If violence isn’t the issue, then what is?
Last week, Kotaku posted a video showing a little 11-year-old crying because his mother bought him Grand Theft Auto V early. Apparently, some game store in France broke the street date and began selling copies of the highly-anticipated game ahead of its September 17 release. The comments section on the Kotaku article immediately exploded, prompting debate not over the issue of GTA street dates being broken yet again, but over whether the mother should have purchased an M-rated game for her child.
A bit of background for those unfamiliar with the ESRB, or America’s rating system for video games. M-rated games can only be purchased by those who are 17 years old or older. Otherwise, stores are supposed to refuse the customer the purchase, much like how you can’t buy alcohol unless you’re 21 here. Of course, like alcohol, once a parent purchases an M-rated game, you can do whatever you want with it – like giving it to your 11-year-old kid, for instance.
So should parents be giving their kids M-rated games like Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty? Of course, the parents have every right to, but is it ethical? Yes, and no. The rating system exists solely for informational purposes; it isn’t some sort of law or rule that everyone must follow. So if you, as a parent, feel like your child is mature enough to consume such forms of media, then go for it. Let your child have a hand at Mass Effect. But the sad truth is, you’re in the minority.
Indeed, it seems that most parents don’t even bother looking at the ratings label of the game. To those who do, I applaud you. But games like Grand Theft Auto and (especially) Call of Duty seem to market their games not at those older than 17, but for a much younger audience, an audience not dissimilar to the boy shown in the video. Why do they do this? Because it’s these pre-pubescent kids that consume such games so readily, kids whose parents don’t know any better.
So why not let your kids play M-rated games? Are we not the same people who claim that video games do not cause violence? It does seem quite hypocritical of use, doesn’t it, that we criticize kids who play violent video games yet claim that violent video games won’t harm the child? But I do think we need to separate these two topics because they aren’t necessarily related. Like pornography, it’s more of an issue of exposure (no pun intended).
I know the analogy to porn may seem strange, but let me explain. Kids can be frightened and/or feel uncomfortable around violence just as they are around pornography. Obviously, if your child isn’t prepared to be exposed to such things, you shouldn’t give it them. It’s not because violent video games cause real-world violence just as it isn’t because pornography leads to an automatic “let’s have sex with everyone” mentality. The fact of the matter is, some kids aren’t prepared and/or don’t want to see such content. Heck, some adults don’t even want to see hyper-violence.
Again, this wouldn’t be an issue if parents actually take the time to read video game rating labels. Like I said earlier, if you think your child is mature enough to be exposed to and understand things such as violence and sexuality, then by all means buy your child M-rated games. But most parents don’t read labels, and if it turns out that their children aren’t ready for M-rated content, then we have a problem.
To be clear, every M-rated game is different. You can have a game like Mass Effect that looks and feels relatively harmless to children. But you can also have a game like Ninja Gaiden 3 where you’re able to chop the limbs off of people. All things considered, it comes down to the parent. The parent decides what is best for their children. A good, well-educated parents looks at a child, determines what the kid is ready to be exposed to, looks at the game, decides if the game fits those standards, and then buys the game. The average parent just buys the game. That’s the problem.
So the moral of the story is this: if you’re a parent and you want to buy a video game for you kid, think before you buy. It should be obvious, but clearly it isn’t obvious enough.
What are your thoughts? Should kids be playing rated-M games? Where do you draw the line of maturity? Sound off in the comments below!