Video Game Content Ratings: Does Anyone Care Anymore?

Age ratings on video games are used by a number of nations to censor inappropriate content from those deemed too young to view it. There are many aspects of a video games’ content which is taken into account when rating it, such as levels of violence, frequency and severity of language, and sexual images and references. Just as nations pose various age restriction laws on smoking, drinking and driving, the age ratings on video games are there to protect vulnerable parties who could misinterpret some aspects of a video game, whilst also giving the public the tools to make an informed decision on their video game purchases. Whilst under-age drinking, smoking and driving are highly frowned upon in many countries, studies have highlighted the increase in disregard for video game content ratings, as shown by Dr. David Walsh, who published in 2000 that 90% of teenagers claim that their parents “never” check the ratings before allowing them to rent or buy video games. With this rejection of independent reviews on video games, questions regarding where the blame lies, and what this exposure means for gamers who play above their age bracket are becoming more and more frequent.

Whilst the age ratings on video games are not enforcible under law in many countries, the various systems are often associated with and/or sponsored by the government, with some video game stores using them to restrict the sale of certain games from under-aged customers. Perhaps where the problem lies is that the ratings which feature on a high number of video games, are simply guidelines, not laws. As a result of this, the age ratings are often ignored when they should be viewed with user discretion and judgement by parents who buy them for their children. The law on drinking is often broken by parents who judge their children to be responsible enough to drink, so what hope does a mere guideline have for protecting children from content they cannot understand fully, and in extreme cases, cannot separate from reality.

In sociological terms, this is often referred to as copycat violence. It is when young or vulnerable people play video games with inappropriate sexual content or excessive violence, and do not understand that is merely a fiction and is not how normal situations within civilised society function. As a result of this, they relate the situations of violent revenge or manipulation found in video games into their own lives, often as answers to bullying or familial problems, and re-enact them with often horrific and tragic results. Examples of this include various high-school shooting in America such as the Heath High School shooting in 1997, the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, as well as a number of frightening stories in more recent years involving young children taking weapons into their school, to emulate the actions of their favourite video game characters. Whilst these cases are rare, and are sometimes used to cause a moral panic against the influence of video games, it cannot be ignored that children are more influenced and affected by their interactions with media in its many forms.

The fact that stores selling games do not have to employ age restriction policies on their customers means that the responsibility should lie with parents. Just as a parent often censors their child’s television habits, such as not letting them watch past the 9pm ‘watershed’ in the UK, they should monitor more closely what kind of games their child is playing. However, a problem lies in the many strategies children have for getting something they want. As highlighted in a late 2013 Sky News interview with games industry veteran Ian Livingstone, who appeared to discuss the transition for the UK content rating PEGI to become law, was challenged by the news reporter, Eamonn Holmes, who stated, “”You know and I know, and I know also as a parent, I definitely know, that these age ratings are not adhered to. And the reason why is because, no matter what is said, if your ten year old wants this game, he will say ‘ugh, but dad, everyone in class has this game”. This pressure placed on parents often leads to them going to game stores with their child, and buying the game on their behalf. Certainly this is not the parent condoning the exposure of inappropriate content, but more a lack of knowledge and influence on the subject of video games.

Xbox-One-Logo-620x400With the increasing prominence of the internet, and the current generation being one who has grown up with computers and gaming consoles as heavily influential parts of their every-day lives, more and more people disregard the content ratings on videos as a means to keep their children happy, or keep up with their friends or culture. The disregard for the law by game stores, parents, and even gaming companies, who have a level of obligation to manage who their product is being sold to and played by is only made harder by the advances in technology. Children and teenagers are being allowed to relatively anonymously purchase video games on-line, via outlets such as Steam, Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, with little censorship and concern as to the appropriateness of the games’ content. The lack of regard for the age ratings on video games can only lead to the desensitisation of children to violence and death, making it all the more likely for them to engage in the deviant behaviour they are exposed to from far too young an age. The content ratings are there for a reason, and as just as important as the laws on drinking and other age restricted activities: You wouldn’t let a child walk into a strip-club, so why let them do it on games such as Grand Theft Auto?

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Writing most fervidly about film, animation, comics and games, but you'll get articles on almost anything if it catches my eye. Not afraid to criticise as well as champion.
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  1. Lucas Johnson

    At the end of the day a rating sticker doesn’t stop a kid from playing a game, it’s the parents job to take notice of the information and make an informed decision as to whether their kid is responsible and mature enough to handle playing a game or not.
    When I ran a gaming store years ago I used to have parents coming in all shitty at me because I wouldn’t sell their 10 year old a copy of GTA III (which is a restricted 18 title and illegal to sell to anyone under the age of 18 in New Zealand)

    Most parents still think of video games as ‘kids’ games, oh how wrong they are.

    • Louise Egan

      It really annoys me when I see parents buying their 12 year olds 18+ games. It is just as bad as them buying the child alcohol to a certain extent. They are not ready for the things, and being a child have less restraint in general not to abuse it, because they are being allowed a forbidden thing. My 13-year-old brother tried to get me to buy him Call Of Duty Ghosts when I took him to a game store, even though my parents had said no, so whilst the parents should use the ratings, it can be quite hard to ignore a child who is persistent in what they want.

      • Who are you to judge a parent’s decision to purchase a game for a child? … “It is just as bad as them buying the child alcohol to a certain extent” makes no sense. “to a certain extent” would imply they are not the same and one is not “just as bad” as the other. You then make a claim on behalf of all children, yet offer no evidence.

      • Hugo Layzell

        Kids do understand that games are just games. Saying that a 12 year old is not ready for an 18+ game is just wrong. It depends entirely on the child as different children are ready for different things. I think there should be ratings on videogames however 18+ games should be reduced to around 12+ as most children play these 18 games and have no problems with them. So the ratings should be much lower and then once a child gets past the age of the rating the parent should consider if they are ready.

  2. Giving Ratings to movies and video games is stupid. They only exist cause parents are to dumb to figure it out on their own.

    • Louise Egan

      I wouldn’t say parents are dumb, not at all. The fact is that they have not grown up submerged in technology. Children these days are taught in school how to use computers. For the older generation, who were adults already when computers and technology became more and more commonplace, they had to learn from scratch, and they had to learn a lot very quickly, which is not easy. Children and teenagers today have grown up with phones and computers being an everyday usable technology, so are more informed than their parents, not dumb. That’s what a kid who cant get a game they want would say. The ratings are there so that the parents dont have to go and watch the film/ play the game themselves to know whether it is suitable for their child.

  3. What I really like about digital games is that they can get away with crap that retail won’t dare pull. For example, In Super Meat Boy, You have a Fetus in a jar flipping you the bird, you smear blood over every surface you touch, and you race against a pile of crap through a Salt Factory. As long as digital distributors don’t REQUIRE ratings, it’s not too bad though.

    • Louise Egan

      Tbh in the case of super meat boy, its the fact that they were an independent company, so dont have to adhere as strictly to what is appropriate for the sake of keeping a brand happy. Digital distributors do use the ratings, for example pretty much all the games on Steam abide by either the PEGI or ESRB ratings, but obviously this is easier to get around, because a child can choose not to show their parents the rating when they ask to buy it. This is harder with physical games, as they have it on the outer case in at least 2 places.

  4. The Ratings system is made so the government doesn’t decide to get further involved than it tried to before. Basically, it is either ESRB, or more limits on what can not only be purchased, but what maybe produced and considering the crazy government we have, I’d prefer the ESRB to the US Gov’t.

  5. Dwayne Pittman

    I used to be a big enforcer of ESRB, especially around the time I was working as the team-lead for Electronics at Target; I seriously thought certain games didn’t have any business in the wrong hands… but the more I see of games and media, I think I’ve taken the defeatist, “like there’s anything we can really do about it”, and “does it really matter” role? I used to make tons of efforts to make sure little kids didn’t walk out of the store with San Andreas and the like, due to the “suggestive content” and other material… but even that was pixelated/cartoony, not as realistic as it could be, and somewhat dumbed down in comparison to now and days. Moving right along to recent times, when games like Risen 2, (mind you, Risen games are meh), can come out, with a cutesy pirate theme, seem like a decent sandbox game, and even have a cute little gnome that’s silly… but then curses like a sailor and ends every sentence with “F-yes”, (I’m even former Navy, and when I saw this really cute little thing suddenly being all “F*** yes!” all over the place, I even flinched!), along with making mentions to terms like “S for brains”… well, yeah, I think the lines have gone so blurred they’re invisible, and it’s only an inevitable amount of time before it doesn’t really matter anymore sadly.

    • Louise Egan

      There are many games that are like that nowadays, so it becomes harder and harder for parents to know what their child can play just based on the cover image.
      It’s so confusing to me as to why children even want to play these mature games when they are so young, when I was young I was quite happy playing games my age, but I guess there was more variety, especially as the new next-gen consoles have a limited amount of games at the moment. Some of the things I see even now in games when I’m allowed to buy any game I think I don’t want to see, because its just gross and inappropriate for anyone.

  6. lAverne

    Speaking of the ESRB, you would think that when almost 90% of blockbuster releases are M rated they would adjust the rating system to take into account that one or two curse words and some blood isn’t really ‘that’ mature. Especially Halo games, it seems like they’re rated M just for the hell of it.

  7. I am 12 and I speak on behalf of my generation. Yes, parents are a bit more of pushovers these days, and yes they are oblivious to anything game-related. But a bratty kid who plays mature games rarely turns out violent or bossy. A mother just needs to learn to put their foot down. I have been a gamer for as long as I remember, but am yet to play a game rated M, nor do I really want to yet.

    • Louise Egan

      I think people view and play games differently, thats why it can be such a personal experience for people, and I think the ratings should be taken into account, coupled with an influence from the parents on the childs maturity. A lot of the time, when children play the 18+ rated games, the characters tend to influence them (they try to act like their favourite characters because they think they’re cool, and they end up swearing or re-enacting things they saw (this is especially evident with young children, who re-enact superhero or wrestling style moves that they have seen on TV or in games). It can be very difficult for parents to put their foot down, as they are under culture pressure to keep their family moving with modern times, and some children are very persistent. I think it’s great if you understand that the M rated games are not designed for your age group, but often once one child has the game, their friendship group all get pressured into getting it, so they can all play together.

    • James An

      Agreed, I was probably 10 or 12 when i played GTA 3. I’m living a perfectly clean life, have an amazing girlfriend and family, get A’s and B’s in college, work hard for a living, don’t have a single crime in my record. Games don’t make people violent, that all falls on the shoulders of the parents. My parents taught me well, I knew the difference between reality and gaming. I wasn’t going to steal my parents car and run some people over in real life.

      • Well said, I also started my playing GTA at around 11 thanks to my dad. A normal kid that receives some good parenting can clearly see the difference between reality and a virtual world, and will not try to mimic the thing seen in video games or movies. I’m 21 now and almost finish with college and I don’t even have a spec of dust on my record.

  8. Ratings haven’t stopped me when I was a kid. I feel like if a kid can handle a mature rated game without being immature or shouting innappropiate words at the screen. then I say let them play it.

    • Louise Egan

      That’s the idea of the ratings being guidelines, the parents are meant to have a judgement depending on their childs maturity. The issues there is that due to the generation gap, many parents cant make a judgement. One of the big factors in giving a game an age rating is the language. The problem with young children who play the games is they then end up thinking it is okay to swear all the time, or want to do it to be cool, as the video character they learnt it from was ‘cool’.

      • And because parents cannot make this decision due to this “generation gap”, it can also be inferred that our government has no realistic way of aiding in this either, as they are even older(in many if not most, though certainly not all cases). So following your line of logic, it seems as though the only people able to judge these ratings appropriately are the children themselves.

  9. green_meklar

    ‘You wouldn’t let a child do X in real life, so why let them do it in a game?’ What sort of twisted logic is that? It’s a game, a simulation. The activity in question isn’t really happening, its real-world moral implications are simply not present. Indeed, the whole point of games is escapism, to let us simulate doing things we can’t or wouldn’t do in the real world. If we want kids to distinguish between games and real life, shouldn’t we start by learning that distinction ourselves?

    (Sorry if this post shows up twice, the site was behaving badly the first time.)

    • Louise Egan

      Yes it is a simulation, so it is based on the real thing, so things people see in games that could be inappropriate for children are to a certain extent are how they are in real life, which in my opinion is wrong for them to see in any form.
      For the most part it is used for escapism, but the very small minority of people take it further with terrible events are a result, and that is why I think people should at least acknowledge the age rating on a game rather than ignore it, because it acts as a safe guard for the small minority who would end up taking a games events out of fantasy from seeing the inappropriate material.

  10. Jon Lisi


    The media effects view reinforces fear and conservatism. As Henry Jenkins once said, “Listen to our children, don’t fear them.” We can’t really prove that video games cause children to act violently, and the examples you mention (i.e. Columbine) aren’t entirely suitable because there are many other factors that also come into play, like lenient gun laws, mental illness, etc. What of the millions of children who plays these games and DON’T act violently? Why single out a few rare cases?

    Each parent should be able to make their own decision on how to raise their child, especially when it comes to exposing them to certain art (i.e. video games, film, music, etc.). Some parents make the decision to shield their child from “inappropriate” content and that is fine, but other parents believe it is important for their child to be exposed to these things so the child grows up with an understanding of it. In my case, my parents allowed me to play the violent video games, watch the R-rated movies, listen to the vulgar rap music at an early age, and I believe all of that made me smarter and exposed me to more art. This is long-winded but shouldn’t we just let people make their own decisions and stop passing judgement because our morals are different from theirs?

    In any event, an extremely well-written article that obviously inspires dialogue.

    • Louise Egan

      Firstly, thank you very much for the compliment on my choice of article, I do think this issue is very much opinion based, and does largely depend on the attitude of parents past and present.
      Obviously the majority of children who played adult rated games dont have any problem with distinguishing the line between reality and fantasy situations which is great, but I focus on the bad because they are the tragic events that should cause people to ask questions about what their children are exposed to at certain ages, and although there was a whole host of influential factors that led the people to commit the crimes, mature games did have a part in it, such as teaching them about weapons, and creative ways to use/obtain them.
      Nothing will ever stop children playing games above their age, and to a certain extent I wouldn’t want that, because as can be seen by the many opinions on this article, it is very based on your level of maturity, interest in those types of games from a young age and the stance of your parents. I do feel however that the ratings should be used to make up at least part of a parents choice as to whether to give their child mature games, but more and more it is just being flat out ignored. I do admit that I could be biased, as I was more than happy playing non-violent games such as The Rugrats and Gran Turismo as a child, but thats what makes this an opinion/discussion piece 🙂

      • Jon Lisi

        That’s a fair point. I played Gran Turismo as well, and Mario Kart, and they were my favorites anyway.

        I come from a cinema background and obviously there are major differences but at least with the film ratings, there’s hardly a consistency and the ratings are often influenced by misguided ideologies (i.e. homosexuality is wrong so let’s give it an R rating).

        Since films aren’t as interactive, I suppose there’s more of a need to care about the video games ratings since players often choose what to do with them (i.e. go on a GTA rampage).

  11. Rating system is pointless for games. It’s mostly kids buying the most violent games anyway.

  12. i have been getting 18+ games from the time i was 13….nobody cares

    • Louise Egan

      Judging by the amount of discussion on this, I think people do care about the issue. As I have said it is largely based on your parents beliefs on it and your interests as a child, but the ratings on any game are important, especially for parents who are unsure whether to get their child a certain game rather than those who don’t care about the ratings to begin with.

      • Another Child

        Yes, quite the discussion here, certainly enough to assume a large part of the Western World cares about this issue. Oh wait, I remember that this article though counters that claim. “Dr. David Walsh, who published in 2000 that 90% of teenagers claim that their parents “never” check the ratings before allowing them to rent or buy video games.” So according to study, Most (and likely a vast majority) of people do not care about this issue.

  13. Nellie White

    I’m old enough where I can purchase any game I want, so… Yeah, I don’t really care about ratings like I did when I was younger. I ONLY care when there’s voice chat (it can be pretty useful) and all you hear are little racist white 12-year-olds swearing their heads off, but there’s always the “mute” option for those kids.

    And remember, parents: those ratings are there for a reason! (Mainly to keep annoying kids off of voice chat, but sometimes also for content. Just sometimes.)

    • Louise Egan

      I do think that the servers on lots of games are very inappropriate. Even on particularly harmless games such as ‘Minecraft’, you have teenagers and students swearing on servers with 10 year olds on it too, which I do find very wrong.
      Obviously the ratings do become less of an issue once you are above them all, because people are mature enough (in theory) to use videos games for their intended purpose: for enjoyment, stress release, and the wonder of escapism. There are so many games for adults (as they are the target audience with direct access to their money) which are too inappropriate for children, such as GTA, with its strip clubs and drug dens, that parents really shouldnt buy their children, but are tending to do more and more.

  14. I completely agree with you Louise, there is definitely a need for parents to take the content warnings on games more seriously. I’m an avid gamer myself and admittedly I myself am guilty of ignoring age warnings when I was younger, but thankfully the games I play were relatively tame. My younger brother has clearly been influenced greatly from his exposure to various 18+ ridiculously violent games in his early teenage years, and now has anger management and social competency issues. Obviously as with all this, some people are more susceptible to this influence than others but as parents there is a responsibility to protect your child whether they are vulnerable or not. When I worked in Game there is nothing you can do to enforce content ratings, all you can do is ask “Are you aware of what’s in this game?” and most adults are just like “Yeah, yeah, whatever” =/ It’s kind of ridiculous really that most of the people I sold to weren’t interested at all in the game they were buying for their kid. I think this issue is more pressing now than ever, like you said online gaming platforms like Steam are allowing for this and there are many more violent and inappropriate games around now than there were when I was a kid. Game companies will continue to churn out all kinds of things and there isn’t an issue with them doing so, as there isn’t a problem with adults playing stuff like GTA and Saints Row, the problem lies with parents ignoring what they are exposing their (easily influenced) kids to.

  15. I have to applaud you for taking on such a controversial topic, though, I’m afraid I can’t wholeheartedly agree with your stance. The reasons why game ratings don’t really matter is because they are based on age, not maturity. I hate to use the old “I played violent games as a kid and I turned out fine,” excuse, but I feel like I have to. No organization will be able to judge the maturity of every child because that would be impossible. It is possible for parents to judge the maturity of their kid and let them play certain games.

    I’m not saying video game ratings should be abandoned, but parents should use them, read their reasoning, and then decide.

    • Louise Egan

      Thank you, I can’t say I thought it would turn out to be such a controversial topic when I was writing it. I think the reason organisations use the age ratings, is because it is, as you say, difficult to define maturity in every child, so choose an age where by most children would in blanket terms be mature enough to play a certain type of game.
      I agree with you, they should be used and taken into account, not taken to either extremity and ignored completely, or taken as law.

    • I agree with this wholeheartedly; age and maturity rarely seem to match up. Unfortunately, ERSB and PEGI ratings are restricted to very small blocks of text on boxes and occupy a small amount of visual real estate compared to box art. They only have the ability to make a broad judgement with a few key reasons, and hope that the consumer will be responsible enough to research the product and the ratings for themselves. This is an unfortunate double edged sword: I’d love a more detailed rating, explaining maturity content – but I also would hate for the rating to overwhelm the remaining real estate of the product.

  16. Lachlan Vass

    Parental disregard for the ratings is probably because when they grew up, videogames were no more than toys, whereas now they are far more serious forms of entertainment

    • Louise Egan

      That is very true. Due to the increase in available gaming formats, and the advances in technology which has allowed developers to create more complex stories and more detailed design, video games have expanded from their child aimed roots.

  17. Intolerence

    Ratings are pointless when it comes to younger people getting “mature” games

    • Louise Egan

      Making a statement of your opinion with no reasoning behind it does nothing for discussion of the matter. Why comment?

  18. Timothy

    I think they should change to a number-based system. There are always going to be those parents that simply do not care, but slapping a giant 17+ or 18+ on the cover would probably get more attention than just having an M on there. Or even a color coded system. It may sound pointless, but it can’t be any more pointless than the system has already become.

    • Louise Egan

      The PEGI rating does work on ages, so in the UK and some parts of the EU they have the 18+ stickers etc, as well as the various content icons for drugs and violence and so on. Unfortunately these are still ignored, making it more a lack of care by the parents and people who buy the games rather than a flawed system.

  19. Monique Clarke

    Getting immature kids to stop playing mature games = the miracle solution.

  20. Jonathon Wilson

    I’ve always been a little on the fence on this topic. As a 30 year old, I grew up playing many of the games that have at one time or another been cited for being the cause of some of the “copycat” violence that is mentioned here. I think to myself, “What’s the difference between playing this game or watching this movie?” In many cases we are talking about teenagers that, by all accounts, should be able to figure out the difference between walking down the street like a normal person and firing a RPG at a police helicopter. To that, I say bunk, and either something is wrong with those very few kids or videogames were a convenient scapegoat, just like rap music was in the 90’s when a Congresswoman actually read Snoop Dog lyrics on the floor in Washington. However, I also acknowledge that, at least in my own opinion, there is a double standard when it comes to film. Very rarely would you see an adult bring a minor, particularly a pre-teen, to a rated R movie. Perhaps it’s because they have to physically take them to the film, whereas with a video game you just purchase it and let them go. Or perhaps it’s because films (generally) depict actual humans doing whatever might have been considered inappropriate for minors.

    In the end, I think that, short of making video game ratings law, which just seems absurd in my mind, the majority of the responsibility just has to fall upon the parent. They should be informed on what they are letting their children play, and should monitor as best as possible what they are doing without permission. Beyond that, there is not much you can do because those decisions are at the parent’s discretion. If they think they are old enough, so be it. Hopefully they will try to talk with their kids about what they are seeing and doing and the difference between the games and real life. However, at some point the kids have to take responsibility themselves as well. It should, I guess, be a collaborative process.

  21. Pretty true! I feel parents should be more informed about the ratings or even the game.

  22. HariMackinnon

    Ok to start with I’d like to say that I live in the UK and as far I know right now, the age rating on video-games are now legally binding, just as they are for movies, so a shop can’t sell an 18 rated game to someone who cannot when asked prove their age. I think this is a good idea on balance and I don’t have an issue with it at all.

    I do have an issue with your conflation in your article with exposure to violent media desensitising children to violence, and the specific sentence “a number of frightening stories in more recent years involving young children taking weapons into their school, to emulate the actions of their favourite video game characters.”

    There is absolutely no conclusive proof that any of the school shooters you mentioned did so in response to playing violent video-games, and certainly none of them explicitly were attempting to emulate the characters on sceen. This argument is raised by the pro-gun lobby in the U.S. every time one of these incidents happens and every time it is seriously contested by most legitimate members of the scientific community. Almost every study into child exposure to violent media, both films, music and games has come to a conclusion that exposure to violent media does not increase a child’s aggressivess or propensity to violence. In fact a couple of years ago the British government commissioned a study specifically into the effects of violent videogames on child development which came to exactly this conclusiosn, much to the chargrin of some of our politicians who were hoping to use violent videogames as a scapegoat for much deeper sociological and institutional issues regarding mental health, the place of youth in communities, bullying etc.

    • Louise Egan

      I live in the UK too, and yes they became law as of November 2013 I think it was.

      Even if children and teenagers do not violently act out the things they see in games, I have experienced many cases of make-believe playing in children, where they pretend to shoot their friends, and there was an issue in the 1990s when WWE (then WWF) was big, and children would wrestle eachother, and end up getting hurt quite badly in some cases. An issue with this is that as a female who had very little interest in violent/ mature games until I was about 18, my opinion is affected by this. That’s what makes this an opinion piece though.

      You are right, there is no conclusive proof that the shooters I mentioned were responding to their experiences with video games, but there is no one specific reason that was conclusively proven to cause these reactions. Obviously the events were the result of many factors in the persons life, and that is why the majority of people do not react in these ways, because they do not have the combination of issues that the teenagers and children who act violently had.

      Whilst games may not increase a child’s aggressiveness, I find it unlikely that if a child was going to commit a shooting and they had never played violent video games or been exposed to overly mature content that they would know how to use a gun or where to get one. That knowledge of how to use a gun (Obvioulsy games dont do this particularly realistically) and what shooting someone will look like is not something we are born with.

  23. KatieFeehan

    Yeh kids are going to find a way to play video games even if they aren’t legally allowed. Even my Grandma bought me Mortal Kombat when I was 14 because she knows that I’m not a violent psychopath who’s going to be unduly influenced by the game! I don’t think they should get rid of them altogether because they d indicate certain qualities about a game’s content but they’re not effective enough to stop kids from playing adult rated games.

  24. Strong article, but I have never found anything that points to a strong link between shootings and video games. Stating that video games caused the Heath and Columbine shootings is false, and while there is evidence that it may have contributed it is not enough to justify it.

    On a different note, video games ratings are good for parents who do not have the time to research each game themselves, and I wish they were followed a little bit more than they currently are.

  25. I suppose, in lieu of actual parenting, these ratings, at the very least, provide some sort of guidance for those interested in being guided.

  26. While the debate still rages on as to whether or not violent video games cause violence in children, I do not think that they can be blamed for such events as Columbine. A recent study was done by Drs. Christopher Ferguson and Cheryl Olson on 377 children who were considered high risk and the effect of playing violent video games on them. These video games included ‘Mortal Kombat’ ‘Halo’ and ‘Grand Theft Auto.’ High risk is described as having elevated “attention deficit or depressive symptoms.” Essentially, the doctors discovered that these video games showed no evidence of sparking violence or aggression in the children. If anything, the games offered a release and created a calming effect especially in those children with attention deficit symptoms. One of the doctors even goes so far as to make a statement concerning the fears that violent video games sparked previous instances of mass homicide. Ferguson said, “Statistically speaking, it would actually be more unusual if a youth delinquent or shooter did not play violent video games, given that the majority of youth and young men play such games at least occasionally.” – Overall, I enjoyed reading your article, but drawing connections between video games and the Heath and Columbine shootings can be sticky business. I really wish parents would pay more attention to ESRB ratings though. Not because I think that if they do not, their children will eventually commit mass homicide, but because I think that images such as those found in violent video games can cause unnecessary fear in them. If a parent can prevent their child from having nightmares because of a scary game or even a frightening movie, why shouldn’t they? Kids should be allowed to be kids and not be presented with ideas they are not yet equipped to think critically about.

    • *Gasp!* I forgot to post the source!

      Nauert, R. (2013). In New Study, Video Games Not Tied to Violence in High-Risk Youth. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 22, 2014, from

      • THANK YOU! I was excited for this article to bring up some neat points, but I think everyone should have stopped reading at: “Examples of this include various high-school shooting in America such as the Heath High School shooting in 1997, the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, as well as a number of frightening stories in more recent years involving young children taking weapons into their school, to emulate the actions of their favourite video game characters.”

        There’s no basis in the article for this claim and it’s bothersome to see any person say that video games are the be-all-end-all cause of school shootings.

  27. Ratings have never stopped anyone of any age to purchase a game, neither has it prevented sales people from handing over this product to visibly under aged customers. I’m sure the video game companies themselves hope that this very contradiction continues to happen, so that they can enlarge their revenue stream. In today’s world ratings on video games seem to me as nothing more than a means of legal protection for the makers. It’s a way to pass on liability in the event that some kid actually goes nuts and tries to bring the latest Grand Theft Auto to life.

  28. While I agree that there is something wrong with parents either not checking content ratings or simply not caring, I feel that the problem is so much deeper than video games. You mention parents allowing children to drink underage, but then turn around and say that parents regulate their children’s television habits. From personal experience, I know far fewer parents who let their children drink than who actually regulate television watching habits. There are also laws in place in the US in at least some states where children can legally drink, when in the home of their parent or guardian while that parent or guardian is present and permissive of the act. My home state is an example of this. It’s another case of parental discretion.

    I feel that the real problem is that many parents simply don’t care to use parental discretion, no matter what the instance. Video games are only a part of a wider problem where parents simply let their children do whatever they want, not thinking about possible consequences, or not believing that such consequences will happen with their own child. I’m not sure there is a concrete way to counter this, but I hope there is, and I hope someone finds it.

  29. While the debate raging around video games can continue with both sides arguing regarding desensitization, I would still like to point to the underlying pull behind video games is to offer an entertaining “escape” from a reality that is set for them. Now while I am not offering this up as being neither positive or negative (argument can easily be made for both), I would urge the look on video games be seen with more depth as to understand why video games have such a pull on children of all ages. The fascination behind an imaginary world has far more potential consequences for society than simply the video games effects. You pull a trigger in a game you can in real life. You can enter the mind of a sociopath in a video game and can become one, sure. It’s possible. You buy the game intentionally because you WANT to experience it..? Scary…

  30. Ivan

    Good choice in topic, especially since video games account for so much of sales nowadays. Call of Duty sold boatloads of units last year and it is essentially the same game year in and year out. This point is neither here nor there, though.

    The onus should be on the parents. They need to be better prepared and informed when they purchase these games for their kids. It shouldn’t matter whether or not all the kids in the class are playing Mortal Kombat 29. The rating says 17+ for a reason. Parents should not cave to their children. There are a plethora of games out there for a child to enjoy and have fun with.

    There is the argument that our generation as kids played whatever they wanted without adhering to the ratings guidelines and we turned out perfectly fine. I feel nowadays that kids are much more easily influenced and games are a heavily influencing medium.

    The guidelines cannot do anything and neither can the game selling companies. They are merely guidelines telling us what is in these games and the local video game selling clerk can only inform so much. Plus, they cannot deny a parent’s purchase either.

    The parents have to do better. Learn about these games. Play them with their kids, if they do end up buying. Don’t be an absentminded parent.

  31. Joe Holland

    It seems like M is the default rating nowadays, at least outside the realm of Mario.

  32. Softdrink

    Good article. It definitely says a lot that the ratings system which was expressly designed to keep buyers informed of the kinds of content to expect from a game is so often ignored.

    I still remember when I first convinced my parents to let me play a ‘T’ rated game. They were very suspicious of it at first. I literally wrote an essay explaining the reasons the game was rated that way, based on research I gathered from talking to people who owned it. I’m not suggesting that everyone should need to go to such lengths, but I think it says a lot that they were so careful.

    I can sympathize with how frustrating it can be to deal with a child who has his heart set on something he should not have, but that’s not an excuse. Parents should definitely pay attention to these ratings. They exist for a reason, but unless people notice and act on them they don’t do any good.

  33. It is difficult to say where ratings in general are going. As to the subject of whether ratings aid in exposure/non-exposure to children, like you mentioned it really depends on what the parents allow and what stores are willing to demand. On the one hand things are always more complicated than just the surface will show. Columbine was blamed on violent music as well, and people pointed fingers at Rammstein, KMFDM and Marilyn Manson as well. Personally I feel like you cannot blame violent behavior in children only on video games, or music, or movies. They are exposed on many different levels and if they do not have the proper tools and guidance to deal with the questions they may be asking, extreme cases can occur. My parents couldn’t have cared less if “everyone was doing it”. They would just tell me “too bad” if they felt that what I wanted was inappropriate, etc. Ratings on the games can help parents that DECIDE TO BE ACTIVE IN THEIR CHILDREN’S LIVES decide what they want their children exposed to. And while I know that the level of violence and sexuality in video games/movie/other forms of media is a matter of debate as it becomes more and more graphic, ground zero begins at home. The children who commit heinous crimes like those in school shootings are not reacting merely to the media they are exposed to, but to the foundation in which they grew up on. Sadly enough, it feels as though only a hard-core law which controls what people are exposed to will subdue the problem, but this in turn can also create more problems than its worth. I only wish that parents would step up to the task at hand and stop hiding behind media as the things to blame. While media does shape the way people thing in many ways, it IS possible to rise above it and think for yourself. Parents should instill this in their children.

  34. I agree that video game rating is necessary. Although rating simple serves as an instruction and may not prevent some children from playing 18+ games, at least it’s a signal showing that video games are no longer a blind spot.

  35. I believe video game rating isn’t necessarily needed. Some how, gamers who are supposed to be too young for certain ratings, still manage to get a hold of a copy. Could possibly be part of the whole “bad” attitude where they stick it to the rating system by getting it and playing it. Sort of like “Don’t eat that apple! *five minutes later and one apple missing* You ate the apple when I said not to!”

  36. I like the points you make in this article. Nothing frustrates me more when parents complain about violence or sex in M rated videogames they bought for their children. It is rated M for a reason. I feel like parents are too lazy to do their research on what kinds of games they want their children to play. A lot of it boils down to the mindset a lot of the older generation has that videogames are “childish” things. It’s just a game, so the content can’t be too bad, because games are for kids, right?

    Once, I was listening to the soundtrack from Dragon Age: Origins. When my dad overheard the song I told my dad it was from a videogame. He said, “Oh, I guess videogames can have real music then?”

    ….Yes dad. They do have “real” music. There is actual effort put into games. They are not just for kids anymore. Do your research, parents. Make sure the games you get for your kids are the ones you want them to be playing. Don’t complain when you realize it’s not.

  37. While I do get frustrated that children that are under the appropriate age for games with mature things are getting their hands on them through their parents, it’s not really proven that video games cause any real world violence. That’s just a bit too fear monger-y for my tastes.

  38. Really i feel that it isnt heavily enforced and how can it be. I stood by when i was 12 to get a new call of duty and tried to pay they said i couldn’t my father came over and they just sold it to him knowing i was gonna play it. In reality they were a good idea but a failed idea in today’s world

  39. FilmVixen

    I think much of the problem currently is that our parents, and even many parents currently raising children, did not grow up with much video gaming content. Our generation is the first where much of us grew up playing or having friend who played video games regularly. My boyfriend works at a gamestop and they don’t sell games to minors with an M rating unless the parent is there and says it’s ok. But he also gets frustrated when he sees parents buying GTAV for their 10 year old. The problem often seems to be that parents don’t understand the incredible advancements in video gaming because their last recollection of a video game was Crash Bandicoot and arcade games. They don’t know that the graphics are incredibly realistic and video game developers not only CAN recreate realistic violence and sexual acts, but they DO. My boyfriend has heard people, after telling them that a game was rated M for violence, language, and sexual themes, say, “It’s a video game, how bad can it be.” I can be bad. Very bad. I think by the time much of the young adults now and future generations of young people, begin families, we will know what the technology can do and know better what to allow our children to play.

  40. Brittney Lindstrom

    In my family, the adults would always look at the rating before gifting a video game to one of us children. They were so strict that we couldn’t have anything above our coinciding rating. Yet me, my sister, and my cousin would cheat this system by playing with our older cousins video games since the higher rating usually meant more difficult levels, a variety of weapons, etc. Yet recently, my two little cousins have been playing games like GTA V and I told my Aunt that might be a bit too mature for them. She didn’t listen to me and now my cousins are using the slang used in the game. Ratings should be more important I feel.

  41. Bookworm

    I think you bring up an interesting point about the percentage (albeit potentially a small one) of gamers who struggle to separate the game from reality and the repercussions this can have. However, since parents are failing to acknowledge the ratings appropriate for their children, what would you suggest as an alternative solution? I think it might be possible to go too far in the other direction in terms of government mandates on goods in the private sector.

  42. David Mancini

    As much as I would want to think mature video-games don’t have an effect on younger children, I believe there definitely is a direct correlation to some extent. And I absolutely agree with that there is the “everyone in my class has it” mentality. I saw it when I was in school. To prevent desensitisation, perhaps the younger kids should stick to Super Mario and such, instead than making the leap to Call of Duty and GTA so quickly.

  43. Mary Awad

    This is an awesome, well researched article. Ratings can’t fight the battle on their own. It’s the parents. They’ve become so irresponsible that kids are getting Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto at age 10. They need to think about how these influences will affect their children. People are blaming the video game industry but they’re doing the best they can.

  44. Brandon

    I am eleven and i kinda agree with the topic. I am getting my first M rated game soon and I promised to turn off blood and keep my volume off when the game or people cuss. Some parents, like mine, are smarter and they use parental controls, and on my perspective I think its smart they have that. My mom always tries to be careful when she buys me video games. Also i agree about when kids say “but everyone at school has it.” Lots of the kids do that to there parents. One thing I think kids like me should think about is the violence. Eventualy kids are gonna grow up and go to strip clubs or kill people and be sent to jail. If they play M rated they should try to balance between M and E or they’ll do bad stuff like that.

  45. I see how you might question this. My little brother is 11 and I’ve only let him play Twisted Metal from 2012. There wasn’t much blood and I changed the music in the game to a custom CD I made. Unfortunately, he can’t play anymore because of Dad. However, I do let him watch me play Skyrim; not much bad language and the graphics suck. Ha!

  46. Lol. This is ridiculous. My dad never not let me play a game when I was a kid, no matter the rating. If a game looks badass then I’m going to get it. Period. It’s just a game. Just like how a movie is just a movie. It’s not real. I’ve always been allowed to watch rated R movies. But it’s just a movie

  47. Tristan

    I found this site really helpful. I’m also doing a project on debating and I’m on the against ratings side which was hard but this site helped a lot

  48. As a teacher of young children, I am definitely noticing a lack of language skills in my children who play more video games. At least television was language rich. Video games lack this and my students have no vocabulary to work with. They have no imagination outside what somebody else imagined in the game. It is very sad.

  49. GlyydzHD

    I feel like there shouldnt be ratings because it al depends on how mature the child is

  50. I couldn’t agree more we are a nation of laws we all are supposed to stand by those laws and to see parent’s blindly buy games for there children who have no right playing them because of the images and violence. After questioning GAME UK about this I was told if the parent buys the game the store has no obligation Quote ” I have reviewed this course myself and it makes it very clear that if a child is with a parent or guardian and the adult makes the purchase of an age-related game, there is no breach of the law. The slogan used in the training module is “guardians rule. ” ” so says Clare Nicolaou Game stores uk”

    this guardians rule is a dam joke and must be closed as a loop hole

  51. If we lived in a perfect world where parents acted like parents, then maybe we wouldn’t need a rating system. However in an age where ‘my child I do what I want’, and no one seems to actually pay attention to them, well…You can see why these are needed. My parents taught me right from wrong, and let me play most video games, so long as it didn’t have extreme content.My parents payed attention to what I did, hence why the ‘my child I do what I want’ worked. But if Mommy and Daddy, or whatever setup is in their household, isn’t paying attention to little Tommy, then they can at least pay attention to the rating. It’s printed on the front, you can’t miss it!

  52. SAM walker

    because its not real and we have the rights to do it so what

  53. Nick VanEsler

    i think that it is not age that matters but whether the people playing are mentally capable

  54. When I was a kid and tried to buy GTA SA, the store guy told my dad it was supposed to be for adults only and my dad said I couldn’t get it.. apart from that incident, I grew up playing 18+ games and they didn’t change me whatsoever..

  55. Why

  56. Big Ramifications

    It’s not quite right, but there is an answer.

  57. Jayden Smith

    Parents should look at these ratings more often. My parents actually care about what games I play. I just buy games in my age range… suprising huh, cause this is coming from a 13 yr old.

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