Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Draw Circle. Bang Head Here

What follows is an actual conversation I had with someone yesterday while out shopping:

I was standing in the local Gamestop, trying to think of a way I could classify “Rogue Squadron 3” as groceries so I could talk Sunny into letting me buy it. I’d got as far as describing the graphics as ‘eye-candy’, and therefore food when someone taps me on the shoulder.

I turn around to see a woman in maybe her mid-40’s, looking extremely lost and somewhat confused.

“Excuse me.” She said. “Do you work here?”

“No, I don’t. Sorry.” I replied.

She looked around for a moment to see if an assistant was nearby, and not seeing one, said:

“Do you know anything about computers? I just need to know if this will work on my son’s computer.”

In her hand she had a Playstation 2 game. However, knowing that plenty of people call games consoles ‘computers’, I didn’t say no right away.

“Well, what type of computer is it? Is it a computer or a games console?”

She looked at me like I’d grown an extra head.

“Ok,” I said, “does it have a keyboard and mouse? Or a control pad like that one.” I pointed to one of the 360 controllers on the rack.

“Ah!” She said. “It has something that looks like that, so will this work?”

“Well, there’s different types of games consoles.” I said. “Do you know if it’s a Playstation? Xbox? Nintendo?”

“Xbox rings a bell.” She said.

“Well, we’re getting closer.” I laughed. “Is it an original Xbox, or a 360?”

She just looked confused. I started to feel a little sorry for her.

“Ok, is it a big black thing with a green circle on it, or is it slimmer and more of a cream color?”

She thought for a few moments. “It’s the black one.” She replied.

“Ok, then, well you have an Xbox, and that’s a Playstation game. The Xbox games are over there.” I said, pointing her to the correct section.

“Great! Thanks for your help!” She said.

She wondered off and I heard her say “These will work with your computer.”

I looked over to see she had a kid with her, he looked to be about 5 or 6 at the oldest. Because people watching is just plain fun, I watched the kid look over the games while I picked up a copy of Guild Wars and started trying to figure out a way to classify it as a ‘Utility’, so I could convince Sunny into letting me buy it.

Suddenly, I hear the kid pipe up: “Oh Coooooool! I want this one!”

She grabbed the game off the shelf, and approached me again.

“Sorry to bother you again.” She said, looking embarrassed.

“Oh, no worries.” I replied. “We were all new at this once.”

“Will this one work on my son’s Xbox?”

Ok, at this point, I had three thoughts:

One, apparently the words “Xbox” in big green letters isn’t enough to convince this woman it was an Xbox game.

Two, it was Doom 3, probably one of the goriest, scariest games ever released for the Xbox.

Three, She’d somehow also missed the info box that takes up about 1/5th the front of the box that says “M for Mature. 17 years or older”…as well as the back which explains the ratings system, as well as a rundown of the game’s contents. (Graphic violence, blood, gore, satanic images, etc.)

So, I took a deep breath.

“Yeah, it’ll work fine, but is that your son over there?” (Who knows, she may have been buying it for an older son and brought her younger kid with her for ‘advice’)

She looked at me kinda oddly and said “Yes, why?”

“Well, I wouldn’t recommend that particular game for a kid that young. It’s really violent and kinda scary.”

I got the ‘three heads’ look again, and started to wonder if I had the words ‘mental patient’ stenciled on my forehead.

“Oh, it’s just a game.” She said. “It’ can’t be that bad.”

I pointed to the ratings info on the box.

“See?” I said. “Not recommended for people under the age of 17. Just like on movies.”

She just looked at me again, so before she could speak, I continued: “I’ll be completely honest with you, I’ve played that game myself and it made me jump a few times and I’m 26! It’ll probably give him nightmares. I doubt you’d let him watch and R-Rated movie and that’s just as bad.”

“But it’s just a game.” She said again.

“Why not pick out one of the racing ones?” I said, as I noticed her kid was wearing a Nascar baseball cap.

“No, he said he wants this one.” She replied, firmly.

Funny, I thought, Maybe I should give my mum a call when I get home and explain she had it backwards…apparently the kids make the decisions and parents just go along with it.

I showed her the screenshots on the back of the box in an attempt to explain why a game featuring very realistic alien/zombie/demons that you can hack up with a chainsaw might not be suitable for a seven year old. She was having none of it.

In the end I just shrugged and said. “If you wanna buy it, buy it…but I’d suggest you sit and watch him play it for half an hour when you get home, that might change your mind.”

At this point, I saw that I was irrevocably pidgeon-holed as a ‘Crazy Person’™. She thanked me for my help and made a swift exit to the register. A few moments later I saw Sunny walking towards the car, so headed for the exit.

On my way out I heard the guy at the register trying to explain the same thing I’d tried to tell her. The last thing I heard as I left was her saying:

“Look, just ring it up and give it to me. This is the one he wants!”

Ok, I’m not going to go through the same arguments I’ve been through a million times, but this is exactly what’s wrong with the whole ‘violent video-game’ thing.

Here was a parent who obviously still thinks games are stuck in 1988 when the original Nintendo was the gaming system of choice. They’re stuck with the idea that games are solely for young kids, so if it’s a game, it must be fine for little Timmy to play. The same parents who will keep close tabs on the TV shows or movies they let their kids watch, but completely ignore the games.

I told this woman that the game was age-inappropriate. I showed her the packaging which stated the game was age-inappropriate. Then the sales guy told her the same thing…but in her mind it was “just a game”.

What really bugged me is that this wasn’t just ignorance, it was forced ignorance. If you don’t know a damn thing about games, it’d be easy to walk out with the wrong game for a young kid. Back in the 8-bit days, it was common for a game to have violent or scary box art…and the game was a side-scrolling platformer that was about as scary as a pink balloon.

However, this woman chose to ignore the warnings on the box, and the advice of two different people. All because it was ‘just a game’ and probably because little Timmy would throw a tantrum if he didn’t get his way.

The problem is that these are the same parents who will try to sue the second the game they just insisted on buying for their kid is featured on the news as the ‘next big threat’.

The ESRB (The video game ratings people) aren’t controlled by the government or forced to do anything. Those ratings are there voluntarily to stop kids playing games they shouldn’t.

The problem is that you can make it illegal to sell age-inappropriate games, you can put all the government control you like on them, but it’s not going to do a damn bit of good when the parents of these kids completely and totally ignore all the advice and warnings they receive.

In other words, a ‘responsible adult’ buys a game that says right on the box that it’s unsuitable for anyone under the age of 17, and contains violence, blood, graphic language, drug use, drug references etc.

Then something breaks on the news, or the parent actual sees the game in action and they start looking for someone to blame and/or sue. For what? For not physically intervening and forcing them to read the box?

Look, let me set this straight once and for all:

The day some kid finds a sex-scene in “Barbie Horse Adventures”, you have a case and someone to blame. When you, as an adult, buy a game that is clearly marked unsuitable for anyone under the age of 17 for your 8 year old…the only person accountable is you. The warnings already cover about 20% of the overall packaging, and states clearly what the game contains. That you choose not to read it, or choose to ignore it is not the creator or retailer’s fault.

Even if the crazies are right, and the games companies and ESRB are evil and trying to market sex and violence to kids, we could stop all kids from playing violent games or watching violent movies, if those kids’ parents would simply read the frigging box!

When little Timmy hands you a copy of GTA or Doom, you look at the box in the corner, and if it’s not rated E for Everyone, or you just don’t like the look of it, you say “No.”

Sure, he might throw a tantrum…but that’s called parenting.

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