By JAMES DERK
Scripps Howard News Service
May 17, 2005
However, parents like me now are faced with a real conundrum on the hard drives of our children because, unlike the movie industry, the gaming industry has done a lousy job of policing itself.
Consider the current crop of video games; recent titles have included slaughter of police officers, incredible amounts of sexual content, gang violence and more. One to be released next year, "Snow," lets gamers set up their own criminal drug dealing enterprise. In another game, if your character uses cocaine the game speed increases. In another, you get to steal cars and shoot cops.
I am not an anti-gaming evangelist; in fact I enjoy playing games many would consider violent, including titles in the Doom, Quake and Halo series. However, I am well outside my teenage years and I think I am pretty well entitled to make decisions on content for myself.
I agree that under the First Amendment, gaming companies can make games depicting what they want. I just think, unlike the movie industry, parents are not well-informed about what is in that content.
This is not a small problem. Consider that the video gaming industry is now a $10 billion business in the United States and growing faster than the movie business. And while many titles are voluntarily rated by the Entertainment Ratings Software Board (www.esrb.com), for the most part if your kid walks into a store with the cash, they can walk out with any title they want. (Not to mention online ordering, which has no age-checking at all.)
Because the industry self-policing is so awful, several states including Illinois, California and Maryland, are considering legislation to control the sales of games to minors. But, of course, like the kids buying the ticket to "Bambi" at the multiplex and sneaking into an R-rated movie, the various peer-to-peer downloading services offer any games to anyone.
So it falls to the parents to monitor their teens' hard drives. Check the cases from the games and look for the ESRB rating, if any. (The ratings on the front will say C (early childhood), E (OK for everyone), E-10 Plus (OK for ages 10 and up), T (OK for 13 and up), M (OK for 17 and up) and A (adults only).
On the back of the package you'll see the black and white rating again with more information as to why the rating applies "Cartoon violence, mild language," etc.
So find the boxes and see if that content matches what you want in your house. If you know what games your teens play, you can visit the ESRB ratings site above and type in the name of the game and check out what rating the game has and why.
And, of course, talking to your teen and discussing gaming is always the best choice.
WEEKLY WEB WONDER: One of the best all-around gaming sites remains GameSpot at www.gamespot.com . If you're a gamer or a parent, there's lots here for you.
His e-mail address is jim(at)cyberdads.com