ESRB: 10 Years Later (Part 4)

PART 4: Parents of Tomorrow

And this, my friends, is where many of you come in. Listen up, and pay attention.

A lot of active gamers neglect the ESRB for various reasons. Maybe they don’t have kids yet. Maybe they’re over 17 and don’t need the system. Maybe they’re under 17, but have lenient parents, so game ratings don’t apply to them. But they forget one thing – this system isn’t going anywhere.

The ESRB is ten years old. Ten years ago, it was a system that was trying to gain credibility. Currently, it’s the standard-bearer in gaming, and is considered the top ratings system of all the systems by Joe Lieberman. In ten years, it’ll still be here. And in ten years, odds are very good that you’ll need it.

The Average Gamer Is 29 Years Old
Read that one again. Disbelieve it if you must, but it’s the truth. The average gamer is pushing 30. The average gamer punches a time card once at 9 AM and again at 5 PM, then goes home to a family, which consists of a spouse and children. That coveted 18-35 demographic we hear so much about? It applies to gaming, but mostly the upper portion of it.

If you’ve noticed your games getting a little more “mature”, it’s not your imagination. Gaming is now an adult business. Games are made for adults and by adults. Anyone who criticizes the industry for putting out games with more racy content should at least understand that this change was dictated by the gamebuying audience, not the marketing arm of the gaming industry. If children still made up the majority of the gaming audience, we’d be seeing a lot more games geared towards children.

So, why the big fuss? Simply put, the standards of what’s acceptable to a 29-year old isn’t the same as what’s acceptable to a child. That’s an easy one. You wouldn’t sit your 5-year old daughter in front of the TV and show her the finer points of Vice City, would you? Of course not. But there is definitely room for an older gamer who’s seen more to have the lines of decency blurred.

For times like these, the ESRB will come in handy. Parents who double as active gamers may feel the need to occasionally step back and make sure that the games they’re giving their kids to play are appropriate for those children. And those parents who don’t game will rely on the ESRB very heavily for advice on content-related decisions.

Coming Back For More
It’s a statistically proven fact that those who play video games will continue to play video games into the future. Those of you who are gamers now will, more likely than not, be gamers in ten years. The above discussion about perspective and discretion will definitely apply at that time.

Those who were very young when Mortal Kombat came out, and got to play the game anyway, are the ones that need to be most careful. It’s not enough to just assume that a child will come out okay after a potentially hazardous gaming experience – after all, how many of us played GTA for three hours in one sitting, then saw a cop car and had a fleeting thought about stealing it? And odds are good that we were all of appropriate age when this happened. Imagine a child, who doesn’t know right from wrong yet, having a gameplaying experience like this! That one’s on the parent. And it’s the parent’s job to know what’s right for their child.

Now, it’s clear to see why mistakes can happen. A kid can walk in on his dad playing an M-rated game and be very interested in that game. And Dad might think it’s okay for the kid to see what’s happening – after all; it’s just a game, right? That’s when Dad has to realize that he’s got to be careful with his choices. And if he’s not the best decision-maker in this regard, he needs to be able to trust the ESRB’s judgment.

Trusting The System
At age 17, a gamer becomes conditioned to tuning out the ratings on games, if only because the ratings no longer apply at that age. However, at 27, that same gamer had better be looking at that letter rating again. That, or he/she must have some great insights into the mind of his or her child. And while we’d love to think that Mother or Father know best, that’s not always the case.

This is the point of this whole entire piece. If you’re 20 years old right now, you will be a parent when the ESRB turns 20. You need to see how this system works for you – especially if you’re the type to blame the ratings when kids get shot GTA-style. Do you think the ESRB is on the right track? Do you see yourself relying on the ratings in 10 years, or do you think you’ll be able to figure it out for yourself? Do you think that you, as a gamer, will be able to decide what’s right for your child at a very early age? Do you think you can trust the ESRB, or do you think you’ll have to use other sources to get your information?

“The future of gaming is already here…”

These are the questions you have to ask yourself as you take the giant leap from adolescence into adulthood. While the ratings might not mean much to you now, they definitely will later on in life. That’s why, after 10 years, it’s a good time to assess the performance of the ESRB so far. Odds are good that the ESRB system will be a very significant guiding force in the choices you make for your children – provided you allow the system that opportunity. You need to decide for yourself, and only you can determine if the ESRB will be able to help you in just one short decade.

At one point, it could be said that children were the future of gaming. Today, that’s not the case. The future of gaming is already here, and it’s the 20-something crowd that will carry gaming to the next generation. This generation must avoid the mistakes of the past and current generations. And if you’re a part of this generation, now’s as good a time as any to see how the ESRB fits into your future and the future of gaming.

Appendix 1: Interview with Patricia Vance, ESRB President