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Game Ratings Are More Important Than Others to Parents

18 Feb, 2004 By: Stephanie Prange

The recent study by Harvard researchers showing that game ratings aren't as indicative of actual game content as they might be is likely a big worry to parents.

Many parents have had the experience of shielding a child's eyes as something particulary gory or disturbing crossed the television screen. I find the local news can provide some of the most upsetting content. Sept. 11 will forever be etched in my daughter's mind. She wandered into the room as my husband and I were watching the coverage of the burning towers — from which we had until that moment carefully protected her — and somewhat profoundly asked, “When are they going to put that fire out, Mommy?”

Despite that unwitting exposure, broadcast television is the least of my worries. It is fairly easy to protect children from television and movie content that might disturb or distort their perception.

Video games, on the other hand, are another thing. With many levels and hours of play involved, most parents don't have the time (or indeed the skill) to peruse the content to which their kids might be subjected.

As evidenced by the Harvard study, several inappropriate things get past the Entertainment Software Rating Board. In reviewing 81 games, the researchers found 48 percent did not correctly identify that the game contained potentially inappropriate content.

“We identified 51 observations of content that could warrant a content descriptor [i.e. sexual content or violence] in 39 games in which the ESRB had not assigned a content descriptor,” researchers Kevin Haninger and Kimberly Thompson wrote in the Feb. 18 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The researchers reviewed labels on 396 ‘T'(Teen)-rated games (acceptable for youngsters 13 years and older) available by April 2001, then played a random sample of 81 games for an hour each. The observation of the researchers matched the ESRB content description for violence in 95 percent of the games, for blood in 27 percent, for sexual themes in 20 percent, for profanity in 17 percent and for substances (i.e. drugs) in 1 percent.

All of this is very disturbing if you are a parent. Whereas I feel pretty confident I can monitor the content of the movies and TV shows my children watch, I don't have a clue what the third level of some game might contain.

I count on ratings to tell me.

This, it seems to me, would be a great opportunity for retailers to provide a little customer service. Perhaps clerks might play the games themselves or do a little research and let parents know when content might not match the rating exactly. It would make me a loyal customer.

I'm not advocating the idea that retailers be responsible for my children. That is the parents' job. But, no doubt, parents would appreciate another guide in game content. A knowledgeable clerk can mean all the difference to parents when making such a purchase.

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