ESRB Video Game Ratings: Still Working?

ESRB Video Game Ratings: Still Working?

You probably feel a bit disheartened whenever the media latches on to a story about some act of youth violence that is twisted to blame a Mature (M-rated) video game that no child has any business playing. Cheer up then: According to a US-based study by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), more and more stores are barring kids from buying games that have been rated M by the ESRB.

The study, conducted through secret shoppers, determined that only 13 percent of the 13- through- 16-year-olds who tried to buy M-rated video games got what they came for. Considering that a similar study conducted in 2000 revealed that 86% of underage kids had no problems scoring M-rated games, that’s a pretty impressive improvement.

The widespread recognition of the ESRB’s ratings might be taken as an indication that game ratings “work.” But realistically, the monitoring of potentially offensive content is never that straightforward. Ratings by the ESRB, MPAA, or any organization aren’t a talisman that will automatically protect kids from ever seeing adult content, and shouldn’t be treated as such. Moreover, store clerks have a responsibility to educate parents about the ESRB and bar kids from inappropriate games, but they are not parental substitutes. It’s up to parents to monitor what their kids are playing and outline what counts as suitable content, and what doesn’t.

In fact, while the FTC’s report outlines that stores are screening kids before they purchase M-rated games, there’s no indication that parents are doing the same. But any kind of increased vigilance means we can assume that the ESRB is accomplishing its most important mission: Making the general public aware that video games are a diverse entertainment medium for all ages, and not everything is out there is kid-friendly.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

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