Do Video Game Ratings Really Work? Yes, They Can — But…

How Video Game Ratings Can Help You As a Parent 

The argument that video games and violence go hand-in-hand has been raging since “Pong.” So much so that video game ratings systems were established and are being used to this day. But do these ratings work? And what more do you as a parent do?

Are Video Games to Blame?

Video games cover a vast range of themes, styles, genres, and stories. Some of them may include crude humor, strong language, suggestive themes, and intense violence. The last two points could be linked to aggressive behavior, according to a study conducted by Professor Russell Laczniak from Iowa State University in 2017. This study examined households with boys ages 8–12. 

But, violence could have to do with the number of hours a child plays the games that are outside of their age range, rather than with the themes themselves. Hence, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). Blaming video games seems to be more of an indication of lack of parenting since parents should be aware of and understand what their children are doing.  

However, many people, to this day, still view the effects of video games as linking to violence and bad behavior. But, there could be other factors leading to aggression in children outside of gaming. 

For example, it is true that there are a few real-life events where video games were said to influence real-world children to attempt murder, such as the Slenderman Stabbing of 2014. But something that we often overlook is that the two who did the stabbing suffered from a mental illness that influenced their behavior.  

The short answer is that no — video games are often not to blame for violence in children. But, it can be a complicated subject. Parents do have to be aware of what goes on.  

Video Game Ratings

Playing video games should be about escapism, regardless of age. However, some games are not suitable for certain age groups. Hence, the ESRB. This non-profit organization came into being in 1994 with the goal of educating the parents about the content in games by using a rating system. They are one of the leading rating systems in the USA, if not the rest of the world. Therefore, if you as a parent see a “rated by the ESRB” you know that the game has gone through their three-part rating system. This system looks at: 

  • Rating Categories to see which age the game is more suited to;
  • Content Descriptors to tell parents what is in the game;
  • Interactive Elements to let them know about sharing certain information such as location, user interactions, purchases, as well as unrestricted internet access.

The Ratings

Thus, the ESRB can weed out which games are more suited for each age group. This is more for the parents to know what their children are playing. The ratings go as follow:

  • E — Everyone, with often extremely mild violence and mild language. Such as “Animal Crossing New Horizons.” 
  • E 10+ — Everyone aged 10 or above. These types of games have more mild violence and/or language as well as minimal suggestive themes. “Gang Beasts” is an example.
  • T — Teen, or 13 years old and older. These games are like “Bendy and the Ink Machine,” with crude humor, minimal blood, some use of strong language, suggestive themes, and ideas of gambling. 
  • M — Mature, or 17 years old or older. Games that have intense violence, blood, sexual content, and strong language. “Persona 4 Golden” has an M rating.
  • AO — Adults, 18 or over 18 years of age. The intense violence in these types of games are elongated, and the games could have sexual content that is graphic, and real money gambling. “Ef — A Fairy Tale of the Two” fits this rating.
  • RP — Rating Pending. The games have not been rated by the ESRB yet. 

The ratings can tell the parents what is in the games regardless of the cover art.

The Parents’ Role

Not all games do have a rating from the ESRB. There can be other rating systems such as player’s reviews. Steam can also indicate the types of games with the use of tags such as Psychological Horror, etc. For example, the “Doki Doki Literature Club” trailer begins with a warning about how disturbing the game is. Parents should research the games before making a purchase or try them out themselves before letting their children play.  

According to the Iowa State University study, parents should not only be aware of what their children play, but for how many hours they do it. Their research suggests that the number of hours a child spends with any video game, even some that are not violent action video games, can be proportional to the increase in negative behavior. The solution that is suggested is that parents should know and understand the content of the games by using rating systems. And that they should monitor how long their children should play. 

While the latter may be more difficult, especially with handheld devices such as the Nintendo Switch, it can be possible. Parents have managed to do it with Television consummation. Plus, limiting the amount of gameplay time could also make some parents acknowledge whether their children are video game addicts. 

The latter would need understanding on why they feel the need to be wrapped up for 8 to 12 hours in gaming, often neglecting their other activities such as health, sleep, schoolwork, etc. Gaming can suppress negative emotions such as getting a bad grade or even being bullied. If your child is an addict, speak to them, and help them.  

Final Stage 

The rating system does work, but parents have to be more active. They have to understand what the ratings mean and what to expect from the games. Researching, understanding, and limiting game playtime is a good method to help make sure that the children do not develop negative habits. However, it is also important to acknowledge that there could be other causes for negative behavior outside or that have nothing to do with video games.