Monday, December 05, 2005

Games and Gamers

What is it about video games that they draw the fire of so many people? In this day and age it seems as if everyone is trying to blame games for everything wrong in the world.

I have grown up in the information age. This means that I haven't known a time without television, telephones, or video games. I've seen computers go from room-filling mainframes to pocket PCs. One constant in these last 27 years has been the flickering entertainment of games. Playing a home version of Pong is one of my earliest memories. It's practically prehistoric by today's standards, but it is still one of the most pure experiences of gaming. Then Atari swept the nation with its home console. While I didn't have one, I had friends that did, and I logged many hours playing alongside them.

Of course a trip to the mall meant that I would go to the arcade. It didn't matter if I had money or not. I could enjoy just watching others play as much as playing. Well, almost. The allure of the cavernous space filled with the hulking cabinets and faces illuminated by the blue glow of the screens was impossible to ignore. Not to mention the cacophany of sound eminating from the games and gamers alike. I still visit them today, but they are not the same. The power of home consoles has grown so much that the games are actually better at home than in the arcade. That was one of the reasons for paying to play them at the arcade - the graphics were better than what you could get at home, due to dedicated hardware made specifically to run that game. Another reason was the competitive atmosphere, whether competing against the game, your own score, or the person standing next to you.

Atari gave way to Nintendo, and the world would be changed forever. The Nintendo Entertainment System stands as a tour de force in gaming history. It's only real competion was the Sega Master System, but most people only remember the NES. Many historic franchises began here: Zelda, Metroid and Metal Gear are but a few.

Nintendo has long been known as the name in family friendly games. They even went so far as to have the blood removed from Mortal Kombat. For those who don't know, MK is the game that more or less started the whole violence arguement. Nearly everyone has at least heard about the move that allows a player to rip out his opponent's spine. The first time I played it I knew it was a unique experience in gaming. There had been fighting games before, but none that looked or played like this. Certainly none had the gallons upon gallons of blood.

And so we flash forward to today. The violence debate has been raging for over 10 years, and it has borne fruit. We now have a ratings system for games created by the Entertainment Software Rating Board. Every advertisement for a game has its rating, and they are printed on the game's packaging. Currently I'm looking at the box for Conker: Live and Reloaded for Xbox, a game rated M for mature and proud of it. Along with the ESRB rating, displayed both front and back, it has a large warning on the front that says it's not for anyone under age 17. Some say that the ratings don't give enough information about the game's content, but I would disagree. On the back of Conker's box, right next to the rating, is what it's rated for, which would be blood and gore, intense violence, mature humor, sexual themes, strong language, and use of drugs and alcohol. Any person who looks at this box and actually checks the rating should have no doubt as to what this game contains.

If a parent buys this game for their eight-year-old, they have only themselves to blame.

A quick check of some older games shows the same method of ratings. I was surprised that some of these games were even rated! I thought at least one or two of them weren't, but it was there in black and white, with a description. Only recently has the film rating system become this complete, but I'm not sure it's applied across the board, unlike the ESRB ratings.

Some call these M-rated games an assault on the nation's children. If video games were only played by children that might be so, but I am proof that the same people who played Pac-Man years ago have grown up to play Grand Theft Auto today. I have matured, and my games have matured with me. I am in agreement that retailers should take more responsibility in selling games. Should they wait for a law to tell them to check someone's ID before selling them a game? I don't think so, but I'm not sure there should be a law, either. I rarely get checked when buying alcohol or going to an R-rated movie, but it still happens on occasion. I don't have a problem with it, because they are doing their job, and it is just a few seconds out of my day.

It is also theorized that the violent behavior depicted in a game is learned by those playing it who then act out that behavior in real life. This could be true, but it is more likely that the individuals who do this are just screwed up and would get their inspiration from a book or movie just as easily as from a game. They call these games murder simulators. I concede that you can learn by simulation, but it is still up to the individual to know right from wrong, which is why it all comes back to proper parenting and being a well-adjusted member of society. These games are fantasy, not real life.

In the end it all comes down to parents taking an active role in raising their children. Parents must make themselves aware of what their children are watching, reading, and experiencing. These attempts at banning the sale of mature-rated games are a waste of taxpayer money. Good parenting cannot be legislated. This money could be better spent educating parents about how to properly raise their children. A start would be teaching them about the rating system, which can be found at

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