Covers of Video Games Tip off Players, Parents as to Content
Szadkowski, Joseph, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
A lunatic lets loose with a spray of machine-gun fire on a group of churchgoers. A priest must decapitate and vivisect his way through an onslaught of bloodthirsty zombies. In the growing world of video-game entertainment, a parent may feel helpless about what his child is exposed to, but the issue may not be as dire as reported on the 6 o'clock news.
"The video-game market is increasingly demographically diverse, and there is room within [it] for a multiplicity of titles," says Douglas Lowenstein, president of the Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA).
"The movie industry does not only create G-rated movies, the library does not only carry books for children, and the video-game industry should not be expected to be any different," Mr. Lowenstein says. "On the other hand, we have created a self-ratings board, which Sen. [Joseph I.] Lieberman stated was one of the best ever created to help parents decide if a game is suitable for purchase before it is brought into the home."
Parents fearing the worst about their young gamer need only read the front of the game box to learn about what their child is playing. The Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) provides clear indications of a game's content through ratings.
A father of two, Mr. Lowenstein says he relies on the rating system, which can be seen on the packaging. In addition, the ESRB Web site (www.esrb.com) provides in-depth descriptions, reviews and rating information on numerous games and gaming Web sites. If parents still have questions about a title, they can call the ESRB at 800/771-ESRB.
For example, the Interplay release "Redneck Rampage: Sucking Grits on Route 66" is rated (M) - "Mature for Ages 17+." This animated game contains blood, gore and strong language.
The Sirtech release "Armed & Delirious" - a game rated (T) for "Ages 13+" - contains comic mischief, strong language and suggestive themes.
Lucas Arts' "The Curse of Monkey Island" is rated (K-A) for "Kids to Adult." The only video games that are not routinely submitted to the board for rating are those specifically designed for younger children - such as Mindscape's "Lego Island" for ages 6 to 12.
Graphic video games will continue to find an audience and build upon the industry's $5.3 billion base. But many video developers are choosing a different path. Rick Dyer, president of TIG Publishing, which produces multimedia games, says he is trying to make games exclusively for the family.
A father of two, Mr. Dyer is an outspoken advocate on the dangers of the graphic video game, both violent and sexual in nature. He is also the creator of games such as "Dragon's Lair," "Space Age" and "Kingdom II: Shadoan" in the fantasy-realm genre.
"I have been within this industry for 20 years, actively developing games, and I personally have seen the effects that violence presented though multimedia entertainment has on children," Mr. Dyer says from his California office.
"There is an almost immediate and subsequent aggressive behavior as the young child acts out what they have seen on television or in a multimedia game," he says. "The younger the child, the more dramatic the impact is, and the harder it is to get them to unlearn the behavior that they have seen."
It should be reassuring to parents that an overwhelming majority of the 15 top-selling games for television and computer are appropriate for multiage groups. These games were sold in September, October and November 1997, according to NPD (www.npd.com), a consumer research group.
"Parents need to recognize that the word "game" has a different connotation than when we were children," Mr. Dyer says. "When their kids come back with the argument `It's just a game,' well, often they are not speaking of a Milton Bradley board game, and parents need to balance their own family and religious standards against what they want their children exposed to. …