Here’s a scenario: you are at the multiplex with your family and your 13 year old wants to see an “R” rated movie because “All the kids in my class have seen it and are talking about it. I’ll be left out if I don’t see it!” Do you buy your child a ticket and let them see it without you there to see it with them? Probably not.
Now take this scenario and substitute any of the “Call of Duty” or ‘Grand Theft Auto” video games. Both of these video games are rated “M” for 17+ players yet many parents, grandparents, well meaning friends, etc. buy these games for 13-16 year olds and then are surprised at the content of the games.
So today I am going to give you a lesson in the ratings for these games so that you can make an informed choice for your child as well as suggest ways to say “no” to your child and suggest alternatives to “M” rated games your child may ask you for.
The ESRB Ratings and You
The Entertainment Software Ratings Board is a not for profit, self-regulatory body that assigns ratings for video games and apps so that you can make informed choices on what to purchase for your child (http://www.esrb.org/ratings/faq.jsp#1). It is not a governmental entity but a voluntary entity formed by the video game industry. You can read more about them here: http://www.esrb.org/index-js.jsp.
With that said, let’s go on to the ratings and what they represent.
This is directly from the ESRB site:
Content is intended for young children.
Content is generally suitable for all ages. May contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language.
Content is generally suitable for ages 10 and up. May contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language and/or minimal suggestive themes.
Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
Content suitable only for adults ages 18 and up. May include prolonged scenes of intense violence, graphic sexual content and/or gambling with real currency.
Not yet assigned a final ESRB rating. Appears only in advertising, marketing and promotional materials related to a game that is expected to carry an ESRB rating, and should be replaced by a game’s rating once it has been assigned.
These ratings are on every game that is published and they are there for your benefit. If you need or want more information on a particular game you may want to consider getting a subscription to a gaming magazine such as Game Informer, Play Gamer, Video Gamer, Game Pro, etc. There are also magazines that are specifically for gaming systems such as Xbox, Xbox 360, Playstation, etc. If you don’t wish to purchase or can’t find any gaming magazines there are websites that review video games such as: http://www.ign.com/, http://www.gameinformer.com/, and http://www.gamesradar.com to name a few.
Now that you have read some magazines or checked the online reviews and familiarized yourself with the ESRB ratings you are ready to decide if the game your child wants is one you want to buy for them. Remember, you are the expert when it comes to your child. If after reading about the game and looking at the rating for it you decide your child can handle a game with a lot of violence or sex, then by all means do what you as the parent feels is appropriate for your child. However, if after reading up on the game your child wants, you feel they are not mature enough to handle the game they want, you need to not only be able to say “no” but offer alternatives.
Explain to your child why you feel the game is inappropriate, but let them know that you are willing to look at alternatives that are appropriate. An open dialogue with your child will go a longer way than “No, because I said so.” Ask your child what it is about the game they find entertaining. If it is the story, look for appropriate games with a strong story. Work with your child to find an appealing yet appropriate alternative. There are games that are rated “T” for teens that are appropriate for ages 13 on up. Consider playing the game your child wants with them so you can discuss the game play with them. It may open up an interesting dialogue and be an opportunity to impress upon your child how you see the world and what is or is not moral in your point of view. This could be an excellent teaching and learning experience for you and your child to share.
You now have the tools to make an informed decision about the video games your child may ask for. You should now be able discuss the game and any objections to it with knowledge about the game and what your objections are to it and you are now able to offer alternatives and have an open dialogue with your child about the game and video games in general.
Good luck and happy gaming!