A videogame age rating is supposed to indicate the chronological age that could be considered to have sufficient mental and emotional abilities to deal with exposure to content within the game being rated. According to the article I just read on Polygon, the three main concerns of any videogame rating board are religion, violence and sexual content. The part that I found most interesting was how each of the countries discussed prioritised these three criteria. According to the article:
Sexual content topped North America's ESRB list, followed by language. Violence was listed as third most important, then drug and alcohol use and finally gambling.
Religion topped the list for the Middle East's UAE and KSA, followed by sexual content with violence once more in third. Gambling was next, then language and finally drug and alcohol use.
Both Germany's USK and South Korea's GRB listed violence as their top priority for ratings. Violence is so important to Germany's rating's board that panelists said violence takes the top four slots, with everything else bunched together in a distant fifth place. South Korea listed gambling second, followed by language, sexual content, drug and alcohol use, crime and finally horror.
These are interesting observations about cultural values. I find it interesting that both the USA and the Middle East consider sexual content more offensive than violence (and the fact that North America finds strong language more of an issue than violent content amused me quite a bit). Europe has a bit of a reputation as having a more laissez-faire attitude towards sex and nudity and they find that a very low priority when assigning an age rating.
I’m not turning this into one of those articles where we all end up laughing at one particular country because we find their ways to be quite silly. What struck me most about all of this information is that I’m not sure how the individual would decide to either accept or discard a particular game based on a rating dictated by the general cultural values of an entire nation. Hear me out:
Obviously it’s good to have some sort of an idea of whether the game you are buying for your 8 year old child is age appropriate. I also think that if those warnings weren’t there, there would be many lawsuits from parents who bought their child Grand Theft Auto and then were surprised to find that the game contained *shock* *horror* criminal themes. That’s why we have written warnings on things like bleach that say “Do not drink”, because apparently, some people really are that stupid.
What I get annoyed with is when people start to publicly decry and vilify a particular thing when they actually have no idea what it’s actually about. For example, there was an enormous controversy over the film The Golden Compass when it was released in 2007 as spans of Christians had a freak out and told people not to watch or read the books behind it because it was a story about “two kids that kill God.” My point is that, yes technically the book does end like that, but the God that the children kill is a false one, which actually sort of goes along the lines of Christian belief anyway. This raises two main issues for me:
Firstly, I wonder how many of those who were so angered had actually read the book.
Secondly, those that had, had clearly taken what they wanted to see in the ending as dictated by their personal beliefs.
Basically, what things like this say to me is that if parents are worried by the themes a videogame may expose their child to; they should investigate what it’s actually about because you can’t trust what other people say. You can’t blame the game developers or the game itself when your child turns out to be too underdeveloped emotionally to play Hello Kitty Island Adventure and then has to go for many hours of therapy because you are the one who is directly involved. If you want to complain about something, you have to know what it is you are complaining about.
In my opinion, as a parent, it is your ultimate responsibility to decide whether your child is capable of handling a certain situation; and you can only make this decision by exposing yourself to the same things as he or she. Let him or her be exposed to things and then talk to your kid if he finds something distressing. But above all, don’t censor him will-nilly: you’re not doing him any favours by destroying his ability to reason and learn.
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