Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Here's A Challenge

Lesson Plan:

Any US Senator, without prior instruction or coaching, is to install and enable the Hot Coffee Mod, and play the game to the point where the sequence is played. Senators do not have to complete the sequence, but may do so if they feel particularly titillated. They will be given a PS2, a PC and unrestricted access to the Internet with no oversight whatsoever in order to complete the task.

Once you've completed the lesson and a proctor has checked your work, here are some questions to answer. Please use complete sentences:

1. Why would a parent allow their child access to a game clearly marked 'M' for Mature?

Bonus: Assuming the parent does not know what the 'M' means, why would they be so fucking dense as to allow their child access to a game titled 'Grand Theft Auto'?

Bonus to the Bonus: Assuming the parent has no notion of the concept of what 'Grand Theft Auto' could possibly be, how were they able to get enough neurons to fire to engage in intercourse and produce offspring?

2. How difficult is it really to have your child demonstrate for you ten minutes or more of each of their videogames so that you can judge at least some of the content for yourself to ensure it is in line with your values?

3. Imagine you are at a movie theater with your child. They point to a movie they want to see called 'Shooting People' rated NC-17. Do you buy them a ticket?

4. The world has gotten more violent. True or False? If True, back up your wild claims with flawed interpretations of medical studies and gross falsehoods. Threaten litigation on any who disagree. Be sure to use the phrase, "When I was a kid . . ." and then sugarcoat your own childhood memories.

5. You give your child unrestricted access to the Internet. What are you, a fucking moron!?

6. Your child spends hours in the garage, bringing in bottles filled with strange chemicals. You have no idea what is going on in there. Do you:

Take no interest whatsoever in what the little shit might be up to?
B. Do your fucking job as a parent?

7. How would a government body composed almost entirely of people completely and wholly unfamiliar with the current social conception of videogames be considered even mildly competent to determine public policy as regards those videogames?

8. Watch five episodes of Tom and Jerry. Isn't it absolutely wholesome and family-friendly the way the mouse tortures the cat over and over again? Now track down a Punch and Judy show, performed for children for hundreds of years. Explain how neither of these are in any way comparable to current violent media and how they are indicative of more "innocent" eras.


Brett Douville said...

OK, I'll take a stab at the bonus to the bonus on question 1. Just to play devil's advocate.

Let's say you're a parent in your early 40s, which isn't too unreasonable these days if you have a kid who's 10 or 12 or so.

It's not entirely unreasonable that when you see the title "Grand Theft Auto" that you think "I saw that movie!"


It's a bit of a stretch, sure, but there's no way to guarantee a parent's going to think "pick up hookers" or "beat up civilians" when they see the title, either. A very astute parent of the 40+ generation might reasonably come up with the idea behind Need for Speed, but I don't think they'd guess at the GTA we gamers know and love.

As for the "M" rating: Absolutely, parents should be very aware of what their kids are consuming, and as developers we should ensure that they have the knowledge they need to make informed decisions -- changing the ratings to exactly mirror those of the MPAA would be a good first step.

I've got a couple of little ones and I make sure to take the time and sit down and watch the latest Cartoon Network thing they like (e.g. Teen Titans or Kids Next Door) to sanity check on it. My sons are 5 and 7 and I want to know what they're into, and I want to be involved, and I want to make sure it doesn't tweak my own moral bells. They play videogames, but it's all Mario Kart and Mario Golf, with the occasional Jungle Book Rhythm & Beat.

But in a few years, they're going to be able to consume a lot more media than I can keep up with -- I simply don't have the kind of free time that they do. I can't be home every day when the bus gets home, and I certainly can't be in someone else's home either to watch what they play with their friends.

Anyway, point is. You can't expect cultural reference points to be the same across a generation or two. It's just not possible.

Johnny Pi said...

Thank you for your comment, Brett.

I don't think it's unreasonable for parents to make a mistake and pick up something inappropriate for their child - however, for them to NEVER realize it, i.e., for them to never, at any point, look at the content, is clearly THEIR fault.

As for ratings, I happen to think the MPAA's are garbage. I need a full post to compare, so give me a little time on that.

One of the built-in difficulties of parenthood is that you have to, at all times, accept responsibility for that child. This does not mean acceptance of fault. Fault and responsibility can be different things.

My closest parallel is the military. If you become a squad leader, you take on responsibility for every member of your squad. That means every last thing they do reflects upon you. If they fail to get a haircut, even if you told them over and over again, then it is your failure as well. There may be reasons for the failure, removing fault, but nothing removes the responsibility. It sucks, but it's there.

So as a parent, you may have reasons for not being able to monitor every last thing (which shouldn't be expected). And a big lesson that it seems every parent has to learn is that their child is going to be exposed to things, willingly or unwillingly - and that they cannot protect their child at all times.

When it comes down to what you allow in your home, though, you can't duck that, and no amount of media ratings are going to make up for a parent who just doesn't take the time to inform him/herself.

Talking with my uncle (he's over-50) about media, I definitely realize that cultural reference points vary wildly. Hell, talking with my brother-in-law, only five years younger than me, I'm disappointed by the blank stares when I mention some mid-80s movie that changed my young life.

Again, however, none of that excuses the core issues here - parents are buying things for their children without paying attention to the content, and then blaming the manufacturers because they were too lazy (or busy, I know) to spend five minutes after visiting the store to say, "Okay, now we're going to look at the game I bought you today." (Now that I think about it, game stores should keep demo discs of every console game in their store so parents can vet the content right there).

Believe me, five minutes of actually watching someone play Grand Theft Auto is better than any ratings system out there.

Brett Douville said...

Oh, I don't disagree about that at all; my quibble was with the cultural reference points. I'm 100% with you on responsibility.

If my kids said "I'm going over to Chuckie's to check out some yaoi" (reference Penny Arcade, I never heard of it before it showed up there) you bet I'd be on google in 10 seconds flat finding out what it was, and out the door in 15 seconds saying "no way". It's still the responsibility of parents to take/make the time, absolutely.

I'll go ahead and agree in advance that there are problems with the MPAA ratings. That said, they have in their favor that they are a cultural reference point that parents can share with their children, since the ratings have been around for at least 30 years. The television ones might be suitable as well, but I'm not sure. I'm aware of them, but I don't know that I'm indicative of the general population.

BTW, I enjoy the blog. Keep up the good work.

c.robinson said...

this thing has been staring at me in the eye. i have to comment.

"3. ... They point to a movie they want to see called 'Shooting People' rated NC-17. Do you buy them a ticket?"

NC-17 = No One Under 17. media suitable for adults only. this rating is enforced by the government.
the other sub-ratings (E through R)are advisory ratings.

Johnny Pi said...

Ah yes. I confess I was merely trying to find the best analog to the M rating for videogames. Some would say it equates to an R, but I disagree, and here's why:

The R movie rating stipulates that under 17 may be admitted with parent or guardian. Thus, the content is fine so long as the child is monitored.

The M game rating says that the content is more than likely suitable only for those 17 and over. There is no stipulation for parents vetting the content (maybe there should be).

Of course, all ratings are merely suggestions.

And I admit, for NC-17, I'm a bit at a loss for finding examples of what it means for that rating to be enforced by the government.

The MPAA's own site does not spotlight NC-17 as having any special property - they say that all ratings are merely guidelines and have no legal backing.

Note: I Am Not A Lawyer

Where I have found reference to the rating and legality lies in the content - the rating itself has no legal basis (though it may be used in certain states for one). Content of certain NC-17 movies can be considered inappropriate by obscenity or child protection laws, and it would be under those laws that a movie would come under scrutiny.

Thus a violent NC-17 movie might not raise any eyebrows at all, depending on specifics. Let's say the original, uncut Robocop seen by a 14 year old. Almost quaint in this day and age.

But a sexually explicit NC-17 movie, shown to a minor, say, a 14 year old, would probably be applicable to corruption of a minor or related laws.

Again, the ratings themselves have no legal authority. It is only the threat of prosecution of allowing access to forbidden content that gives them any weight.

Just ask the three kids who were removed from Deuce Bigelow: European Gigelow by two armed police officers how rated-R movies are not legally-enforceable. They are because theater owners don't want angry lawsuits from parents based upon laws on the books - they aren't afraid of the ratings board.

For something really mindblowing, X and XXX aren't really ratings. There is no legal basis for restricting materials rated such on the basis of the ratings - but there are plenty of legal restrictions based upon the content.

You may recall Illinois' failed bill to restrict the sale of certain videogames to minors. The bill made no mention of ratings whatsoever, simply because the ratings system does not have the force of law. It instead attempted to define content that would be restricted - and was far too vague to be of use.

I'm of the opinion that that is one of the reasons it was defeated.


c.robinson said...

here are some very good resources on rating systems around the world.


computer games: