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Video games pass the test

By Paul O'Reilly

In a report to Congress published on August 31st, the Federal Communications Commission ("FCC") went out of its way to praise the current video games ratings system, which is administered by the Entertainment Software Rating Board ("ESRB").

The primary goal of the Report, which was commissioned as part of the Child Safe Viewing Act of 2007, was to assess the current state of the marketplace with regard to the existence and availability of parental controls and other technologies that could help safeguard children as they are exposed to more and more electronic media.

Despite the fact that video game players and video games themselves were not specifically indentified in the Act, the FCC sought comment on whether they should also fall under the scope of its review. It appears that the majority of respondents felt that video games should not be reviewed and that the video game industry – via the ESRB – already "provides one of the most robust voluntary rating systems available".

Quoting the Progress and Freedom Foundation, the Report says the ESRB ratings are "in many ways the most sophisticated, descriptive, and effective ratings system devised by any major media sector in America." The report also noted that virtually all games sold at retail in the U.S. are classified according to both an age-based ratings system and more than 30 content descriptors.

The Report mentions that game ratings are highly recognized and useful to parents (58 percent find them helpful, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation Study), and the FCC noted that the percentage of kids buying M-rated games dropped dramatically, from 42 percent in 2006 to 20 percent in 2008.

The parental control functions of the most popular gaming platforms, the Xbox 360, Nintendo's Wii, Sony's PlayStation 3 and the Windows Vista operating system, also came in for praise, allowing parents to control or track the amount of time spent playing games and restrict online access.

However, the Report identifies one loophole in the video games ratings system, which is the limited protection they provide when it comes to user downloads and content created online. However, to be fair to the ESRB, the report acknowledges that issues with online modifications and interactions are not unique to the world of video games. Furthermore, ESRB-rated games generally contain warnings notifying parents that such interactions are not covered by their usual ratings.

All-in-all, the Report takes a favorable view of the attempts by the video game industry to self-regulate and will bring a sigh of relief from many who thought that video games could be lumped into some universal ratings system covering all new media. Who would have thought that video games, for so many years the poster child for all that was wrong with digital technology, would suddenly be voted best-in-class!

Comment by RobynsOnlineWorld, posted 9/18/2009, 12:38 AM:

I totally agree that there is a problem with the downloads of mods and saved games, etc. with video games. This is something we look into before we approve the main game even and something we have to keep an eye on after he has the games as well.
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