From laws that “ban” retail sale of a game to game companies that argue against their rating to store policies that prohibit selling “Mature” games to kids, video game ratings matter. We see ratings drama occur time and time again, especially when it comes to Sony Japan eroge games attempting to come west. But while every country approaches ratings differently, and some are stricter than others, all of us seem to agree that not every game is age appropriate for all players.
It’s unsettling but, ultimately, unsurprising that “Childcare.co.uk surveyed more than 2000 parents in the UK, and found more than half let their children play video games for over 18 without supervision or knowledge of the game beforehand.” And while stores like GameStop have policies in place to remind parents what the ESRB ratings mean, not every cashier will state it every time. Additionally, other retailers will say nothing at all.
Here in the United States, we have the ESRB but those letters on the corner of the box don’t tell the whole story. Not all M for Mature games are created equal. So while a parent might be okay with the M for Mature violence in DOOM, they may not be okay with the M for Mature sexual content in GTA V. And while the ESRB does list the reasons for the rating on the box, it’s in small print and sometimes can be difficult to imagine in practice (can anyone explain the difference between cartoon violence and comic mischief?). But the biggest hurdle here are parents, potentially, not understanding that adult themes in games can have as much impact as those in movies. Yet “86 per cent of respondents admitted they don’t follow age restrictions on video games, whereas 23 per cent said they didn’t follow age restrictions on films.”
Not every parent of a gamer is a gamer themselves, so learning about a niche, seemingly harmless hobby can fall low on the to-do list. It’s up to us as a community and industry to raise awareness. Because no matter what a parent decides for their child, that decision should be made with all the facts in hand. And the reality is, many parents just aren’t as informed.