Should Gaming Age Ratings Be Enforced?

By John Walker on March 9th, 2009 at 12:30 pm.

They should have mental age ratings too.

The New Zealand government’s Chief Censor, Bill Hastings, has suggested that parents who buy games for under-age children should be prosecuted. Describing the policy as “shock value”, he told New Zealand’s The Dominion Post (reported by Stuff.co.nz), “It would send out a message that the enforcement agency means business.”

Any time government officials start trying to get involved in videogaming matters, the response is quick and angry. “Get off our lawn!” cry out the gaming community, afraid of the vote winning moves in response to rumours and ignorance. But here’s a thought. Maybe Hastings is right.

While the job title “Chief Censor” may be a sinister one, and while my understanding of the New Zealand government comes from Flight of the Conchords’ recent NZ prime ministerial visit, it’s important to realise that Hastings is not calling for either the censoring of games, nor for a ban on their sales. He’s suggesting that the laws already in place be enforced.

As reported by Stuff.co.nz, Hastings explained that people do not take gaming age certificates seriously. “They might think the offence is silly, but it ain’t”. He suggests up to three months in prison, or a $NZ10,000 (£3,500) fine.

“That’s what the law says, but . . . you’re not going to have police officers in every bedroom… There would certainly be some shock value to prosecuting a parent who gives their under-18 child access to a restricted game.”

Of course there remains an enormous gap in people’s knowledge as to what adverse effects playing adult videogames has on children. The NZ politician makes some spurious claims of unmentioned studies that prove the damage caused, but still focuses his argument on enforcing the restrictions already in place, rather than imprisoning developers. Perhaps this is somewhat spoiled by the country’s banning Manhunt, but maybe this new angle could be progress. (Hastings is also suggesting that all games, not just those with objectionable content, be required to receive certification from classification boards, as with films.)

I’d argue that enforcing age ratings on games is perhaps essential, and not because I’m worried about seven year olds playing GTA IV. I’m worried about 31 year olds not being able to play GTA IV.

Obviously the effect on the young shouldn’t be crassly dismissed. The suggestion that graphic violence will do permanent harm to children is one I want to see some evidence for. (Although I realise this is deeply problematic, as deliberately showing potentially harmful footage to children might run into a small problem of ethics.) But my common sense says that kids get scared, and scary stuff doesn’t need to be a part of kids’ lives. I’m not concerned that your child getting hold of Manhunt is going to turn him into a serial killer. It isn’t. But I would be worried that he’d have horrible nightmares, or a generally unhappy time. And that seems worth caring about.

But the selfish motivation to enforce ratings is to protect my gaming. And more importantly, respecting adults and choice. Some games are designed for only adults to play, and in a society where those games are accessible to all ages, it makes it massively more likely that adult gaming will be increasingly censored. In fact, in a world where all games can be played by all children, they probably should be censored. I don’t want that world. I want to be able to play games with violence and swearing if I choose to. (And as it happens, I generally don’t choose to. But I want to be able to choose.)

Parents are not informed about games, and this is primarily because most attempts to inform them come from hellraising ignoramuses trying to score a headline. Hastings told the Dominion Post, “For the first time in history, kids are more savvy with technology than parents … parents need to get up to speed on the digital divide. They need to look at what their kids are playing and doing.” But I’d suggest that even awareness isn’t enough. I remember working in EB when I was 19, when parents – with their young children – would bring the latest 18 certificate game to the counter. I’d say to them, “Is this for your kid?” They’d say it was. I’d point out the 18 on the box, and they’d tell me they didn’t care. They’re an adult, and the only thing I wasn’t allowed to do was sell the game to someone under the age on the box.

So why are people reacting with shock to the story? Well, perhaps it’s a matter of balance. Obviously any suggestions of restrictions or censorship are going to anger many. But perhaps the big mistake Hastings is making is the proposition of jail time. This is enormously counter-intuitive. If he believes a parent is being neglectful when buying such games, then how putting them in prison is supposed to improve this is not clear. Clearly the threat of it might have an impact, but I cannot see how enforcing it could ever help anyone. And taking all of a family’s money isn’t likely to help anyone either. I’d argue for more imaginative penalties, proportional to the individual. Consequence is fine, debilitation perhaps not.

Or is this an invasion by the state into how people raise their families? Should parents be free to let their children play whichever games they choose? Are age ratings unenforceable without ghastly phrases like “nanny state” rearing their heads? Indeed, how could the law be enforced if it were in place? Short of the police raiding homes and checking for copies of Saints Row 2, it’s hard to imagine what could be done. Is the threat of a penalty, even if it’s unenforceable, enough to protect children from adult games, or indeed protect adult games from children? Let us know what you think.

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231 Comments »

  1. Hanako says:

    The “behavior” desired by ads isn’t in the same category and you know it. Very rarely does an ad want you to copy the behavior shown in the ad – what the ad shows is completely unrelated to what the intended effect is.

  2. Alaric says:

    Cliffski, of course violent imagery affects us. However:

    affects us != makes us into violent criminals

    We all love watching violent movies, playing violent games and reading books that have violent action in them. Biologically we are hunters, carnivores, and as such violence appeals to us. Make no mistake though, we did not become carnivores after GTA and Manhunt came out.

  3. Gap Gen says:

    Hanako: Like I’ve said in this thread already, all laws can be made absurd by introducing disproportionate punishments for misdemeanours. A good idea can be scuppered by poor implementation. I’m not suggesting police should lock up anyone who buys an 18-rated game for a 17-year-old. And if the judges and police have any sense, they will act proportionately.

    You are correct – we should attempt to reduce poverty to combat crime and other problems. Locking up poor people will not prevent them from being poor, though. That said, it is done indirectly, in using aggressive policing to combat drug crime rather than using solutions that target the causes of drug crime, or even admitting that the war on drugs isn’t working.

    However, like I said, putting parents in the cells for a night has already been used as a deterrent for things like allowing truancy, so doing the same for allowing a 9-year-old to watch Saw or Hostel, or letting them play Manhunt, might be valid.

  4. dhex says:

    “If the answer is no, why is advertising a multi-billion dollar industry, given that you assert it doesn’t work?”

    show me the correlation between outlay and sales success and you’ll be the richest man in the ad biz. you’ll also be able to eat the walls because they’ll be made out of candy!

    :)

    also, when we’re discussing a government stepping in to make sure people are buying age appropriate video games for their children…i’m not sure “nanny state” the term is ghastly, but more like “sadly prophetic”.

  5. Weylund says:

    I’m a parent, and a gamer, and age ratings would be great tools if they actually meant anything.

    Folks who talk about “parents just raising their kids better” really have no idea what they’re talking about. Raising a child is quite probably the hardest job anyone can have, as you will discover when you make the attempt, and claiming that it can be done “better” – without support – just devalues an already devalued task. That would be like someone walking into your work and telling you to “do better” without any feedback or tools with which to do it. Go soak your heads, you idiots.

    That said, as I mentioned, a ratings system is a tool for parents to use, but at this time the ratings mean very little. A Teen game may be perfectly appropriate for one of my youngsters – in fact quite a lot of games are rated that way – and I don’t think a store ought to be fined if they don’t suss out the fact that I’m buying it for my 8-year-old (or me fined, for that matter). On the other hand, a largely harmless old NES game like Kirby has my oldest talking about hitting people with swords, something I’m not incredibly comfortable with. Does that mean it needs a T rating, or even an E+? I don’t think so, but I wouldn’t trust a ratings board to make that determination.

    tl;dr – ratings should be guidelines and nothing more. A good focused network of information about games in re: kids would be nice, though. I’d love to have access to a unified source for info on games for my kids. There are some great sites, but not enough.

    Give. Parents. Tools. Don’t f’ing fine them.

  6. Xercies says:

    @Optimaxal

    The problem with regulation is that it is such a grey area, so making a cut off point is very hard to do.

    Just look at alcohol apprantly the government wants no one to have a drink before they are 15. but there is anecdotol evidence to suggest having a little bit of a drink won’t harm you and actually make you grow up drinking alcohol responsible.

    But according to the governemnt this is not true and they will lock you up if you give your child even a smidgen of drink. Because of these kind of grey areas any censorship is either rubbish or useless.

    But I do have to say, playing violent video games, watching vilent movies, listening to violent music can have an affect especially when you are young. Its just so hard to know what that effect may be.

  7. Hanako says:

    However, like I said, putting parents in the cells for a night has already been used as a deterrent for things like allowing truancy

    And it was a MASSIVE failure, and truancy rates have gone way up since that policy was implemented, iirc. Responding to the problem with “Let’s just punish people, then!” instead of trying to work out why people were truanting and how to fix that was, IMO, totally the wrong thing to do.

  8. PheonixK says:

    Whether or not mature video games / media cause children to turn out immoral/criminal/just plain bad is a subject of intense debate. But because it is open to debate, let’s consider for the moment that such media DOES turn some of us into criminals.

    In this case, the fundamental question that needs to be answered is this: Is it more advantageous to deal with (incarcerate, etc.) criminals as they do criminal things, or to reduce/eliminate the factors that caused them to become criminals?

  9. Hanako says:

    The thing is, I don’t believe that parents are always right about what’s best for their kids. Parents are quite capable of screwing their kids up horribly. So’s the government.

    Raising kids is hard, there’s no simple way to do it, and a lot of parents who get demonised for doing it wrong are doing the best they can but lack the time, the skills, or the knowledge to do better (Or just plain got unlucky.) If someone tries and fails, how is punishing them going to help? I think society tends to get too fixated on blame and punishment and not enough on results.

  10. Gap Gen says:

    Hanako: Hmm, I didn’t follow that story up. If it doesn’t work, then yes, we need to find other ways to enforce age ratings. Allowing shops to refuse sales to anyone suspected of buying games for children is fine, I guess, in the same way that alcohol or tobacco sales are restricted. Other than that, I don’t know.

    Of course, the issue of whether or not we should enforce ratings and the issue of how to enforce them are separate things (like your poverty example: reducing poverty is good, but just locking up poor people isn’t).

  11. Hanako says:

    *nod* I’m all in favor of stores not selling mature games to minors, questioning parents who seem to be buying games without even knowing what they contain, and even having the right to refuse sales. If they really want the game they’ll find a way to get it, and having to go out of their way for it should make them aware that what they’re doing is ‘questionable’ and should be considered carefully.

  12. Tunnel says:

    Whenever I read this sort of stuff my blood pressure rises. For some reason I have a visceral hatred of most proposals to ban children from media deemed harmful to them. It’s probably a legacy from when TV would cancel my favorite shows for being too violent, or censor the boobs. I always heard that it was due to pressure from PTA and other parent’s lobby groups, so I grew up with a deep hatred for those groups. Perhaps they have a point.

    But after thinking about it, I don’t mind so much. Kids are going to watch and play whatever they want. When I was in my early teens, even without the internet, we all eventually got what we wanted. Carmageddon, Soldier of fortune, Battle Royale, the worst of anime, and a deluge of porn. Kids are industrious both in getting what they want and in concealing it from parents. If you have a fourteen year old boy, he probably is at the peak of his porn-watching and manhunt-playing. Once he hits eighteen, he will probably have no interest in crappy games and slightly less interest in porn. Harmful or not, legal or not, most kids are attracted to sex and violence, and they are going to do whatever they want. Most parents won’t realize it, no matter how proactive they try to be. I have fond memories of playing XCom with my dad, but you can be damn sure that he never found out where I kept my carmageddon.

    So, I might be ideologically opposed to it, but if it protects the videogame industry from actual government censorship, legislate away.

  13. Mister Adequate says:

    @ Hypocee: In the UK there are laws against selling DVDs outside their classification. Therefore, at least there, the analogy holds.

    No it doesn’t. There are no laws which punish parents who buy a DVD for showing it to their children – that is the business of the parents. (Unless it’s porn, but that’s just something the English speaking world has come to terms with.)

  14. Gap Gen says:

    Actually, I wonder how much of an effect the general environment has compared to exposure to violent media. Like people have said, even if there’s a correlation between violence and playing violent games, the study has to show causality – people who like violence or who haven’t been brought up to believe in empathy towards others may be attracted to violent videogames. I have no real desire to blow someone’s head off, but I enjoy the challenge of shooters and the adrenaline of trying to survive. Some people actually enjoy simulating the suffering or death of others, which I think is a bit worrying (although of course they may not be predisposed to do it for real).

  15. Gorgeras says:

    The lowest common denominator population, when forced to deal with the consequences of it’s actions will be the first to demand liberalisation, rights and dignity where they scoffed at them before.

    The suggestion is that parents should be prosecuted for willingly supplying unsuitable material(centred on games). I’ve always said unsuitable content in games was largely a problem of parental ignorance/apathy and the ignorance is often quite wilful. Whilst I wouldn’t generally support criminal penalties on this matter, I think it would be a brilliant lesson to all those self-righteous ‘family groups’ when faced with the backlash from real families.

    Let the cause roll on if it looks like it might be about to commit harakiri.

  16. Mike says:

    I don’t have the time to read all three miles of comments but from my skimming I have to say that I’m liking peoples reactions. Actually thinking about it!
    The way I see it, parents should already know that the ratings are there for a reason, and as mentioned before if they don’t know the best way to teach is through community work and teaching people one on one.
    As for this new law. I think it’s horrible and won’t take into account the individual. Parents have a right to choose for their kids. Mine for instance never let me watch films before I was old enough unless they had watched them first and decided they were ok. Which was extremely annoying from my perspective then. But I’m glad they did it! Also I got to watch the Matrix with my dad when I was 13, WOOP!
    The problem is that for the few good parents it’s a bad law. But for the much higher percentage of bad(or just ignorant) parents it will be an obvious sign that they need to stop!
    hope that made sense.

  17. JonFitt says:

    There are plenty of tools out there for people who are interested:
    http://www.whattheyplay.com/

    The problem is not with parents who want to be aware, it’s those who don’t care. The parent who just blindly buys GTA4 for their 7 year-old because they want it, is engaged in a form of neglect.
    Incidentally they’re also the kind of people who may decide to sue the publishers later.

    Prison time is ridiculous, a fine would suffice. But really I doubt the custodial sentence would be used.

  18. The Sombrero Kid says:

    indoctrination and nurturing are both the process of normaising behavoiur and ideals, you call normalising ideals you don’t agree with indoctrination and the process of normalising ideals you do agree with nurturing imo

  19. undead dolphin hacker says:

    If enforcement of age requirements on games allows the creation of more mature content… oh who am I kidding. More intense blood and gore isn’t mature.

    Though sometimes I wonder. Talking in USA (ESRB) terms, if games developers expect their games are only going to be played by people of age 18+, maybe they’d feel freer to make more sophisticated storylines. If you’re throwing a product to the hoi polloi, you play to the lowest common denominator.

    If you know your product is only going to people of age 18 and up, maybe you develop a stronger sense of shame. Your audience is going to be older, do we really need a scantily clad, big-breasted (female) (…but the alternative is promising) protagonist? Or on the contrary, we want to tell a mature story, do we really need cartoony graphics and saccharine characters?

    The noted lack of sex in games — not sex appeal, but capital-letter Sex and the emotional consequences that come from it — is notably absent in game stories. The ones that include sex and handle it in a mature, emotional way tend to be well-regarded: Baldur’s Gate 2, Torment, Mask of the Betrayer, Vampire Bloodlines (though that explored more the psychological/deviant nature of sex).

    I dunno, one of the RPG tropes I find just weird is that these men and women can travel together for 40-80 hours of playtime, god only knows how much game time, and nobody has sex. They make eyes at eachother and vaguely flirt, there’s typically at least one slutty chick (or guy) that’s in-your-face about wanting it, but it never goes anywhere. Sometimes I think to be a CRPG hero you have to be spayed or neutered.

  20. The Sombrero Kid says:

    gap gens spot on a mind corrupted by a game is much more likely to be corrupted by reality censor that first

  21. Alaric says:

    The parent who just blindly buys GTA4 for their 7 year-old because they want it, is engaged in a form of neglect.

    Says YOU.

  22. kr8 says:

    I’ll just leave a comment even though the thread is huge and I didn’t even read the entire thing yet. This has probably already been said but here goes:

    - I played carmageddon when I was 14, I think the game was 16+. In hindsight I think the game would be suitable for kids twelve and over. You might not agree with me and you are probably in the majority (a law of averages), but barring any real evidence that allowing a twelve year old to play this game would do him serious harm, the government has no right to impede on my judgement in this matter. The ratings in their current form are meant to be a suggestion to parents, and I think that’s okay. If you allow the government to take a freedom away from you, it should be because of a clear and verifiable danger to society. I don’t see it here.

    - There’s a rating you can get in the US movie rating system that absolutely kill your movie commercially because many theaters won’t show it (was it M?) and many video places won’t stock it. Demonization is bad and is also what this might lead to. I think I don’t have to convince anyone here that it’s also had a very negative effect on the quality of romantic scenes in most hollywood movies. You never get to see real sex, only kisses and fade-out with lovey dubby romanticism or hardcore trash porn. There are exceptions of course, but this is the situation as I see it and I believe the rating system is to blame. This directly contradicts the main argument of the post that states that this might improve the quality of games for adults. Of course there are also countries where the ratings systems sorta work and haven’t had such an adverse affect, so it’s not a slam dunk either way.

  23. Erlam says:

    What the fuck happened to reading the damn box? Back when I was a lad, my stepdad would read over whatever game I wanted — If you see a game set in ‘Nam about fighting off hordes of “VC soldiers,” that’s a pretty good clue your 8 year old should not be playing it.

    I think ratings are mostly over-rated, but have a point.

    I was in a talk at the last PAX where parents (who game) were talking about what their children were playing, what was appropriate, ways to make sure they got games suited to them, etc. I was in line to comment, but it ended before I got to. My question was this:

    There is obviously a theory that kids cannot play games above their age group. This is largely seen as gospel. However, I ask them how many of them played games above their age group when they were young. I know I did, and I imagine a lot of others did as well. Then you look at crime rates – particularly violent crime – and (in Canada at least) it’s way down. So even when playing games we shouldn’t have, we didn’t go berserk and shoot up the country.

    Basically, what I’m saying is that even if we go through with all of these checks and balances, I’m not sure what the difference will will be. You can blame parents, retailers, or the government, but at some point people need to realise that a lot of this still is just in the child itself (I know, I have 4). That doesn’t mean you should just let them do whatever, but I think the actual games chosen to play arent the problem — it’s the disposition of the person playing them. Play games with your kids. Explain stuff to them.

  24. dhex says:

    Though sometimes I wonder. Talking in USA (ESRB) terms, if games developers expect their games are only going to be played by people of age 18+, maybe they’d feel freer to make more sophisticated storylines.

    nice idea, but there’d have to be a large enough market for it. i don’t know that there is outside of the indies.

  25. Ginger Yellow says:

    “But according to the governemnt this is not true and they will lock you up if you give your child even a smidgen of drink. ”

    Uh, not in the UK. You can give alcohol to your child under supervision from the age of 5, and as a restaurant you can serve accompanied children alcohol with a meal from the age of 16.

  26. Ginger Yellow says:

    “nice idea, but there’d have to be a large enough market for it. ”

    There are plenty of 18+ games in the UK and they sell just fine. GTA is always rated 18 here. The problem is that console manufactures won’t allow AO games on their systems at the moment and many retailers won’t stock them. It’s a bit like the NC-17 stigma for films, but more so. That stigma simply doesn’t exist in the UK, because 18 ratings are much more common.

  27. Hypocee says:

    Hypocee: In the UK there are laws against selling DVDs outside their classification. Therefore, at least there, the analogy holds.

    No it doesn’t. There are no laws which punish parents who buy a DVD for showing it to their children – that is the business of the parents. (Unless it’s porn, but that’s just something the English speaking world has come to terms with.)

    Not what we were talking about.

    To people making R-rated movie analogies: You realize there are no laws against kids buying R-rated movie tickets, right? Theaters can legally do it; they’ll get backlash from the MPAA, though, who lean on distributors to pull theaters that don’t obey their rules. And it works.

    That’s the point, though–they’re industry rules, not laws. Until you get into actual porn age limits are all industry self-discipline.

    This may be true in some or all of the United States – I’ve been unable to casually find any counterexamples – but is, as I linked, untrue in the UK. I’m unable to find counterexamples in NZ, but assume they’re there because this legislator’s talking about enforcing a much more restrictive echelon of laws, and I’d also be surprised if NZ was leading censorious old Australia in the think-of-the-children stakes.

  28. Gap Gen says:

    The Sombrero Kid: “gap gens spot on a mind corrupted by a game is much more likely to be corrupted by reality censor that first”

    Actually, I didn’t say that. I said that it’s possible. In fact, it’s possible that better parents will filter what their children can see or play more vigilantly. It’s possible that active monitoring of what children see and do is part of a good upbringing, and that far from ignoring the issue of censorship, we should promote it to parents.

    And what do you mean by censor reality? How do you propose to do that? Do you mean enforce good parenting and foster a positive social environment? “Censor” isn’t really the word I’d use there.

  29. Jocho says:

    I tend to watch people in stores when they’re suggesting or thinking about buying a game – sometimes to check the quality of the store, sometimes to see the general attitude to age ratings, and I can easily say one thing: Nobody bothers about them. In fact, a high age rating is a metric of coolness – if you’re seven years old, you’re cooler playing a 18+ game then a 7+ game or 12+ game, because you can brag to your friends that you dare play whatever-it-is.

    But, without reading this lengthy discussion, I can easily say that any laws of this kind will be dealt with like the Alcohol Monopoly in Sweden: The older “buy out” for the underage for some extra payment. So even if the child’s parent isn’t buying it, some random guy might do it for a few coins.

  30. Dolphan says:

    Alaric – Parent hits child whenever he’s in a bad mood. Not smacks, full-on thumps them. When challenged, he states that this is perfectly decent parenting, that it builds character, prepares a child for a tough world, his dad did it to him and he turned out fine, etc. That OK by you?

  31. dhex says:

    There are plenty of 18+ games in the UK and they sell just fine.

    well that’s the current ratings schema in your neck of the woods, but that’s not what we were talking about, which is more akin to the AO titles you mentioned.

  32. Hidden_7 says:

    Personally I’m not about to support any legislation that would criminalize my parents for the way they raised me.

    It is absolutely insane to me that someone could support the government making it a criminal act for parents to decide which media their kids can be exposed to. All it takes is a certain political slant to show up in the ratings process and BOOM, scary business.

    Treating games as the same sort of thing as letting your child become a drunkard, smoker, or hitting them just shows a deep lack of critical analysis. I didn’t need protection from Doom, or Duke3d, or hell, Half-Life, Thief, System Shock, Fallout, Daggerfall, Diablo, etc. All games that came out before I was 18. Many providing defining moments for me, which as gamers I think we can all understand. Given the way in which games disappear into the ether so quickly too, it’s very likely that if I had waited till… 2005 to touch any game M rated I would very likely not be playing them. Sure, you can get old games now, GoG and such, but having no nostalgia factor attached to them, I’d be unlikely to hunt them down. As a result I’d probably be one of those people that thinks Halo is the best FPS ever, and most likely the first. I would be uneducated in the medium I so love.

    Which is what it all comes down to, education. The logical extension of the legislation, legislation that would make it criminal for even PARENTS to buy higher rated games for their kids, is that it is WRONG for kids to have access to any of these games, full stop. Which means that one should not be exposed to any content like that until they are 18. Which would result in a pretty messed up 18 year old.

    I’d actually be curious to meet someone who had been sheltered like that. Since a lot of these ratings tend to have a pretty knee jerk approach to subjects, full stop, rather than execution, there’d be a whole host of issues this person was not even aware existed.

    A somewhat related story, a friend who works at a video store was relating a story to me, where a mother came in and asked her about Juno and whether it would be appropriate for her 12-year old. My friend then described what the movie was about, talked about any questionable scenes, and gave her opinion; that it was obviously a matter of individual choice depending on the parent, but in her opinion it would be fine for a 12-year old to watch. The mom then flipped out at her, saying that it was insane to think that a film about teen pregnancy would be appropriate for a 12-year old. I’d love to see how that see no evil approach works out for her…

  33. sebmojo says:

    Just to clarify a misconception several people seem to have, Bill Hastings isn’t a politician – he’s a public servant. The Chief Censor is a position that doesn’t change with the government, so he’s not trying for votes.

    Personally I think we’ve got a fairly sensible regime in NZ (I’m a Kiwi). It lacks the anti-Nazi obsessionalism of Germany, the knife hysteria of the UK, the puritanism about sex of the US, and the absurd ‘if kids can’t play it then noone can’ of Australia.

    The only game that’s actually been banned is Manhunt, which isn’t too bad a place to draw the line.

  34. sebmojo says:

    Also Hypocee is right – it’s actually illegal for an underage person to see R18 films or games in NZ – it’s not a ‘suggestion’ like in the US.

  35. Alaric says:

    Dolphan, spanking a child as a means of punishment is perfectly legal and acceptable. Sometimes kids do need to be taught that way. On the other hand, beating a child is something else entirely, and should not be allowed.

    That is because beating someone (a child or an adult) causes them harm. We frown on harming others in society.

    Spanking, however does not cause harm. Instead it causes distress, which is an accepted tactic in any kind of parenting. Agreed, the kind of distress that’s caused by spanking is different from the kind caused by grounding or taking away TV privileges. Still, it is not harm.

    So yea, a parent is allowed to discipline his child. That’s what parenting is.

  36. OJ287 says:

    I watched Terminator 2 as a child and I havent grown up to be an Austrian cyborg.

    If youre going to have rules for films then they should be applied to games. Saying that, my dad would have been in trouble for buying me Doom.

    Generally I think it should be up to the parents to decide, with the police getting involved in extreme cases like giving a game equivalent to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to a nine year old. Though I wouldnt trust the police/government to use discretion when there’s the oppurtunity to rake in funds through fining as many people as possible.

  37. PJ says:

    I could not possibly disagree more without causing myself internal injury. Back when I was a young ‘un my parents regularly bought me games that I was technically not old enough to play. Was this because they were terrible parents? No, it was because they were good parents, who knew me and could judge that I was mature enough to appreciate them without becoming a warped serial killer. And since then I’ve rewarded their faith in me by hardly going on any killing sprees at all.

    It is ludicrous to suggest that the very second somebody slips into their eighteenth year since they popped out of a vagina they instantly become capable of dealing with all the ills of the world. Especially if for the past eighteen years everybody has been pretending that none of those ills exist. Everybody matures at different rates, and everybody is ready to deal with those subject matters at different ages. Maybe some people are ready to deal with GTA4 at 12. I can think of some people I know that I don’t think are ready at 23. The government can’t possibly judge that, but parents can and should. If some parents choose to ignore that responsibility then that is an entirely separate issue, and I would say a far more important one than whether little Johnny gets to see a couple of gibs every now and then.

  38. ACardboardRobot says:

    Is it just me or is this thread overwhelmingly in favour of censorship?

    I’m still young, too young to be playing a lot of the games talked about. But I still am, I’ve played more games than many of my peers, many more violent games than the people I know robbing cars and getting into fights each day. This is just a parallel to literature in past generations.

    Ginsberg for example, when Howl first came out, it was banned. But what is it now? It’s fairly widely respected as a great piece of poetry. It was just censored because it put out in the open for the wider public what the youth of that time were doing and spelled it out in plain terms. Yes a consequence of this is the absolute plethora of arty types nowadays getting high trying to get inspiration like their heroes.

    Or Manhunt, I’m going to draw a parallel to Amerika, once again by Ginsberg. Amerika is fairly outspoken, but seeing as it’s a poem, a respected and ESTABLISHED medium, that is seen as something fit to be put on a college course’s recommended reading etc. Manhunt on the other hand, a videogame, was widely criticised. For what? For what I feel is a dark satire on movies. If you look at the game, there are striking similarities to The Running Man, the film more so than the novel. But what are these regarded as? An action film and a sci-fi book respectively.

    It is these double standards that are really hurting us. It really should be the parent’s responsibility that their child is interacting with media that they and the child agree is suitable.

    I remember I went to see Signs with my parents, I had to be talked into it because it looked scary, but I went with them. Halfway through the film I got beyond scared and had to leave. I still haven’t watched that whole movie and I don’t want to. It’s something that I have decided, maturely and with regard to my own experience, not some middle-aged politician looking to secure more votes or a censor looking to keep his job.

    That’s something not often talked about, the censor has to be conservative because they are being paid by the state mostly, and if backlash comes through, where is the blame going to be shunted to? The censor of course.

    What exactly is wrong with today’s youth? Are they wilder than their parents? No, they’re a lot calmer if a lot of stuff I’ve read is to be believed. You can say I’m believing the hype but in Roger Moore’s biography he talks about his sort of attempt to lose his virginity when he was 8. Eight. The person I know who lost theirs was 12. Still very young and I wasn’t thinking of it myself at that age but that’s the way it’s been done for millenia. Just now that people are living longer, apparently people don’t mature as early, which is utter bullshit. People are bigger and stronger than ever before.

    Same with music, when I was younger I was mostly influenced by what was on the radio, now I’m more into exploring to see what I’m into and most of it is drastically different to my friends. It’s just that the older you get the deeper you get into something. This WILL happen with games, it’s just that gaming is the big thing now, even now it’s losing out to social networking sites etc. Soon it will be accepted as a valid art medium. But if it isn’t. Do we care? The censorship will move to bigger targets and gaming will just get on with it.

  39. Psychopomp says:

    I played Silent Hill when I was 9.

    You know what? Ten years later, I’m Buddhist.

  40. JonFitt says:

    It’s not censorship in the real sense, just age restriction. Minors have all sorts of laws applied to them for their own protection which are different to your civil liberties as an adult. A lot of countries make children attend school for instance whether or not their parents think it would be best for them to work in t’pit.
    By ensuring age restriction it is arguable, that strict censorship (banning the sale) of games becomes less likely.

  41. thesombrerokid says:

    acardboadrobot: the voice of reason from the silenced minority, the metaphorical sheep to political wolves

  42. Andrew says:

    John, I don’t think you quite understand what the New Zealand law does, how the UK rating system works (this wouldn’t help it, it would hinder it) and how censorship is a bad thing, since giving a reason to prosecute people for buying games for the wrong people will mean if a game is banned, it becomes a jailable offence to even own it from your reasoning (good luck saying Manhunt was imported to the Police…).

    It’s a more civil matter. Fines for sellers who sell to underage people perhaps, but why should knowledgeable adults be put in prison if they allow their children to play a game?

    In many cases it is fine with the parents as much as taking underage children to films, or buying DVD’s for them – it should be up to the parents to decide if the content is good or bad for their children until their 18, and taking that away from them is utterly insane. Why be a parent at all? why not just let the Government manage their kids for 18 years?

    I don’t understand how an otherwise good journalist (who does journalism) can be just so ignorant of this topic. :( I am glad there is a sense of reason in these comments.

  43. Gap Gen says:

    Andrew: Do you believe that a parent should make similar decisions about alcohol and smoking? Or indeed the curriculum that is taught to their children in schools?

  44. TheSombreroKid says:

    Gap Gen alcohol noticably and PROVABLEY affects childrens health although i am not in favor of allowing adults and banning children there are logical and empirical reasons for why thats not a good idea the same can not be said for what media a child or adult for htat matter consumes.

  45. Toby says:

    I feel compelled to contribute, but don’t have an argument that hasn’t been repeated here somewhere or another. So all I can provide is the personal anecdote (to join others here) of my parents vetoing games that they felt were suitable for me. Often these were games rated over my age, sometimes significantly. My parents are intelligent and responsible- some aren’t. But the idea that an equivalent family, that many such equivalent families, could face criminal charges for such an act boggles the mind. As many people have said, ratings exist as a form of guidance. Can you think of any other form of media where such a whisper of litigable threat to reasonable families might exist? Books? Film? Certainly these can only draw so many parallels with games in terms of content and arguable psychological effect, but John’s (self-admittedly) selfish desire for the protection of adult material (sounds dirty..) just doesn’t carry any weight facing a clear violation of what most of us would term as a civil liberty. To make an obvious argument- what next?

    The argument also that such laws would be counteractive to the production of mature content (sounds dirty again..) seems sound to me. If games companies know that as a result of this law their products will have a smaller user base if the rating is higher… well. They’re a business, aren’t they? Although that’s going down a different morally dubious road..

  46. Down Rodeo says:

    A selfish way of putting this would be to say that I am over the ages involved in the UK rating system so I don’t really mind. A more sensible comment would suggest that education is the way forward – parents ought to know the content of the games their kids play. I have shown my parents the sort of things I play (mainly the ones on my 360 as when I’m on the PC they’re not around as much) which usually elicits the usual response of, “Another game about shooting people?”. But then, my parents are of an older generation, and while they still work they are not part of the totally-comfortable-with-computers group. But I like to think that I’ve been brought up well enough to be sensible with these types of content (a theme which seems to be running through this thread). In short, more education is key. Greater interaction between parents and children is required. It perhaps says something that I have a greater stomach for violence than my father.

  47. Gap Gen says:

    TheSombreroKid: Professor David Nutt, chairman of the Home Office’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, claimed that the risk of taking ecstasy is no more than the risk of horse riding. And yet we allow children to ride horses. That said, you are right that the risks involved in taking drugs like alcohol are better quantified than the risks of watching or playing violent media.

    I feel my point on the national curriculum is more valid, though. If we feel that a parent’s right to raise their children is absolute, should we allow parents to school their children however they like? Should we let parents tell their children that evolution is false, or that the Holocaust didn’t happen (Godwin’s Law, sorry)?

  48. Hypocee says:

    Exactly; they should get older, it just takes time. (Link for humourous summary only; I don’t necessarily agree with Tycho’s position in the strip, and I actually don’t think ‘Tycho’ did either) Less facetiously, it’s not the kids’ ‘right’ to play/see/read awesome stuff I care about, it’s little Timmy’s parents’ right not to (theoretically) Go. To. Jail. for letting him stay up and watch Tommy Boy.

  49. Hypocee says:

    Well, Gap Gen, in the US we do – for good and for lots of ill. Parents are allowed to bypass the public school system either with private school systems or homeschooling, often to their kids’ detriment.

    There certainly are shades of grey, but that’s exactly why you don’t have to stand at the absolute end of the spectrum to oppose criminalising parental discretion. I just can’t imagine supporting a law that makes it a criminal act to overrule a committee’s five-notch go-no-go decision matrix for your kid – let alone proposing it actually be enforced.

    Incidentally, I’m not blind to the scenario that sparks this kind of thought. I was simply aghast when I went to see Serenity in the theatre; one of the few others in the audience during my showing was this…drone of a woman, with her about ten-year-old boy. Obviously she wanted to see it, or more likely ‘a movie’, but couldn’t be arsed to ditch the little accident. It’s nice to imagine that throwing her in the clink for a bit would suddenly make her realise the awesome responsibility she bears, but I can’t believe it for a second. Even if I could, I still wouldn’t support a law so broadly written that it would condemn her equally with a pair of parents buying their kid an R-rated DVD for her 16th birthday. Another point is that if you’re intent on calling in CPS or equivalent on a fellow citizen, they’re probably doing plenty of stuff worse, more provable, and less likely to be done by responsible parents using common sense, than letting the kid watch naughty movies.

  50. Muzman says:

    While I’m not against the use and enforcement (at retail level) of ratings, it’s hard to support because I know perfectly well it’s based on some old fogey who is worried about impressionable young minds rather than providing parents with the means to be involved in what their kids consume.
    The whole problem with the media influence school of thought is it doesn’t know which way it wants it. Parents don’t want their kids to be scared by violence and horror because they kids might be ‘traumatised’ and have nightmares. That was the way of things for the longest time. But then games came along and we find greater horror in the fact that kids are ‘doing’ the bad things themselves and then aren’t reacting to them with trauma and nightmares etc. This is, thanks to a couple of minority papers in the 80s that misappropriated the physiological term “desensitisation”, supposedly a lot worse.
    I could go on and on about this, but in short I reckon it’s a load of bollox. Parents and children’s sensitivities are very different and their respective comprehension of media varies wildly because of it. Kids are far less swayed by symbolism; they aren’t all that interested in what an image respresents, but what it means for what they are doing at the time. That’s a mouthful I guess, and the tricky part in combating the ‘media is influential’ argument with respect to games is it requires two additional factors that are contentious to most people (but I find inescapable from my vague investigations).
    One is that violence is special in the way humans react to it, and even the most realistic representations give no insight into how people respond to or are influenced by witnessing the real thing. And the second is that kids play games as games and not representations of reality. This is was all summed up by a moment I saw that had two nine year old girls playing Hitman: Codename 47 who thought slitting someone’s throat was the coolest thing in the world, to the screeching horror of their mothers. Later that day they would express genuine distress at scary parts and violence in The Princess Bride (I think it was).
    The mothers hated the idea of throat cutting and their daughters carrying it out. That’s what they saw; the idea of behaviour. The kids on the other hand were play acting like they usually do. The movie on the other hand was all enjoyable play acting as far as mum was concerned, but the kids saw the idea of unpleasant things happening to characters they cared about.
    Game violence is play violence. No gore or behaviour yet is realistic enough to be considered any other way by kids (a bold assertion perhaps). Characters played by real people are a lot more relatable and what happens to them more impactful. Then what that impact means is another can of worms by itself.
    Most people disgree with these conclusions, or the interpretation of that example. So much hinges on those two details above that I mentioned and then things vary from child to child, parent to parent. Invariably someone says that we can’t rule out one crazy kid taking things the wrong way either. Which is true, but the one crazy kid can’t be what sets the terms since who among us can identify them?
    Anyway, enough babble; the thing is that while I’m sympathetic to people who are concerned and I’m supportive of informative ratings and mild enforcement, these pushes come from a picture of a child’s mind as infinitely corruptible blank slates. In some ways they are, but in the ways that matter for this debate they’re not.

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