On the Importance of Game Content Ratings

Content ratings, though they can be annoying, are an important mark. On a base level, they clue you in to the contents of the game, and its intended audience, which can help you make sure that the game is right for you or your kids. On a larger scale, however, the introduction and usage of content ratings are the end result of much struggle on the part of game creators to be able to market and sell their games fairly, alongside other mediums such as film and TV. Understanding both the history and the current remaining controversy will help game bloggers understand where games are going.

How Did they Get There?

"Custer's Revenge marked the beginning of game rating"

“Custer’s Revenge marked the beginning of game rating”

As they were first coming out, people didn’t see a need for them to have content warnings. There were so few of them, and the limits were so great that it was hard to imagine them having anything particularly bad. Besides, gating content could stifle people’s creativity. However, the medium caught on quickly, and graphics progressed enough that soon crude depictions of violence and nudity became possible. Of course, people found ways to exploit that. There was a boom of cheap games that utilized shocking content to push cartridges out the door, never mind the lackluster gameplay. One such exploitive game, called Custer’s Revenge, had the player character naked, pursuing women with a visible erection. While the box identified it as “FOR ADULTS ONLY”, the particularly extreme depiction, creating such controversy it was eventually pulled. It is perhaps the first direct case of widespread controversy over a game, and helped the push for content warnings.

What’s The Current Issue?

"Kids buy the adult rated games"

“Kids buy the adult rated games”

If you’re below the age of consent in your state, it’s still easy enough to obtain higher rated games. The system is reliant on seller’s adherence to it, and some clerks just don’t want to go through the trouble of checking id for every teen holding a copy of Call of Duty. Even if they do, many parents who don’t understand will buy games for their kids without looking into them. This leads to awkward situations where parents find out they have bought a game they don’t agree with.

In addition, video games are still under scrutiny from other fronts. Studies have been done as to the addictive qualities of video games, and some want warnings included with the games.

Where are Game Going?

Technology is continuing to develop at a rapid pace, and a so will the ways people interact with them. Technology like the Oculus Rift takes them into an environment not bound by the screen, and Omni-directional treadmills allow people to walk for miles through their favorite game. While these alternate reality simulations largely feature scenes safe to show off at conventions. As the technology spreads, however, the ratings board will have to take into account this new level of interaction, and the possible psychological effects. Doing things leaves a greater impression on people than watching them, after all, and it will certainly be a long time before controversy around games are cleared.

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