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    PlanetQuake | Features | Articles | I Support a Rating System
   

I Support a Rating System

Now, if you're a teenager, and you're reading this article, you might be offended by this concept. You know what? Tough luck, kid. You're a minor. You have to wait a couple more years before you get to do whatever you want. For now, you are under the control of your parents. I know, some parents suck. Even if you have great parents, you might be at a stage where your beliefs differ significantly from theirs.

But if your parents have done their job well, you will at least share their basic values of right and wrong. In a few years, you'll get the chance to try out those things in the real world. Yes, being a teenager sucks. Trust me, I've been there. I have emotional scars from my teenage years that may never heal. But despite our differences, at least my parents knew what I was up to most of the time. And although there were times in my life that I felt angry and hateful, I never resorted to violence. The fact that my parents were directly involved with my life is the reason I never considered violence as an option. It's simply how I was raised.

So if a parent gets more involved in the life of their teenage children, it can only be a good thing. We should encourage this wherever possible.

Problems With Ratings

Yes, there will be problems with any proposed video game rating system. But I don't think that means we shouldn't use one.

The first problem is that you can't easily block a minor from downloading a video game demo (or a pirated full copy, for that matter) from the internet. Okay, it's a serious problem, but one that's the same for any adult-oriented internet content. An enforced rating system is therefore only useful in retail outlets.

The second main problem boils down to money. It currently costs developers money to get their games rated. It would cost more money to enforce. It would be an expense for video arcades, if the rating system applies to them, because they will need to partition off "18 and over" sections and enforce them.

Another problem will be deciding where to draw the line. I don't think Senator Wagner is the person who should make that decision. I don't know who should make it, or how it should be made. Do we draw the line for video games in the same way we do for movies? Do video games require stricter judging than movies because they're interactive? Or should they be judged less strictly because they're (currently) less realistic than movies? These questions need to be answered decisively.

Possibly the biggest problem would be the resulting industry shakeup. It may cost some video game companies a lot of sales, especially in the console market. But you know what? These are the same video game companies that hide behind the phrase "our games are not intended for children". I say make them walk the talk. The movie industry has been doing it for years.

Finally, there's the problem that happens to all U.S. Government legislation: The bill itself isn't as simple as the concept that started it. It wouldn't surprise me if Senator Wagner's bill gets bogged down with unrelated riders and unnecessary complications. I support the concept of a movie-style rating enforcement system for video games, not necessarily all the details of a specific bill.

I'm sure there are other problems I haven't thought of yet. Do these problems mean we shouldn't try? No, we should try to do our best to work around the problems while keeping the primary goal in mind: Parents should communicate with their children about violence and violent entertainment.

Advantages to Ratings

As I said before, the main reason I support an enforced rating system is because it helps parents communicate with their children about violence. But there might be some other advantages to a rating system that I haven't mentioned yet.

First of all, it might help shut up the currently vocal minority that believe video games are responsible for teen violence. If we pass laws that say teens can't buy them without the parent's permission, then they'll have nothing to say. Even if the games are somehow responsible, it places the real responsibility right back where it belongs, with the parents.

Perhaps a rating system will increase the quality of the games coming out today. If a game publisher wants to make a gratuitously violent game just because violence sells, perhaps an enforced rating system will make them think more carefully about the decision. A better approach to game design, one that's more focused on gameplay than gore, could result. Then again, this might actually be a problem if it handcuffs the game designers' creativity. I don't know, it's a topic for future discussion, I guess.

So What Can We Do?

I'm convinced that we'll soon see other U.S. states, and perhaps other countries, following Senator Wagner's lead. Some countries, as I understand it, already have enforced rating systems in place. If it's not yet an issue where you live, it probably will be soon. The video game industry is just now emerging from its infancy, and this issue is one of its growing pains.

Gamers, it's time for us to make ourselves heard. Very shortly, each of us will need to make a choice. It's about to go beyond the let's-talk-about-it stage and into the realm of law. Do we support an enforced rating system or not?

If you agree with this concept, and you live in the United States, I encourage you to write your senators and congressmen about it. If you disagree with this concept, I encourage you to do precisely the same thing. That's what America is all about. Remember: polite, well-reasoned paper letters are the best way to get your point of view heard by your elected officials; e-mails and flames will most likely be ignored. Then, finally, get out there and vote when the time comes. The way our government works, you may or may not end up voting on a specific issue, but at the very least, you can vote to elect state officials that share your views on issues like this one.

Ready to write that letter? Great! U.S. Citizens can look up the addresses of their elected officials by browsing the "State and Local" section at http://www.info.gov/.

One thing I don't encourage you to do is to write me personally and tell me what a complete idiot I am for taking this viewpoint (even though such a statement could very well be true). I know I'm inviting flames by writing this article, but a private debate wasn't my goal. If you want to debate this topic, e-mail feedback@planetquake.com. Your letter might appear in an upcoming issue of the PlanetQuake mailbag. This will give you a chance to be heard by someone other than just me. But above all, if you want something to actually happen (or not to happen), then a paper mail addressed to your elected officials, followed by voting, is the best channel.

-- Tony

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of Planetquake, it's staff, the Gamespy network, that guy who delivers our fedex packages, or the band "Cake". Got issues? Mail feedback@planetquake.com and bitch.

Want to take a stab at writing an article? Write up a rough draft and send it to crispy for consideration. Don't feel bad if you don't get an immediate response. He gets a lot of email, and it sometimes takes him a few days to sort through everything.

 


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