You know, I’ve often heard people complain that the ESRB ratings system is flawed. And while I’ve always thought that they should have made the ratings identical to the MPAA movie rating system, I still defended the ESRB as a good thing and better than nothing.
Well last week the flaw(s) hit home. My 2 year old loves watching my wife and I play games. We also let him “play” too. He likes making Mario move, driving cars and loves just about everything in Wii Sports. For many weeks now, I’ve let him mess around in Super Smash Bros. training mode. I always make him Mario and the CPU Diddy Kong. A common request is, “Daddy, Mario and the Monkey!” That means he want to play. Well this has not been any kind of issue until my wife saw me playing the game one night well after my son went to bed. I was in a heated online battle and we were all beating the tar out of each other. She asked if this was the same game I let our son play. I confirmed that it was and that’s when the great debate started.
Now I consider myself a conscientious parent. I watch over my kids with an eagle eye. But I’m also realistic and don’t try to shield them from every little danger/evil out there. My wife is pretty much the same. I agree with her 100% that a 2 year old does not need to engage in the main portion of Brawl. However, I explained to her that I had sequestered him into a tiny fraction of the game that I was able to control every single piece of content he would be exposed to. My wife is no stranger to games. She understands how they work. She knew that in this case Mario would be throwing fireballs, Diddy Kong would shoot peanuts and they would be knocking each other off platforms. Still, the thought of how quickly this gaming snowflake might turn into a snowball had her concerned. She threw out the “race card” if you will. “What is it rated,” she questioned. I replied it was T for Teen. With that she declared that he could not play it any longer. Again, I petitioned that I was in agreement with her that we should monitor what our kids play but that I had this locked down into a controlled environment. She wouldn’t listen. I brought up that Wii Sports is rated E but that it features boxing (which our son plays) that is way more realistically violent that anything in Brawl. She said that he couldn’t play boxing anymore either. We then got into an interesting parallel debate about movies. Like most kids, our son enjoys Disney movies, Shrek, Bee Movie, etc…most of which are rated PG. I challenged that if we are basing our acceptance strictly on ratings, than surely all of his favorite PG films must be ousted as well. She conceded the point but would not budge on her game stance. This led to a discussion about when he could watch a PG-13 film. (Growing up, my parents didn’t really monitor my media choices while hers put the entire family on lockdown.) Her response was, “Maybe when he’s 10 or 11.” The film discussion was purely to gauge her opinion as I knew she was sticking firm on the game discussion. By the end of the day, the rule became, “No E, No Way.” And for the most part I agree. Children definitely don’t need to be exposed to any M rated games before age 13 and the T rated games should be played by the parents first.
But here’s where the flaw is. What if the parents don’t play games? The ratings tell nothing. My wife and I do play games and the ratings are still flawed enough that even we disagree. Brawl is rated T for “Cartoon Violence” and “Crude Humor”. But what does that mean? Is “cartoon violence” the Road Runner falling off a cliff or is it Vegeta slicing the arms of someone? Is “crude humor” having someone burp or is it them smearing their own crap on someone’s wall? Who knows? And that’s the problem. Even switching over the MPAA system still probably wouldn’t help matters. Games are so complex and far reaching these days that they are near impossible to correctly classify. And with the Political Correctness that has gone awry in this country, you can forget about it. Ratings will never be right. In the end parents are still going to have to play (and play them all the way through) a game if they truly want to know if a game is right for their kids.
As for me, I took one for the team and picked up Mario Kart. It has Mario. And the Monkey. And Driving. - All my Son’s favorites. And it’s rated E - My wife’s favorite.
Life is good! :-)
3 years ago