Parents, Ratings, and Lack of Common Sense: The Real Trouble With Violent Video Games

Due to recent tragedies such as those in Aurora and Sandy Hook, national attention has been turned on gun violence and everything that can be done to curb it and prevent such occurrences from ever happening again.

And ever the scapegoat to the media’s blame of violence, video games have been factored into the debate in a big way, even so much as  to be included in the President’s speech today about his proposed gun control policies.

Since then, many things have been said about games and what they do to the minds of children when they depict realistic acts of violence in a semi-glorified manner. Of course, multiple studies about this very subject have been conducted over the years, with a majority of them concluding that there is no solid link between video games and real-world violence.

But there’s one fundamental problem with that very topic of discussion that is all too often omitted from the conversation: Violent games aren’t made for kids. And it’s time that parents learned that.

This is a young industry, and one of many sectors of entertainment that has been hauled in and blamed for corrupting the minds of the young people over the last few decades. Comics, movies, and music have all been the bane of pearl-clutching mothers looking for a scapegoat long before the likes of Pong ever found its way on a television set and eventually morphed into games like Doom or Call of Duty.

And just the same as then, the argument carries over to now: it’s not the responsibility of the entertainment industry to curb creativity in an effort to be more sensitive and careful about the material presented in a work such as a game or film. It’s a parent’s job to be the filter of what their kid takes in as entertainment.

I hate politics. I really, really do. I rarely discuss them with other people, and I don’t like to sound off on my views about a certain topic outside of the voting booth.

But being where I am in the industry, this is something I simply can’t sit back and ignore. And call me crazy, but I can’t help but notice a severe lack of responsibility and common sense on the parent’s part of the violent video game debate.

The White House itself came out today and said that “The entertainment and video game industries have a responsibility to give parents tools and choices about the movies and programs their children watch and the games their children play.”

Sure. I can’t argue with that. But for all the responsibility the entertainment industry has, parents are just as equally yoked.

We’ve done our part, and thanks to the ESRB, we now have an effective and concise rating system that gives you not only a recommended age for each game, but also lists the objectionable content within a game all in a nice, clean marker at the bottom corner of the box. All you have to do is look at it, flip it over, read what’s in it, and gauge whether or not this is something you think your kid should be playing. If it says “17+,” you should probably take that as a sign that it’s not a game intended for little Timmy in the fourth grade.

But anyone who’s ever played a game like Halo or Call of Duty online can attest to the fact that it’s one of the most annoying environments to be in thanks to the gratuitous amounts of children found on any multiplayer map at any time. These games are clearly marked as being recommended for older, more mature audiences; yet here we have children playing them on a regular basis.

And being that this is a relatively young medium, we’re still struggling to be seen as a more diverse and mature form of entertainment rather than the playthings games were back in the 80’s. The problem is, people still think of video games as a past time for children. Their kid asks for a game, and they imagine something like Mario. But do they really know what they’re purchasing when they give their kid a copy of Manhunt for Christmas?

We don’t need to overhaul the ratings system. We don’t need to put red warning stickers on game boxes to tell people this isn’t a game for kids. And we certainly don’t need to bring in some sort of ridiculous censorship to keep kids from seeing objectionable content.

Instead, we need to focus on educating the public about what games are, and what they can do. We need to explain that games have ratings for a reason, and that it’s up to parents to use their discretion as to whether or not they want their seven-year-old son or daughter playing a game using guns or other weapons in order to carry out acts of violence.

Common sense, folks. That’s really all I’m asking for.