Feature Article


Rated I For Irresponsible

When It Comes To Video Game Content, Are Creators Dishing Out More Than We Bargained For?

By Melissa Minners

            When I was a kid, video games were fairly simple.  Hell, everything was fairly simple.  You became a tiny hockey puck chasing around a maze, eating pellets and running from ghosts.  You shot at blobs that barely resembled the spaceships they were supposed to be, and when you cleared the board, you got to shoot at different colored blobs in the same formation.  You were a frog trying to cross a busy intersection.  Yeah, the graphics were shoddy and the games were sort of repetitive back then.  Folks were worried that we would turn into mindless slugs playing these games back then.  They should see what we have now!

            As technology grew, so did the gaming industry.  Games became more complex with more advanced storylines and graphics that were…well…graphic.  You could be a fighter in the ultimate tournament.  When you beat your opponent, you could, say, rip out his spine…or drop an arcade size video game on his head…or maybe rip out his beating heart.  Eventually, you could be a mercenary, fighting pigs in cop vests, smoking, drinking, and checking out the local strip clubs.  Or, you can become a mob underling, committing car jackings on a regular basis and shooting other thugs to gain mob glory.  The gaming industry began playing up to humankind’s love of violence.  Parents who weren’t hip to the video game scene would go out and by the latest game their children had been pining for, only to discover that the game was worse than an R-rated movie.

            So, the gaming industry came up with a way to rate the games to make it easier for parents to monitor what kinds of games their children play.  “E” ratings are games that are basically playable by all ages.  “T” rated games are for folks 13 years and older and contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, some blood and naughty words.  “M” ratings are earned by games that contain heavy violence, sexual content, and strong language.  These games are for those 17 years old or older.  Games with intense sexual situations and long, intense periods of heavy violence earn AO (Adults Only) ratings, meaning that these games are not for anyone under the age of 18.

            However, despite these ratings, parents are still complaining about games such as Grand Theft Auto.  They complain that these games should not be made available to their children.  Now, it has always been my contention that it is the gaming industry’s job to supply the proper information about the games, which will in turn supply the proper rating for them, so that parents know which ones not to buy for their kids.  The folks that make the games should not be held responsible when Junior’s uncle buys him Grand Theft Auto.  That’s where the parents come in.  They should know what everything about the games their kids are playing.  There are hundreds of resources out there that the parents can use to determine whether or not a particular game is suitable for their child.

            Recently, I have had cause to alter my opinion.  Two games that are scheduled for release in the near future have me seriously concerned.  One such game is Bully from Rockstar Games.  In Bully, you are a troublesome student at Bullworth Academy, a reform school.  A day at Bullworth consists of beating up on other kids, hunting down teachers, and basically going on a violent rampage within the academy.  The other game that has me worried is a True Crime: New York City by Activision.  As Detective Marcus Reed, you travel through the streets of New York, fighting crime your own way.  Apparently, in this game, that means any way you damn well please.  You have the opportunity to play the bad cop, and when I say bad, that ain’t the half of it.  You can pistol-whip suspects, sell evidence on the black market, shoot cabbies and run over jaywalkers.  Both games are scheduled for Mature ratings.

            Here’s the problem.  While I still think that parents have to have the ultimate say on what their kids are playing, don’t the companies that put these games on the market have to have a modicum of responsibility as well?  In light of all of the school violence that has been occurring lately, do we really want kids playing a game that rewards you for beating up on students and teachers?  What kind of idea are we putting into people’s heads about our law enforcement officials? 

            Now before you argue that it’s just a game, think of the way you transform when you play a game.  As an adult, you may have some control over how you react to a video game, but as a child?  Even if the kid doesn’t have the opportunity to play the game, what will happen if they get to watch it being played?  Yeah, there are some dirty cops out there, but think of the poor patrolman just trying to do his job.  For some folks, video gaming takes on a reality that is quite scary.  What if someone who has just played the game and watched cops beat up on perps for the fun of it gets stopped on the street?  What’s going to be running through his mind when the officer steps up to him?  Will what he saw cause him to lash out at the officer? 

            These games are wrong in a way that Grand Theft Auto could never be.  At least in Grand Theft Auto, your character IS a gangster.  You know this.  Folks bemoan the fact that your character can fire on police officers and commit violent acts against innocents.  However, this sort of behavior is not rewarded in the game.  Bully rewards you for the violent acts you commit against fellow students and teachers.  True Crime: New York City rewards you for playing the bad cop.  And quite possibly, it will be the innocent members of the public that may pay the price.

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