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Gaming, Kids, Violence & Addiction: Should We Tighten Age Restrictions?

Jonathan Lester
addiction, Age ratings, BBFC, Controversy, Games articles, Games news, parents, Violence

Gaming, Kids, Violence & Addiction: Should We Tighten Age Restrictions?

The arguments about whether videogames can cause violent behaviour in minors has been raging on for many years, with sensationalist pundits and ropey researchers quick to cash in on many parents' fears. This has led to a Californian review of whether games should be legally withheld from younger people (which is still being fiercely debated in a Congress subcommittee as of January 2011)- and it's high time we took a look at the facts as both gamers and concerned citizens alike.

Can Videogames Cause Violence?

Gaming, Kids, Violence & Addiction: Should We Tighten Age Restrictions?

Today brings us headline news from the (utterly shameless) Fox Network... who assert that games don't just cause violence. They're responsible for rape as well.

The increase in rapes can be attributed in large part to the playing out of [sexual] scenes in video games. If a younger kid experiences Bulletstorm's explicit language and violence, the damage could be significant. - Dr Jerry Weichman on Fox News [via MCV]

Ugh. As Dealspwn's News Editor, I'm deeply saddened that biased news reporting of this calibre is allowed on mainstream outlets... but it's only the tip of an ignorant iceberg that has been bobbing around in our collective consciousness for many years. The fact remains that, since two thirds of young people now play videogames, it will always be possible to link our hobby to the tiny proportion of gamers who commit acts of violence. Tarantino films were criticized for doing the same. Hell, even the (frankly tame) Catcher In The Rye book was as well! At the end of the day, assertions of "damaging the youth of today" is a stumbling block that all forms high art must pass through in order to be accepted. God knows that Shakespeare probably had to.

But the biggest responsibility doesn't lie with games or gamers. Sorry, parents: but it lies with you.

It's unfair to criticise violent games for corrupting your brood when, in the vast majority of cases, it's only possible for them to acquire the offending articles from you. Don't want your kids playing violent games? Don't buy them Gears Of War or Call Of Duty, then.

This isn't even the most important responsibility that parents need to face up to. When I was a lad, my parents sat down and played games with me; explaining that what I was seeing on the screen was not an acceptable part of real life. And then my father would take me outside for a bike ride or a kickabout. Don't demonise videogames as an evil box in your child's bedroom; rather, get involved with their hobby and be a part of it! Not only will they understand that violence isn't a part of real life, but who knows, it might even be a great new way to spend time with your family. Games bring people together far more than they segregate them. I wish Rock Band had been around when I was growing up.

Are Videogames Addictive?

Gaming, Kids, Violence & Addiction: Should We Tighten Age Restrictions?

Last year, my colleague penned an article about videogame addiction that roundly rubbished the assertion that games can be chemically addictive. It's well worth a read, but there is a very important caveat that I need to bring to your attention. Videogames may not be technically addictive... but they can be habit-forming.

My neuroscience sources [yes, he really does have them- Ed] inform me that playing videogames releases similar brain chemistry to snorting cocaine- and whilst it isn't technically addictive in the dictionary definition, it can be difficult to break a gaming habit once it's formed. Just ask World Of Warcraft players who are always looking for the next DPS high. Like most habits, excessive gaming can leads to players becoming emotionally jaded, with the emotional highs and lows of real life dulled into shades of grey.

What am I basing this on? It's happened to me- and if you're honest, I'm sure that many readers will admit to the same phenomenon happening to them. But at the end of the day, it isn't down to the games themselves- it's down to us. I hate to say it, but it's up to gamers and their families to get away from the screens every once in a while. When it comes to minors, once again, it's the parents who need to take the hit. I appreciate that parenting is extremely difficult and an immensely important part of life (seriously, thanks to parents everywhere)- but parents need to find time to find something else for the kids to do beyond killing Locust.

So, Should We Tighten Age Restrictions?

Gaming, Kids, Violence & Addiction: Should We Tighten Age Restrictions?

Here's the thing. We've incinerated the link between videogames and real-world-violence, and firmly established that the positive effects of attentive parenting far outweigh any negative consequences of our favourite hobby. And we all love violent shooters. But in our view, videogames should be held to the same standards as Films and other media. That's right, folks: we think that gaming age controls should be stricter and legally enforced with greater diligence. Selling adult games to minors should be illegal.

The main argument for tightening age controls is that of equality. Gaming is blossoming into a genuine art form- and we're all quick to slap down anyone who says otherwise. But if we're to be taken seriously, our medium needs to be beholden to the same standards as other mainstream works of art... which in the UK, means mandatory BBFC age classifications. You know that games are growing faster than movies. I know it too. But to be accepted as art, we need to be treated the same as everyone else.

Secondly- and no less importantly- it will kill the "games cause violence" debate dead in the water. If minors literally can't play videogames, we'll be able to objectively judge each act of violence on a case by case basis; free from muddy waters of the media's favourite scapegoat.

Finally, at the end of the day, do kids really need to play overtly gory videogames? I'm not convinced that they do. Our medium caters for every age group, demographic and taste on the market- and there are any number of games out there that are perfectly suited for families or younger people without being patronising pieces of edutainment. Harsher enforcement would also make big publishers think seriously about making new forms of entertainment that are more inclusive and suitable for all age groups. Is Super Mario Galaxy somehow worse than an FPS just because it doesn't feature massive dollops of juicy ultraviolence? No - and make no mistake, this won't affect their bottom line anywhere near as heavily as you might imagine.

Right, you've made it this far- and it's time to have your say? Are games murdering and raping our children? Should parents face up to their responsibilities? And should age ratings be legally enforced to the full extent of the law? Have your say in the comments!

Add a comment7 comments
LanceVance  Feb. 9, 2011 at 16:07

I do think that most retailers try not to sell 18 rated games to youngsters. Having worked at the lower end of the games selling market (a market stall) my boss would not sell to kids and also told parents of younger children if he thought a game they were buying was to violent or whatever. I do think parents need to take more time to look at what their kids are playing but the same can be said for a lot of things! The same was said about films and thats never really been proven.

Matt  Feb. 9, 2011 at 18:59

I've been part of both sides of the age ratings argument. When I was 14, I bought a 15 rated game for my friend who was thirteen, whilst wearing school uniform at the time. The only check at that time was the guy behind the counter asking my date of birth and which school year I was in. You don't have to be a math genius to figure out that there's a one year difference to both answers.

The other time, I was buying a game for myself, when the lady behind the counter asked for ID. It was again a fifteen rated game, but this time I was 20. I was dumbfounded, and pretty annoyed too.

fanpages  Feb. 11, 2011 at 01:17

My previous comments taken from:

[ http://www.hotukdeals.com/misc/online-video-game-censorship-is-goo/131328 ]

Notwithstanding the arguments about the current PEGI [Pan European Game Information] rating system that advises on the age range appropriate to view the content of video games, and any controls to protect children from material that you would typically not expect them to come into contact with in any other form should be in place, ["good"] parents will take actions where appropriate and the lack of action may result in undesirable consequences.

(Video games don’t kill people… people kill people etc.)

That said, my 5 year old finds many games designed for 5 year olds boring. My 7 year old regularly plays multiplayer games with me that have much higher suggestions on content for much older viewers. My 9 year old would like to play 16+ titles as school peers do. Although we restrict this at home, we only hear a title such as “Grand Theft Auto” has been played in the confinement of a friend’s bedroom away from any adult supervision after the event.

If you personally review a game title prior to allowing a child to participate, or sit in the same room & monitor the content being streaming into their subconscious, then you can apply rules to what titles should or should not be played, mainly because you know your children & how they will react.

It is not currently illegal for my 5 year old to play “The Simpsons Hit & Run” on the PS2, but one day, in the not too distance future, it may be.

What I meant by "bad for adults" is that if Internet censorship is going to be introduced in the guise of protecting a minor, then any user of any web site is going to need to provide a form of identity to prove their age, not only to play but to purchase games.

Although the Government have proven on a few occasions that have been reported recently, that they can collate personal details from varying sources, place them in a convenient form for any would be thief, and then lose them, how keen are you on supplying an eCommerce site with not only your credit card details, but also your date of birth?

Although I might like the idea of needing to be asked if I am old enough to buy alcohol at my local Supermarket, I do not wish to always take three forms of identification with me that have my current address, my photograph, and a signature. Some members of the public do not have a driving licence nor are passport holders. Do we expect them to always carry a birth certificate just in case there is a DVD sale in Tesco?

Taken to the extreme this is another excuse for ID Cards and the associated need for your personal choices to be tracked and filed. I am sure it will not be too long before H.M. Revenue & Customs notice that accordingly to their records you have bought more items that your disposal incomes allows. That must mean that you must have a secondary income. Have you paid the respective income tax?

But I digress…

If I am out in the street with my three kids & somebody swears, they may hear it, they may well repeat it, but am I breaking the law letting them do so?

If they all play the Science Fiction title “Resistance: Fall of Man” [PEGI rating of “15”] on my PS3 today, will they be able tomorrow?

Will imposing tighter controls on gaming titles entice school children to deal in pirate copies in the playground?

Instead of protecting the innocent, are they promoting something else?

Just a thought…


Will gaming laws go like alcohol laws & access to seaside pier arcade machines be controlled like entry to public houses?

For example, fourteen-year-olds may enter a pub unaccompanied by an adult if they order a meal.
Children may enter a pub with their parents until 9 pm.

Does that mean that all families on holiday must be back in their rooms with their 15 year old kids by 9pm in case any of them sneak into an arcade whilst the metaphorical parental back is turned?

Will I need to lock-up my video games at home like they are firearms?

The list goes...



Jonathan Lester  Feb. 11, 2011 at 12:03

Excellent, well-reasoned comments, FP. It's a tricky issue to be sure, but taking the legal issue out of the equation, it's up to parents to explain that violence is wrong- regardless of whether their kids play games or not. Good parenting wins out over any negative stimuli from violent media, and it always will.

fanpages  Feb. 12, 2011 at 01:14

Thanks Jonathan. Sorry for my long reply... this is a subject that interests me I hope you can tell:

As you are probably aware, the current PEGI [Pan European Game Information] rating system advises on the age range appropriate to view the content of video games.

Note the word "advises". The PEGI ratings system is self-regulated & not enforceable by UK law (at present).

Also, up until very recently (the beginning of 2010), the British Board of Film Classification system that is used on some home video & video game releases, but primarily for film (cinema) classifications, was also not enforceable by UK law either.

A quote taken from the BBFC web site in November 2009:
"The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has notified the BBFC of a serious issue which has come to light in relation to the Video Recordings Act 1984 (VRA). Because the then British Government failed to notify the European Commission under the Technical Standards and Regulations Directive (83/189/EEC) of the Act, the VRA is no longer enforceable against individuals in the United Kingdom..."

(This has since been removed from the site as the legal proceedings have now corrected the issue)

It always raises controversy when the subject of video game (&/or video film) certification is mentioned in the media &, yes, you are right, the journalists do not help the overall situation because of the biased “sensationalism” reporting to sell copies of their publications.

The subsequent Governments keep the subject in the public’s mind because of the frequent reports they request to be compiled & published that reach either the same conclusions as before, or opposing opinions that then require further reports to substantiate, & the tax payer continually bankrolls the process.

I regularly put forward my point of view in other forums (for example, HotUKDeals.com) when the subject arises as I will type something like "My kids & I played this & we all enjoyed it" & some "Daily Mail" [* other newspapers are available] reader will then add "...how old are your kids?" meaning that they have their finger wagging at me already (even though they have no idea if my kids are aged 3, or 33).

When I respond to indicate they are younger than the advisory age I enjoy the further replies as people finally back down from tarring me with the same brush as many other parents when they appreciate that if I do not know the content of any specific game then it is not played by any junior member of the household until I have reviewed it first.

As you can probably tell we do not have an open policy with regards playing any title at home. "Grand Theft Auto" titles are banned outright (for the many topics they touch on that are questionable to an adult audience, never mind a group of minors), but we do vet the titles either first or during the time when our kids are playing. If any inappropriate content is shown then it is removed & retained so they cannot play it again (Rockstar's "Bully" being a prime example; not because of the content actually in the game but because it led to 'copycat' behaviour during the journey walking to & from school). "Saints Row 2" (18) is also on the banned list due to excessive sexual activity & language inappropriate for my kids to be repeating. School kid favourite "Call of Duty: Annual Black World at Warfare Ops" has "choice" language & I suggest that not every parent buying the game for little Johnny or little Jane realises this. My kids know that if they repeat any of the words from the games then the offending game will be removed immediately & they will be stopped from playing any electronic gadget for at least a day.

Take for example, soon-to-be released “Killzone 3”. All three of my kids are under the quoted PEGI rating of 18[+], but playing the game when aged 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, or whatever will not mean you will immediately want to find a gun & massacre every other student at your school. Such games titles, however, have strengthened skills such as hand-to-eye co-ordination, developing strategies whilst problem solving to reach a desire goal, & has also encouraged teamwork. Skills that should be enforced at any early age... not necessarily aged 3, but certainly not from 18 years onwards.

As I mentioned above, even with our own approach aside, in the near future it will become a criminal offence for us to let our kids play any "age inappropriate" titles because of the “nanny state” we are heading towards. No doubt if I do let one of my kids play something deemed unsuitable then I will be violating their human rights or some other such infringement of a European Directive. When the UK Government pass the law to mean that it is illegal for any minor to play a video game title classified above their physical (note: not mental) age then they may be limited to watching their overweight on-screen character running around platform games head-butting walls to gain as many financial rewards as possible whilst eating mushrooms & jumping on defenceless creatures. No, not an overnight sitting in Parliament.. Mario Mario & brother Luigi are child-friendly, aren't they? Hurling objects at passing motorists whilst in a "Mario Kart" is educational. Attacking other players until they collapse in "Super Smash Bros. Brawl" is fun!

Imagine if a child is sat in the waiting room at the dentist surgery & picks up a magazine left for the visiting adults to pass the time between 9am & 9:15am (when the appointments are already running an hour late). If one of the “true stories” has an “adult” nature will a parent also be at risk of receiving a visit from the local Social Services department because they have subjected mental abuse on a minor in their care?

It is a slippery slope to George Orwell’s (non-)fictional dystopian society surrounded by video cameras monitoring our every move (unless a crime is actually committed & a conviction cannot be secured because a warning notice was not displayed to indicate recording equipment was installed).

The “Daily Mail” readers rejoice at a victory for the “do gooders”. Those with nothing to hide are labelled as criminals & those actually subjecting kids to mental & physical abuse are not monitored as they should be because our over-stretched Emergency Services are pushed into more red tape & paperwork to undertake a risk assessment before they can enter a building to save a human life

I am sure we do not need reminding of the murder (on 12 February 1993) of Jamie Bulger with the suggested links to the horror movie character of "Chucky" put forward at the time, & Rockstar's "Manhunt" game that was linked to the murder of Stefan Pakeerah, 14, by his friend Warren Leblanc, 17, on 27 February 2004.

During the trial coverage for the Pakeerah murder the game was removed from sale by GAME (in the UK & internationally) and by Dixons.

This led to an increase in demand at retail outlets & on eBay (and other auction sites)!

The police were quoted as denying any link between the murder & the game, citing a drug-related robbery as the motive, and the judge passed a life sentence on Leblanc placing sole responsibility for the murder on him & him alone.

GAME later reinstated the "Manhunt" title for sale after it was reported that it was not Leblanc, but the *fourteen* year old victim (Pakeerah) that owned the title!

I still think the industry needs to educate parents with similar "too obvious to miss" notices such as those that tobacco manufacturers now have to print on their packaging by law; "This game contains extreme violence & should not be viewed or played by any person under 18 years of age".

You need a licence to drive a car.
You need a licence to carry a gun.
You need a licence to serve or sell alcohol, run a betting shop, or to open a casino.
You need a licence to play recorded music or for the performance of live music in a public place.
You need a licence to perform a play, exhibit a film, hold a boxing or wrestling match, or any public indoor sporting event.

One of the objectives of these impositions is to protect children from harm.

You even need a licence to own a television (regardless of whether you watch [live, non-time lag] broadcasts or just play video games on it), or to install an operating system for your computer.

But, to be a parent,... you just need two "brain" (or other major organ) cells to rub together & a nine month wait. Arguably the selection of individuals without sufficient parenting skills is as much, if not more of, a "harm to children" as any of the above.



Rubisco  Feb. 13, 2011 at 10:10

So, what exactly are you suggesting, fp? To protect your freedom to raise your kids the way you deem suitable from state intervention the state should intervene against other parents that you deem unsuitable?

What criteria would you suggest using to judge parents and what form should intervention take?

fanpages  Feb. 13, 2011 at 22:53

No, not at all. Parents should not be judged; they should be educated, as I mentioned above:

I still think the industry needs to educate parents with similar “too obvious to miss” notices such as those that tobacco manufacturers now have to print on their packaging by law; “This game contains extreme violence & should not be viewed or played by any person under 18 years of age”.

Note the wording "should", not "must".

Again, carrying the theme of (re)education to the retailers, the current certifications should remain advisory & retailers made aware that the certifications are *not* legal requirements. I do not believe they appreciate the distinction between advisory & compulsory ratings at present.

If the retailers so wish they can adopt their own policies to not sell to those that they deem are under the advisory age, but that is their choice not a state mandate. However, if one parent found that a (major, or minor) retailer had sold a title to a 14 or 15 year old that was stamped as "18" then I can empathise with the angry parent. I can, therefore, appreciate why a retailer adopts the policy to accept the advisory ratings as a legal requirement.

However, from my own experience of visiting retailers regularly for many years, parents are split into those that adhere to what is displayed on the cover of a game, & those that just buy what their little darling wants to play (the "all my friends are playing it" group). Those that refuse to buy their kid(s) the current "must have" title may well be surprised to learn that their offspring still find ways to play (through cracking/modification techniques & file-sharing across the Internet, if not simply visiting the homes of their friends with parents that have a different attitude to their own). If my kids' friends visit, I will not allow them to play games that are not deemed suitable for their age range without checking with their parents in advance. If I am playing an 18(+) title, for instance, when their friends arrive I will stop playing & not start again until the friends have left (as I am responsible for their welfare whilst they are under my roof).

However, back to the retailer ratings scheme...

Retailers need not set a blanket policy against all "18(+)" titles, for instance. Titles could be reviewed on an individual basis & those deemed "unsuitable for minors" are not sold to anyone under 18 years old. Introducing their own rating system (maybe in conjunction with other retailers) could be the way forward.

Over time if retailers find their decision has led to a loss in revenue (either to high street competitors not adopting the same scheme, or to online sales outlets), this will be fed back up the supply chain & either the overly violent, overly coarse language-based titles will be few & far between, or games developers/publishers will return to titles that have engaging immersive game-play not introducing swearing, sexual themes, blood & gore for the sake of it.

Some may feel that is a restriction in choice; I like to think it may encourage a return to truly ground-breaking advances in game genres instead of re-releasing/re-hashing the same game year after year but with bigger guns that leads to an increase in the over-the-top bloodshed.

Once the retailer scheme has been in effect for some time the Government should then seek to consult the findings (from those involved in the industry on the "shop floor"). Granted, the retailers have a vested interest in securing as many sales as possible, to as many customers as they are able to, so a reduction in the rating on the more popular titles will be favourable, but the Government ratings will again, be advisory certifications based on the attraction to similar titles available previously. It will be a cyclical arrangement to finely hone the ratings process. The retailers can continue with their own scheme. Parents can make a choice from more than one source.

Yes, I appreciate that not every retailer wants to re-review every title they sell even if they had the resources to do so, but those that claim to be "experts" must surely have some experience of the titles they sell in order to make recommendations to the general public.

What is it that attracts under-age audiences to the adult-theme titles?

Perhaps a teenage audience is drawn towards the thought of a game that is deemed not suitable for them, much like entering a public house for the first time following your eighteenth birthday anniversary does not have the same appeal. Once you are "allowed" to do something then it stops being desirable.

That said, a title stamped with a "3+" content rating should not be any less attractive to a teenage audience. If you only ever select titles based on the certification level then you are missing out on a wide selection of experiences that contains content suitable for everybody.

Games such as "Uncharted 2: Among Thieves", "Batman Arkham Asylum", & "Assassin's Creed Brotherhood" all carry a Pan European Game Information [PEGI] rating of "15". None of these have to rely on being overly-violent, or incorporating overly-suggestive themes, all have a wider audience & longevity in game-play than, say, the "18" certificate "Call of Duty: Black Ops". "Red Dead Redemption" also displays an "18" certification, but with toned-down themes would it be any less of an achievement in game-play? Would removing some of the sexual context & releasing with a "15" certificate mean less people would buy it? Unfortunately, yes it does. Such titles (especially from Rockstar Games) thrive on their "shock tactics" in game-play, & any kind of publicity (good, or bad) about a title is good for sales. The game could still be an engaging experience if the content was toned-down, but some publishers prefer to target adults (even though the game may be more appealing to a teenage audience).

Upcoming "18" certification title, "Bulletstorm", developed by Epic Games & subsidiary, People Can Fly, is a game that promotes the use of "adult" language (albeit probably familiar to a large proportion of a younger audience even if not familiar with the developers' previous output in the "Gears of War" franchise) throughout. I suspect this will probably reduce the long-term appeal to an adult audience. Minors, however, will find the dialogue amusing for, arguably, the wrong reasons. The game-play is based upon finding the "best" approach to cause as much carnage & destruction to gain the most imaginative way to kill the on-screen enemies. Again, depending on the (mental) age of the player this may mean the game has a short lifespan before it is replaced by a title that offers a more substantial experience.

If more mainstream retailers do adopt their own policies & choose not to sell certain titles to anyone who cannot prove their age, such a decision may even see the return of independent retailers to the high street in more numbers than currently exist, hopefully to the same saturation that were present before the decline over the last twenty years.

More choice to the consumer means more competitive pricing across the board.

Please do not misunderstand the message though. I am not seeking to dismiss the (current) certifications as not being useful. I think if tighter controls are put on the availability of video/computer games then this will make them more attractive to the rebellious nature of the youth of today. The current certifications are useful to quickly dismiss one title against another at the point of sale, but being educated in the actual content of any game title can be more pertinent.

The exponential increase in games that present a warfare environment where the player defeats the oncoming hordes of on-screen enemies in whatever form they take, or the Hollywood movie-makers presenting more intensive graphic images than the previous year, can (and, arguably, does) desensitise (teenage) brains to violence. The loss of a human life is deemed to have no value, to the point where news reports of fatalities in military conflicts across the globe has little or no impact on the adults of tomorrow. A game that depicts warfare is the perfect medium to promote a positive message to our next generation.

Lest we not forget our fallen soldiers than make our individual game-play choices possible...

[http://fanpages.posterous.com/war-what-is-it-good-for-raising-awareness ]



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