Ever wonder what is in the videogames that your children play most of the time? Well, if you’re like most parents, you probably haven’t paid enough attention to what is happening on the screen.

Many parents may ask: “Why? They are just games, not reality. What harm can they cause?” Now, I would like to point out that with the advent of such consoles as the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, games look almost like real life. What does that mean? It means that in games, which involve killing of people – it really does look like you’re killing real people!

I am not saying that all games are bad. No, all I am saying is that certain games are definitely inappropriate for people under the age of eighteen, as they are rated 18+ or M (mature) or AO (adults only). It’s up to the parents to see the ratings of the games they buy for their children.

Ever heard of a game called “Grand Theft Auto”? You play as a criminal, who rises up the ranks of organized crime through committing various types of crimes. What happens when the police come after you? Well, you can always kill them and run away or steal their car, drive away and hide till they stop looking for you. The fourth game in the series is on the PS3 and Xbox360 and was released on April 29, 2008. The PS2 GTA games are also available in the market.

This isn’t the only game to watch out for, as the majority of good games being released today have a rating of T (teen) or M (mature). Videogames are not for kids anymore. Instead, a lot of games are being made especially for an elder audience, and unaware parents don’t have any idea what they are buying for their kids. What to do?

Most parents aren’t aware that videogames today have ratings, too. The Electronic Software Rating Board or ESRB (or local rating bodies in many countries) rate games according to their content. The games can be rated from EC (early childhood) to AO (adult only) and it’s up to the parents to ensure that young gamers play the games appropriate for their age.

In Pakistan, the problem is that the pirated copies of games don’t have the proper ratings on the covers. In such cases, one solution is to search for the game’s information at www.esrb.org or www.wikipedia.com , or simply buy original games.

Here are some of the tragedies that have occurred due to improper videogame use:

  1. On June 25, 2003, two American step brothers, Joshua and William Buckner, aged 14 and 16 respectively, used a rifle to fire at vehicles on Interstate 40 in Tennessee, killing a 45-year-old man and wounding a 19-year-old woman. The two shooters claimed to have been inspired by “Grand Theft Auto III.” (http://www.gamespot.com/ps2/adventure/grandtheftauto3/news_6077161.html)
  2. On June 7, 2003, 18-year-old American Devin Moore shot and killed three police officers after grabbing one of the officer’s weapons, following an arrest for the possession of a stolen vehicle. At trial, the defense claimed that Moore had been inspired by the video game “Grand Theft Auto III.” (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/06/17/60minutes/main702599.shtml)

Please, do note that these teenagers were playing a game not meant for their age. The game was rated M for ‘Mature.’ Studies have been conducted and are still being conducted to find conclusive evidence linking violence in video games to violent children. NOT everyone is affected the way these teenagers were, but do you want to take the risk with your children?

Some extremely violent games worth mentioning are “Manhunt” and “Condemned 2” on the Playstation 2 and Playstation 3/Xbox 360. Violence should not be the only hing on your ‘radar’ when buying games. As an addition to violence, some games also have nudity and sexual themes. For example, in the latest GTA game you can now visit strip clubs, and it’s not the only game to have that function. The ESRB is there for a reason, and as parents you need to start paying attention to what games your child plays and buys.

Here are the official statistics of the percentage of games that were rated E, E10+, T and M by the ESRB in 2007. Games for everyone vastly outnumber mature and teen titles, so rest assured that there are plenty of games your child can play.

I would highly recommend the “Nintendo Wii” console for those parents, who want an alternative to the PS3 and Xbox360. A lot of the games developed for the Wii are family friendly. However, not all are, so be sure to check the ratings. I urge you to try this website http://www.whattheyplay.com/, which is a videogame guide for parents, who want to know more about the content of the games their children want to play.

Remember, blaming videogames and TV is no excuse for bad parenting.

(The writer is a 22-year-old avid gamer, who is studying towards the ACCA).


Apart from Video Games…

It is always a good idea for parents to divert the attention of kids from videogames to some other activities altogether – physical activities, spending time with friends, working on arts projects, doing community service, etc. Even such alternatives as educational CDs, National Geographic videos, CD ROM encyclopedias or virtual museum tours offered nowadays by a number of well-established museums might satisfy the craving for on-screen activities. If gaming has become a must for a child, then at least the daily dose of it should be timed and monitored. With younger children – the longer they remain ‘ignorant’ about the gaming world, the better it is for them. Parents should remember that gaming tends to get addictive – therefore, thinking of creative ways to indulge kids in various other activities is definitely constructive in the long-run. (By Laila Brence)