As someone who has worked in the gaming industry via retail outlets such as Best Buy and Gamestop, it occurs to me that games, despite being blamed for a great many things, are not at fault for the misbehavior of the species. Some would have you believe that games are at fault for exposing us to things like violence, nudity, sexual themes, drugs, guns, explosions, gender fluidity, and so on. It’s been my experience, on multiple occasions, where I find that the real fault here, is with parents, with guardians, with those who are coming in to buy a new game for little Billy, and upon hearing about the rating system, they either blow it off, or give me almost condescending assurance that “My kid knows better.”
Further in my experiences, it has been an almost comic moment to see the look of shock and disbelief on many faces, upon telling consumers about the contents of games like Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, and Bloodborne. They act as though they are shocked that their kids would even know of such things. Even more amusing are the comments. “Why don’t they tell you about that kind of thing!?”
Well, they do, actually.
There is a disappointing lack of awareness among the uninitiated in the gaming world. For decades, gaming has been perceived as a “childish past time” or “not for me,” casually dismissed by the non-gaming crowd. And so, it stands to reason, that when little Billy misbehaves, and certain inappropriate games are discovered in his gaming library, that the game is somehow at fault. Somehow, according to perception, that game jumped out of its case, crammed itself into Billy’s console, turned itself on, forced the TV on, stuffed a remote into Billy’s hands, and alarmingly force-fed him hours of irresponsible and inappropriate content that could not have possibly been avoided via intervention at any other point.
No, parents. I’m talking about you.
A long-standing beef of mine, video games are constantly blamed for the social misconduct of their alleged “victims.” Games like Grand Theft Auto, Alien: Isolation, and Dark Souls are not to be blamed for little Billy shooting up a Wal-Mart. It is the responsibility of parents to avoid allowing games like that to fall into Billy’s hands before he is physically, psychologically, and emotionally ready to see that kind of content. What’s more, you parents already aiming your defiant arguments in my direction, is that little Billy was not corrupted by video games first. Perhaps you forgot about the countless hours of Game of Thrones, Criminal Minds, CSI, True Blood, Sons of Anarchy, The Shield, and Sex in the City he already saw and learned from long before these titles came into the house.
We, as a species, have come to a point now where instead of accepting responsibility for our decisions, we’d rather blame every misfortune on something, somewhere, or someone else. In the particular case of video games, thanks to the ever-growing maturity of the industry, and the content that has been developed to appeal to wider and more diverse audiences, it has also fallen into the crosshairs of the irresponsible adult. This allows children to fall into the crosshairs of content unsuitable for their age demographic.
Case in point.
Years ago, I worked for Gamestop as a second job while in the military. I was an avid World of Warcraft player at the time, and when a mother came in with a young son who wanted to play World of Warcraft, I gave her a God’s-honest opinion of his participation in the game. I informed her that the cartoonish violence and gameplay, along with the art style and general themes was something that I thought he’d be okay seeing. What I did stress, however, was that the rating for World of Warcraft was only for the content as approved by the ESRB from Blizzard Entertainment. I told her that he was likely not going to be ready for the millions of other players of all gender and bio-diversities who were going to have inappropriate commentary, possibly racist, sexist, or other more mature-style under or overtones, and that he would probably be exposed to a great many things that he was not old enough to understand or properly ingest.
Her reponse nearly made me flinch: “Oh, I don’t care about that.”
Okay, that’s fine. But I could only help thinking “When your kid shoots up Wal-Mart, or a school, don’t you dare blame the game.”
The Entertainment Software Ratings Board has been in place for many years, and is a tool for consumers to understand the content that they are about to bring home, either for themselves or their families. Most people I have come across are like the mother in the previous story. They are either unaware, or not really concerned with the rating and content of the games they purchase. This isn’t about slamming individuals for their decisions.
What it IS about, however, is that they are so quick to blame the game when it was irresponsible consumerism in the first place that brought that content home and taught a lesson most parents would shudder to teach their children themselves. It is not the game that makes the deviant. It is a lack of compelling instruction from those protective influences in our lives that allows the deviant to form.
If you find yourself thinking “Perhaps this is a good idea,” I applaud your sense of responsibility. I make a point, when selling games to parents, to inform them of the titles best suited or most appropriate to the audience for which they are providing. If you want more information regarding the ESRB and how you can improve the image of the gaming industry and the products they work so hard to provide all of us, please don’t hesitate to go check out their standards at ESRB.org. If you have family or friends who you think should know about this kind of information, I encourage you to share it with them as well.
The gaming industry, despite what some people might like to claim, isn’t evil. It’s not some cesspit stuffed full of terrible lessons and demonic intentions. Stop blaming inert media for influencing our youth. Start accepting responsibility to make this world a better place, and do whatever part is appropriate for you.