acknowledgement that the ESRB rating system is a great idea.  In theory.

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