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Video games – look beyond the ratings!

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 was released last Tuesday and is already being lauded as the game of the year. With stellar reviews and a marketing budget approaching $30 million, Activision is expected to sell eight million copies in the first week and as many as 12 million before the end of the year.

There's only one problem with this scenario: Modern Warfare 2 is an M-rated game and, by Activision's own admission, thoroughly deserving of that "Mature 17+" classification.

Now I suppose it's theoretically possible that those 12 million copies of Modern Warfare 2 will all be bought and played by adults but, judging from the first-day crowds at GameStop and the chatter on the gaming blogs, that seems like wishful thinking. The reality is that, despite the clear M-rating, a substantial number of those copies will inevitably end up in the hands of under-17 teens and even younger kids.

How is that possible, you might ask? Part of the reason is apathy on the part of some parents. They feel that their kids see a lot worse on TV and at the movies and besides, a video game is exactly what it says it is – a game!

Other parents are just unsure as to which games are appropriate. If you are not a video gamer yourself, then when it comes to selecting games for your kids, it's sometimes hard to distinguish between a Gran Turismo and a Grand Theft Auto. In effect, many kids are in charge of game selection themselves and parents are merely the paymasters, happy to hand over the credit card once they hear that "everyone at school has a copy".

However, it doesn't have to be that way. The rating is just one of three tools that the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) gives parents to review a video game and understand exactly what content is going to be unleashed on their child.

As an example, let's take a look at everything the ESRB has to say about Modern Warfare 2. First, the M-rating goes beyond the single letter "M". The full description of that classification is as follows: "Titles rated M (Mature) have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language."

Next, the ESRB provides content descriptors for the game. These descriptions indicate the elements in a game that may have triggered a particular rating and which may be of interest or concern to kids and their parents. There are currently thirty different descriptors in total and the four applied to Modern Warfare 2 are "Blood, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Language." Both the rating and content descriptors can be found on game packages.

In addition to the on-package information, the ESRB also provides a brief Rating Summary online. If there were still any doubts as to the nature of Modern Warfare 2, the rating summary for the game will make it abundantly clear!

Not all content descriptors and rating summaries will scare parents away. For example, the popular Guitar Hero World Tour video game is rated "T" for Teen. However, the content descriptors of "Lyrics and Mild Suggestive Themes" and the rating summary might persuade you that the game is actually suitable for your 12-year-old.

Thanks to the great work at the ESRB, buying video games is no longer the lottery it once was. By studying the rating, the content descriptors and the rating summaries, you're no longer working in the dark. Instead, you can make an informed decision as to what's right for your child!

Are you using the ESRB rating system and rating summaries? Got a question on a specific video game? Share your video game buying experiences with The Online Mom.


Comment by deepti , posted 11/18/2009, 7:57 AM:

I am glad they are some game rating agencies like Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) which gives parent an opportunity to review kid games.I am sure this will help us to analyze what is good for our kids.I come across some kids interactive website <A HREF="http://children.co.in/">children.co.in</A> which highlights on kids stories.
Comment by Milcah, posted 11/17/2009, 8:33 PM:

I think too that parents need to be aware of what's being bought for teens and tweens these days. I believe such violence desensitizes them to reality.
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