Game Ratings: Your Content May Vary

The following editorial contains views that are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the views of


As I was mulling over Togikagi’s news post about Australia cracking down on selling unrated MMORPGs, I was uncertain how to approach a topic like this. On one hand, ratings - when implemented properly - allow parents to ‘gauge’ the acceptability of the content without having to go through it themselves. On the other hand, however, ratings allow parents to gauge the acceptability of the content without having to go through it themselves.


You should be.

In reality, ratings are meant to be supplemental to parents; enabling them to winnow down a wide range of offerings to the point where they can then take an active part in choosing the games that stimulate their children’s’ minds. I consider ratings to be somewhat akin to the nutritional information that’s pasted across my delicious cereals. I discard the healthiest of breakfast grub based on nutritional value alone, and then I make a rational decision between my beloved Cinnamon Toast Crunch and whatever other cereal that can transform my milk into syrup. The problem that arises from this, however, is that some parents are beginning to rely on these ratings to substitute for their judgement. This is bad.

About two weeks ago, Gamasutra wrote an in-depth article about where video game regulations are at in the United States. Within the article, law professor Joshua Fairfield was quoted as saying that "I don't think people [regulating content] are rabidly anti-game or pro-game. They don't understand games." This is a definite problem when technology is advancing so quickly that we have three separate generations with radically different levels of involvement in the digital world. In this regard we have old, old politicians who "aware" of the intrawebs ; parents who will pay $130 to install and configure a computer program ; and kids who are hacking the iPhone for fun.

The problem here is that we have a group of people who are relatively out of touch with this new technology, and they're trying to regulate it from their (limited) understanding. Ratings work pretty well with subjects like film and literature, but that's because the two mediums are static. These things don't change with every viewing or reading, but internet gaming definitely does.

The equivalent of this would be something in the realms of laser tag or ultimate frisbee; the activity itself is not very threatening, but depending on the crowd that you go with, you could find yourself getting violently disarmed (I don't do this often), or... getting a frisbee in the eye (I only do this if you're in my personal space). MMOS Alternatively, if you time your laser tagging days to not include me, the possibility of your child getting hurt drops by an incredible margin. In this regard, is laser tag or ultimate frisbee a dangerous sport? Not really.
Games like World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy XI strive to create a fantastical world where anybody can be anybody else. The problem is that when you have human interaction placed into the formula, and you combine that human interaction with the ability to be completely anonymous, you're obviously going to get some pretty weird things. Or not. That's my point.

My other point is that ratings give parents a false sense of security. If you start to put ratings on MMORPGs, parents may begin to believe (falsely) that these ratings are actual reflections of the game. When you deal with MMORPGs, where players can really influence the level of maturity required to experience the content, the only true method by which parents can 'grade' an MMO is by playing it themselves. If a parent allows their child to play an MMO, they need to teach their child what they should and should not do in an online game, and they can only really teach this properly if they understand the game mechanics as well.

I think it's perfectly fine to 'rate' an MMORPG based on content alone, but there needs to be a mandatory course on online gaming for parents who are simply looking for a digital babysitter. It's not enough to ban negative conversation, because if there's anything I've learned from playing children's MMOs, it's that not everyone is the 'targeted demographic' age, and no matter what language filters are put in place, some 12 year old is going to tell me that I "smell like sheet."


Christopher "Pwyff" Tom


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