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the ESRB, or Entertainment Software Rating Board, ultimately has a noble purpose. As most are familiar, games are rated E(everyone) through M(mature). Each rating level has a minimum age required for the game to be “appropriate”. The purpose of the system is clear: To provide an avenue for parents to determine what kind of media their children are being exposed to. However, the ESRB system provides several other complications that go beyond keeping track of what kids see. They affect both the sales and development of video games- aspects that not only concern how the a gaming community is shaped, but what content appears in the game.

Many People Ignore ESRB Ratings

No matter how much people try to control it, T(teen) and M rated games will continue to fall into the hands of children. Some parents simply buy the game for their kids, either unaware or uncaring of the content. (there’s nothing more charming than an elementary schooler who plays Grand Theft Auto). Regardless, a parent or other adult party must purchase a game for the child, as stores are supposed to distribute games to people who don’t seem of ESRB age. Unsurprisingly, it is quite loosely enforced enforced in stores. It could even be as simple as a younger child getting their hands on a game their older brother or sister plays. Because of these factors it is very easy for a child to be exposed to the content despite what ESRB attempts to regulate. Because of the many  easy ways a kid can dodge age restrictions, the ESRB ratings don’t have much effect on who uses gaming products.

But, the Ratings Still Impact Games

Because they must consider the people who do enforce ESRB ratings (stricter parents and salesmen), gaming developers prefer to decide a rating that matches who they want to sell the game to. This will impact the content seen in games because the a wider demographic of appeal means a less realistic game (realistic being used to describe degrees of violence, vulgarity, etc.) For instance, some games might have been that much better with more graphic combat, but are edited to fit within the boundaries of a desired ESRB rating. The best examples of this are shooters that are rated T as opposed to M. Mature rated FPS games are much more realistic and give the developers more room to be creative and provide a more innovative product.  ESRB ratings are already scarcely used, yet inhibit the creative freedom of studios looking to appeal to a wider player range.

Trying to Find a Middle Ground

How can we experience everything game developers have to offer without compromising the consideration of children? Frankly, we can’t. It is definitely important for parents to control what their children see; many parents do not want their kids to experience what some games have to offer (rightfully so, given the graphic nature of many games). Because developers consider ESRB in their creative process, they must hold some esteem among consumers. In some respects the argument comes down to fighting the inevitable: there will always be the GTA playing 5th grader. Even if your child isn’t allowed to play a certain game, the truly stubborn child will probably find a way (demos, friends houses, etc.). Perhaps it is more important that parents discuss with their children the edgy topics that ESRB attempts to restrict. Because of how they are applied in the creation of games, ESRB ratings are a form of sensorship. Certainly the mission behind that sensorship is positive, but its is nevertheless ineffective.

 

What are your thoughts on the usefulness of ESRB game ratings?

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