Computer games can be a great source of education, entertainment, and a good tool for keeping your mind sharp. But like all forms of media, there are some games that can be a concern for parents. Just as we consider some movies too violent, or some songs too crude, video games can cross a line and become potentially harmful.
Games like Postal 2 and Grand Theft Auto are strictly adult fare. They contain images of violence that go way beyond what many consider appropriate for people to experience. Some argue that Scarface, or any number of Arnold Schwarzenegger movies are equally violent. The difference to some is that in a movie you don’t commit the act yourself, as you may do in a game.
Still, most adults have a well-developed sense of right and wrong, and can separate real from imagined. Many adults enjoy the chance that video games offer to be the bad guy for a while, and release some pent-up angst while not actually hurting anyone.
Unfortunately, some groups have called for bans on these sorts of games, citing increased potential for acting out of the violence. These are the same types of people who would also ban books, art, and music. Banning or limiting any form of media because of one group’s objection does no service to anyone, ever. If you don’t appreciate the content, just don’t play it.
Kids, on the other hand, are less likely to be able to make these same decisions. They may become disturbed by the images, or become desensitized to them. This leads many parents to limit exposure to games that might feature content that would be considered inappropriate. Many parents would rather just not buy the game for fear that there might be unsavory content in the game.
What parents need is help making the right choice. As a result of this need we have the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB).
The ESRB was established in 1994 to rate games for parents to make educated choices when buying a game for their child. The ESRB rates games according to similar standards as the movie industry. Violence, nudity, language, drug use, and sex are all considered when rating a game.
The ratings according to the ESRB are as follows:
- eC: Titles rated eC (Early Childhood) have content that may be suitable for ages 3 and older. Contains no material that parents would find inappropriate.
- E: Titles rated E (Everyone) have content that may be suitable for ages 6 and older. Titles in this category may contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language
- E10+: Titles rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) have content that may be suitable for ages 10 and older. Titles in this category may contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language and/or minimal suggestive themes.
- T: Titles rated T (Teen) have content that may be suitable for ages 13 and older. Titles in this category may contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling, and/or infrequent use of strong language.
- M: Titles rated M (Mature) have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
- AO: Titles rated AO (Adults Only) have content that should only be played by persons 18 years and older. Titles in this category may include prolonged scenes of intense violence and/or graphic sexual content and nudity.
- RP: Titles listed as RP (Rating Pending) have been submitted to the ESRB and are awaiting final rating. (This symbol appears only in advertising prior to a game’s release.)
These ratings only act as a guide to help parents decide what games they should buy. Some eight-year-old kids might be fine playing a game that’s rated ‘T’ for Teen, if there is no more violence than you’d seen on an average Saturday morning cartoon.
At the end of the day, it’s the discretion of the parent to know what their child can play.