David Braben looks at the games rating system and if parents and devs are acting responsibly
I'm sure we have all seen it or heard about it; kids of 12 or so – or even primary school ages - playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.
Despite the obvious violation of the 18 rating, the real difficulty we have with this is a complex one.
Peer pressure at school means the kids want to play it, and the parents tend to cave in to their children’s demands.
Perhaps this is because those parents are comfortable with their kids watching the numerous war films on TV during the day at weekends (mostly rated PG or U) as they did at a similar age, where we see large numbers of soldiers gunned down throughout, and frankly a pretty casual attitude to death.
Many perhaps feel the CoD games are no worse, and the fact they are playing socially with their school friends (from which they would otherwise be excluded if the parent prevents them from playing), tips the balance.
THE DRAGON HAS LANDED
I have just started playing the excellent Skyrim. At time of writing I am perhaps five hours into what I suspect is a 100-hour-plus epic, but again it is unclear to me why it got a rating as high as 15.
Yes, there is blood, swordplay, frightening beasts and death, but I have seen all of those things in PG-rated films. It is the same with Fable and many others.
Red Dead Redemption is another one – again a game with strong daytime TV parallels, and another one where the player cannot resist collecting flowers, even though the gameplay benefit is minimal.
I suspect the issue is one that it is possible to hog-tie people and the nature of some of the storylines is pretty seedy.
But does it really justify an ‘18’? In Fallout 3 – also an ‘18’ – OK, people can be sold into slavery, but this is the case in many PG films (and in Elite).
Now, the easy response for those in our industry, whenever a red-topped paper blames us once again for all the world's ills, is to point out the rating on the game, and blame the parents for letting them play it. But do we really agree with blanket ratings?
The nub of the issue I think, is the presumption that because the player is controlling what happens, this means it must have a much higher rating than if it is purely a passive experience.
Nevertheless, there is an argument the other way, too. If you are in control you can play the game the way you like. If you can be the hero, you can behave honourably.
It is all about expectation. Currently it is clear our ratings are not being taken seriously. Parental expectations are based on games they have seen before with a similar rating.
Parents themselves may have played through games like Fable (a 15) or even Red Dead Redemption (an 18) and found it fine for their 12 year old, so will assume other similarly rated games are also OK.
The trouble here is that there is no ‘headroom’ for when a game should get a genuine ‘18’ rating.
If a game is going to get an ‘18’ rating anyway, then there is little commercial pressure not to include elements that I personally think are unacceptable, like the airport massacre in Modern Warfare 2.