With the Virginia shooting earlier this week, video games have once more come under a heavy amount of criticism regarding their generally violent and often objectionable content. Bills all around the world are being introduced to regulate video games under law, making it illegal for video game outlets to sell video games bearing the "M" or "AO" rating from the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), and fining the retail outlet a sum of money for any sale to minors.
I personally see many problems with this approach.
For one, I do not believe that the government should have control over video games in any aspect. It’s a form of entertainment just like books, television, movies, and music, and none, repeat, none of those forms of media should be directly regulated by the government. Also, why should the government have to watch over this, when the ESRB has already established a very effective, and almost universal ratings system? According to the ESRB website (http://www.esrb.org) there are effectively 6 ratings that appear on retail boxes for video games.
EC – Early Childhood (Ages 3+)
E – Everyone (Ages 6+)
E10+ – Everyone (Ages 10+)
T – Teen (Ages 13+)
M – Mature (Ages 17+)
AO – Adults Only (Ages 18+)
The ratings system is intended to act much like the Motion Picture Association of America's (MPAA) rating system for movies and television. Most every person who plays video games recognizes and understands what each of these ratings mean. For more detail, on the back of retail boxes are descriptors, elaborating on why a particular game was given the rating it bears. Some such descriptors include "Blood and Gore," "Language," "Violence," and “Crude Humor." With all of these ratings in place, I see no reason why the government should interfere. On top of this, a good majority of video game retailers check for ID when a customer wishes to purchase an M-rated game without any legal body enforcing this. It is merely store policy. A good majority however means that there are still a few stores around that do not (whether consistently, or not at all) check for ID when selling an M-rated game. This is where parental guidance should come in.
Let me draw an example: Cathy is the mother of an 8-year-old boy named Jon who plays computer games. Jon saw a commercial for the game "Doom 3." "Doom 3" is rated M for Mature, citing "Blood and Gore" and "Intense Violence" as it is reasoning. Jon is quite interested in Doom 3, as it looks like a barrel of fun, so he asks his mother if he can get it. She has two choices. She can consider his young mind, and prolong his exposure to such violence until a later age, or she can not care about what content he takes in, and buy the game. The sensible, and obvious choice should be to not buy him the game, yet so many parents disregard the content in video games, then get angry when they find out what their child has been exposed to. But they have no right to be angry, because the rating for the game is on the front and back of the box, in plain view, simple to understand.
Now, by the same token, imagine that Jon is 15, rather than 8 years old. Jon has a fairly good grasp on reality. He knows what is real, and what is digital entertainment, merely fiction. Jon, again, sees an ad for "Doom 3," and asks his mother if he could get it. His mom sees that it has an M rating, but knows that her son is mature, and can handle this sort of content, and happily buys her son the game, with no repercussions. The government cannot decide if someone is mature enough to view certain content, which is why they should not be allowed to regulate video games.