*sigh* Yeeeaah… but what’s it rated?

February 18th, 2010 -

Let me paint a picture, before the article, to help spring-board this topic. I’m going to run through an actual “word-for-word” scenario (or at least as best as I can remember) that I’ve personally had, in dialogue form. Note anything strange you find in this exchange:

Me: “Hello.”
Mother: “Can we look at a few games?”
Me: “Sure, for which system?”
Mother: “Umm…”
Kid: “DS.”
Me: “Which game?”
Kid: “Star Wars.”
Mother: “Um, the Clone Wars one, I guess. What’s that rated?”
Me: “It’s E10.”
Mother: “Oh, nevermind then…”
Me: “Has he seen the movies or the animated TV series?”
Kid: “Yeah, I watch them all the time. They’re great!”
Me: “It says this is rated E10 for “mild fantasy violence,” which is going to be the same as the movies, or less.”
Mother: “Do people die?”
Me: *confused look*?
Mother: “I mean do they fall over and disappear, or something like that?”
Me: “Oh, yeah, basically. The Star Wars series has always been good about not having blood or gore.”
Mother: “Hmm no thank you; we don’t like that. We prefer the Lego games where they just fall into Lego pieces.”
Me: “… okay.”
Kid: “Batman!”
Me: “Lego Batman?”
Mother: *to her son* “Do you have that one?”
Kid: “No.”
Mother: “What’s it rated?”
Me: “Umm, its E10, but it’s a Lego game like the othe…”
Mother: “Never mind then.”
Me: “It’s literally just like the other Lego games; they just fall into Lego pieces.”
Mother: “Yes, but clearly it’s more violent.”
Me: “Are yo…”
Mother: “Oh, didn’t you want this Olympics game?”
Kid: “Oh yeah, I love Sonic!”

And so he left with “Mario and Sonic at the Winter Olympic Games.” I don’t mean to say that it’s a bad game (it’s a lot better of a choice then half of the “shovelware” in the DS case), but the point here is that the kid wasn’t allowed to get either game he actually wanted. All because of an E.S.R.B. rating. The mother lacked the proper knowledge of the game industry and/or has a lack of faith in a retail clerk’s opinion (which in most cases I couldn’t blame her).

So what’s the moral of this story? Well, this isn’t the first time, nor is it the hundredth time, that I’ve had a parent fall back on the E.S.R.B. as an “out.” Typically, they use it as a way to buy the kid a cheaper game, which is sometimes sickening to watch when the kid has no idea what’s going on. But this lady’s ongoing lack of common sense is perpetually suppressing her kid’s childhood of gaming. If she continues to monitor his games in this way, he’s going to miss out on gaming experiences that most gamers look back on with fond memories. This child was 8. When I was 8, I was playing Mortal Kombat, a crap-load of Street Fighter, and I had already been playing games like Battletoads, all of which are extremely violent.

Take a moment and think back to your fondest memories as an 8-year-old gamer. Unless you were raised like “Kid A” from the story above, you will find that you were also playing something that would have been rated “E10″ or higher by today’s rating system. Now imagine your parents telling you that you can’t play Mega Man, Altered Beast, or Street Fighter. Looking back now, as an enthusiastic gamer who grew up with the opportunity to play these games in my youth, I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like without them. Remembering a game like Street Fighter 2 after playing Street Fighter 4 and saying, “Man I love this; Why haven’t I played the other games…? Oh, right, I wasn’t allowed to.” It would be utterly depressing to know I had missed out on the “hey-day” of the game series I now absolutely love because of my parents’ incompetence. Imagine simply erasing that part of your childhood. The very thought brings me down.

This is something gamers don’t typically think about because most of the time they’re not exposed to it. As a gamer working in retail, I see how actually wide-spread this issue has become. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to start a movement or anything ridiculous like that; rather, I want to express my sympathy to the young gamers who are growing up and missing out on games that may shape their future gaming experiences. I also wish to reveal a facet of the video game industry through the eyes of a retail employee without the survey scores, hypocrisy, and Black Friday sales. *shivers*

It’s really tough to draw a conclusion on this. The easy way would be to blame the E.S.R.B., and to say that the world of video games would be better off without them. Even though I personally think the rating system is broken, and too specific in many ways, I also understand the necessity for its existence. So the blame then logically shifts to the parents, right? Not doing their role in moderating the video games their kids play, and instead just lazily using the E.S.R.B. as an out… Well no, that’s not really the answer either. You’re never going to get parents who don’t play games to fully understand them and be able to make logical decisions. I think the conclusion I’m going to end this on is that it’s the gamers. “Did he just say it’s my fault?” Not exactly. The E.S.R.B. isn’t going anywhere, and even if they find a better way to rate games, there would still be parent issues. However, we as gamers can help filter this out, because its what we know and love.

As a retail worker, try to express your expertise and years of experience in order to help parents understand why it’s okay for “li’l Jimmy” to play E10 games even though he’s not 10 yet. Even if your not a retail worker, as gamers in general, help friends or family know not to take the ESRB so seriously, or even go the extra mile and tell a stranger that shows a uneducated interest. If you’re in a retail store and you hear a mom say they can’t get a game because “it has this or that in it,” have some balls and speak up. Say “I’ve actually beat that game, the rating is exaggerated. My li’l brother plays it with me.” Sometimes that’s all they need. I’ve actually seen this and had someone interrupt me and reassure my customer without me having to say anything. Sure, it’s not always going to work, and someone may scoff at you or tell you off, but it’s our job as gamers to help maintain the integrity of our passion.

Still not convinced by my conclusion? What was your favorite game from when you were 8? Now imagine your parent saying you can’t get that game because its too ______, and then some stranger speaks up and says “its actually not that bad.” Your parent then decides to get the game for you based on his comment. Now imagine all the amazing experiences you had with that game.

Looking back, that guy is your hero.

Be a hero.

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