In order to appeal to the wider audience games have adopted a broader range of themes. Now games range in tone as vastly as all other forms of entertainment. Gaming has it’s ‘High School Musical’s and ‘Saw’s. With adult content now in the mix the need for age classifications has become an even greater necessity. Where parents were once able to by games with impunity for their children now they need guidance to ensure that a game’s content is appropriate.
In most are countries classifications are handled by game industry groups. This self regulation has been embraced by retailers and has negated the need of external regulation. The UK release of Mortal Kombat in 1992 gave the regulating group ELSPA its first high profile challenge. MK’s digitized characters drew a lot of attention for their realism. This made the brutality of the game all the more disturbing to parents and sensationalist media. ELSPA’s rating of the game demonstrated to the public that while content may now be unfitting to what was considered a traditional gaming audience; the industry was regulating its content responsibly.
The attention that MK attracted has been repeated numerous times since. Big M rated releases frequently garner negative media attention. Cynics may attribute this to the fact such games are high profile. To concerned parents however these are the games that they want scrutinised. These are the games their children want. Ideally the government and press would provide answers to these parents fears. Instead they give knee jerk reaction to fragments of games. They lose the context, making single elements seem gratuitous.
Parents are besieged by offspring desperate to play the latest game. They need help. Games require a huge time investment and fluency in the interface to fully appreciate so groups like the American ESRB do their best to express the appropriateness of contents using descriptors. Unfortunately there remains the issue of context. Take a descriptor such as ‘sexual content’. Is it with in a relationship, is it relevant to the plot or is it merely for titillation? It makes a huge difference to a parent when deciding is appropriate for their child. Sites such as ‘What They Play’” realise this and try to provide context.
But the parents have to want this help. The worry is always that too many parents don’t care. A recent UK study demonstrated that these concerns are well founded (in some regions). Unaware, or uncaring, parents do not make use of the tools the industry provide, yet continue to be outraged by media reports.
One of the most powerful weapons available to a parent is to forbid access. This is different from pretending kids won’t ever find a way to play a game, but it demonstrates that it is not approved of. Most families just don’t have time to sit together and explain that picking up a hooker, making use of her ‘services’ and then running here over to get your money back is not acceptable behavior. So the act of ‘banning’ a game maybe the best way to demonstrate that some actions portrayed are not condoned.
But all children are different. Their maturity varies and so too do the values of their parents. The recourses exist for ‘good’ concerned parents to judge the appropriateness of a game. Those who make this effort to learn about what their kids want to play are now sufficiently equipped to decide if a game supports the values they want to nurture. But how many people will go to this effort when they can simply, mindlessly, pick an extreme?