How much should our government control the video game industry? This has been a question almost since the first video game hit the shelves.
One of the first video games that generated reviews from the National Safety Council and numerous protests was the 1976 arcade game, “Death Race.” The gamer controlled a car used to run over gremlins that made their way into the vehicle’s path.
Since then, as video game graphics have improved, so have the protests.
When games such as “Mortal Kombat” and “Doom” reached the market, senators Joe Lieberman and Herb Kohl led the 1992-93 hearings regarding video game violence. The government gave its ultimatum: either make your own rating system, or we’ll make one for you.
After several different rating systems were suggested, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) became the the standard in September 1994.
ESRB’s current ratings include Early Childhood (eC), Everyone (E), Everyone 10+ (E10+), Teen (T), Mature (M) and Adult Only (AO).
Because even the Mature rating is so vague, the ESRB not only places the rating on the video game box, but also provides content descriptors, such as “Strong Language,” “Nudity,” “Intense Violence” and several others that give a clearer reason for the rating.
In October 2005 California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law fining $1,000 to anyone who sold or rented violent video games to minors, with “violent” defined as the player offensively “killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image of a human being.”
The law was struck down in courts on First Amendment grounds, but it is set to be reviewed by the Supreme Court in early 2011 after an appeal from the State of California.
While a forced voluntary rating system isn’t exactly voluntary, we still don’t think the government should take a more active role in enforcing regulation of video game sales. To prevent further regulations, sellers should be more concerned with the ages of their customers. Mature games are suggested only for ages 17 and up, and sellers should respect that suggestion just as they would R-rated movie ticket sales.
Parents should also take a more active role in monitoring what material their children are exposed to. Between the rating and the descriptor, parents should be able to decide if a particular video game is appropriate for their child. If they’re still not sure, they can review the game online or play it themselves.
Video games are not all “Mario” and “Sonic” – the Teen, Mature and Adult Only ratings are placed on the box for a reason. Individuals should be aware of that fact, so the government doesn’t have to be.