Grand Theft Auto Made Me Do It: Stop Blaming Mature Games and Start Reading Rating Labels!
Remember when Grand Theft Auto: Vice City came out?
It was all over the news at one point. The media was criticizing the game because of kids and teens committing crimes, like stealing money or cars or even hurting another person, and then saying "I did it because it looked like fun when I was playing Grand Theft Auto!" or the investigators would find out that the kid owned the game or played it in general. And this was all because Vice City had the same things in it: you played as Tommy Vercetti, able to smash and kill any or every thing in your path (fun, right?). So immediately parents, along with the media, would blame the game: "Well my son/daughter couldn't have possibly done this crime on his/her own accord! It must've been the terrible, horrible influences from this game!"
My question to the parents would be: if you didn't approve of this game, then why are you allowing your kids to play it? Did you even know that your child was playing it?
Parents, here are a couple of things you need to understand about Mature games:
1) In September 2006, there was a Senator named Sam Brownback who created the Truth in Video Game Rating Act, which required the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) to play every game in its entirety (doesn't that make you jealous, fellow gamers?!) before its release in order to more accurately rate the game for its appropriate and intended audiences (view an article on it here: http://www.standardnewswire.com/news/6386990.html).
*Note: I'm sure there were similar laws well before this because age-ratings have been on video games since I could remember (we're talking early '90s), but I'm only digging back to 2006 for now!
And then later in May 2008, another act - that started out as an ordinary bill - called the Video Game Rating Enforcement Act stated that "all video games must have an age-related rating label" on them (which they have for years), and that if they're "rated M for Mature, meaning adults only or 17 and up only", that they "cannot be purchased from an establishment". So chances are if your kid or kids got their hands on a Mature game and aren't of a mature age, they probably had help getting it without your consent because we all know that places like GameStop and their employees don't want to be fined up to $5,000 or worse just because your kid begged for a Mature game. If you want to read the original bill for this, check it out here: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/110/hr5990/text
2) The ESRB has made it so easy for anyone to understand what's contained in each video game. Why would you blame the game? By law, the folks at the ESRB are required to show an age-related rating of each and every video game that can be found in-store or online. So how can some parents claim they didn't know their kids were playing a Mature game? Because they probably weren't paying attention! Now I'm not saying you should breathe down your kids' necks every second of every day, but if you care that much about what they're playing on the game consoles that you probably bought for them for their birthday or last Christmas, then go find out! Look at the game case! There'll be a nice little rating letter on the bottom of the front and back of the case waiting for you - yes, you! - to inspect. Parents, feel free to check out the ESRB site, which is proudly advertised on each and every video game's rating label: http://www.esrb.org/index-js.jsp
3) I understand that it's easy to buy Mature games online from, say, Amazon.com or wherever. I know that some online stores require you to have an account with them, but the problem is that it's easy for anyone to make an account and fake their birth year. In that case, you need to not give your child a gift card if you don't want them going online to use it and potentially end up buying a Mature game. Be aware of what your kids are up to because kids are slick!
And if you want this sort of thing changed, get some other parents together and call your local Congressman! Tell them how important it is! Make a bill and submit it if it's that important to you! You have a choice and a voice! Realistically, it might be easier to just go straight to your kids to solve the problem...but don't let me limit your capabilities!
4) If your child commits a crime and blames it on a Mature video game he/she played, chances are he/she is trying to cover up that he/she probably wanted to do it well before he/she started playing that game. It's called an excuse. And if that game genuinely inspired your child to commit a crime out of sheer enjoyment, chances are that your child wasn't old enough - or mature enough - to be playing it in the first place! And if he/she was old enough, then... that's another story.
My point is don't blame the game. The law has stepped in and made it harder for your kids to buy Mature games in the store. Unfortunately, they can buy them online or get someone of age to buy it for them, but if you stay on your P's and Q's about what your child has access to as far as 1) video games, 2) adults with questionable/different beliefs/parenting styles than yours, and 3) and gift cards, then you need not worry. If they fuss about you not letting them play the video game they want to play because they're not old enough to play it, well too bad! You're the parent which means you (and your spouse/partner) are the boss of your household! Put your foot down! Be the boss!
Now I understand that sometimes kids will go over their friends' houses and play games that they don't have at their own houses. Then as a parent, you could make friends with that kid's parents and find out what kinds of video games they're playing together. If it's something you disapprove of, explain it to the friend's parents and hopefully they'll understand and respect your request of discretion while your child is at their house. Otherwise, you might not want to let your kid go over to that friend's house anymore, if it's that important to you.
So how important is Mature video game discretion to you when it comes to your child?
I, myself, have no problem with playing M-Rated games in front of my son now because he's too little to understand what's going on (or at least that's what I believe). Maybe when he gets a little older, I'll restrict some games he watches me or my husband play or games he plays by himself. Maybe he'll only get to play Call of Duty with Daddy and Super Mario with me, who knows? For some parents, that's bound to cause some conflict if one of you disagrees, so work it out between the both of you! Remember you're a team and you're looking out for your child!
But the number one key to making sure your kids understand Mature games, and their content versus real life, is explaining to them the difference between fantasy and reality.
"Son/Daughter, this is a Mature game. When you play it, you'll see violent images, hear profane language, and be able to commit heinous crimes. But remember: it's not real! It's just a game! And games are supposed to be fun! So if it bothers you, let me know and we'll take it back and get another game." You know, something like that. Chances are, it won't bother your child, but hey... Anything can happen.
And that example is exactly why some kids under 17 shouldn't play Mature games. They think that the game is cool, which is all fine and dandy, but that doesn't mean you should go out and do what you do on the video game in real life.
Bottom line, parents? It's up to you. Monitor what your kids are playing. It's your job to guide your kids in the right direction. Don't blame the video game when your kid decides to act out something he/she saw in the game because then the question becomes: where were you when your child was playing the game?
I would hope you were paying attention and not busy blaming game companies like Rockstar Games for your kids' behavior. Mature video games are fun and exciting, but they're called Mature video games for a reason!