Video Game Ratings: More Harm Than Good?
Designed to shelter kids from violent games, the current ratings system might just have the reverse effect.
Video Game Ratings
August 06, 2008 by Richard M. Sherwin

Are the video game ratings strong enough, effective enough? With kids of all ages and their parents depending on the industry to police itself, is there anything we can do or should do? Here are two opposing viewpoints.

A Necessary Label
(By Lee Danuff, an 18-year veteran of the CE and video game industry, both as a senior editor for Newsweek, Japan and several other news and technology venues.)
A few weeks ago, six Long Island youths—one as young as 14 years old—were accused of accosting and mugging at least three people with a baseball bat, crow bar and a broomstick. When asked why the teens committed their heinous crimes, they claimed to be imitating, “Grand Theft Auto,” a video game where players routinely mug, carjack and even murder other characters. While this was a horrible incident, I don’t think the total onus is on the manufacturer. Video games wouldn’t be as much of a dangerous influence if parents were actually investigating what their kids were watching. “Grand Theft Auto,” for example is rated “Mature” by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). This means that the title is clearly not meant for kids under 17 years old. Doing the research for the appropriate video game for your children isn’t a panacea to end all violent crimes committed by children. However, parents do need to take control of what their children watch and be influenced by. The ratings system, which ranges from Early Childhood (appropriate for 3 and older) to Adults Only (appropriate for over 18 years old), may help parents make the right decision when buying a video game for their child. You never know…you might even end up making the real world a bit of a safer place.

Don’t Bother
(By Richard Sherwin, a former syndicated technology columnist and TV/Radio analyst.)
While I share Ms. Danuff’s abhorrence of the actions by some kids mimicking a video game, I wonder if ratings themselves are just a cheap gimmick to protect the software publishers from frivolous lawsuits. And despite possibly good intentions forced by political action groups, do they help attract a number of teenagers and others to the restricted content?

I grew up watching the “Three Stooges” punch and kick and bite each other or their adversaries in funny 15 minute bits… or the Lone Ranger, supposedly defending the West by knocking off a bunch of Indians. …which itself would be ruled politically incorrect. And there was Frankenstein, the Wolf Man and those b-movies releases full of violence for violence sake, which may have influenced one in a million crazy people to terrible behavior. But if there were movie ratings then, I am sure that those ratings (when our parents were not watching) would have spurred us on more to watch the banned content. We would have probably protected our little bothers and sisters from the violence and mayhem, which I hope is the case today, too, but even the goody-two shoes on the block, would have enjoyed the slightly illegal, yet mostly right of passage way of experiencing some slightly icchy content.

I don’t condone letting under-age children play or even watch “Grand Theft Auto” or any of the other inappropriate web or console based games, but I do see the similarity of the generational prohibitions….realistically only separated by four decades and the latest technology. Let us all be vigilant, but let us all learn that the past will be replicated no matter what the politicians or even ourselves do about ratings.

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Richard M. Sherwin - Contributing Writer
Richard Sherwin is a former syndicated technology columnist and TV/Radio analyst, who has also been a marketing executive with IBM, Philips, NBC and a chief advisor to several manufacturers and service providers.

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