After my discussion about age ratings in games I received quite a lot of private feedback on the subject and, quite surprisingly, an overwhelming amount of it was agreeing with my viewpoint. Of course, I did have one response which proved my point entirely; in which I was encouraged to end my life in some quite enlightening ways, and hope was placed upon my early demise. It's not like age ratings exist to stop encourageable young minds from accessing media that may affect their mental development, right?
But I digress, as I said, the overwhelming amount of feedback was positive, and so I took it upon myself to don a lab coat, grab a clipboard, and hide behind the shelves in my local videogames store to observe the local fauna. Actually, that sounds kind of creepy, and I did actually speak to quite a few parents when given the opportunity. Here's what I found out.
I don't care how old you are, you are never too old to enjoy an absolutely amazing game like Rayman Origins.
My first observation was that children (I'm talking approximately 8 years to 14 years here) seem to equate the 18 Rating with the game being good. Overwhelmingly I noticed the vast majority of children, when offered them, shunning games like Rayman, Ratchet and Clank, and even Halo, dismissing them as 'baby games' or just with general grunting. This was usually followed by the child making a beeline for Grand Theft Auto 5 or Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. The general consensus amongst the kids was that these were 'good games', desirable to own and to play, whereas anything with a 3+, 12, or even a 16 PEGI Rating was immediately dismissed without even a second glance.
It's well known within child psychology that children emulate adults and aspire to be them - remember as a kid how you always "couldn't wait to be a grown up"? Oh, how shortsighted we were! I suppose this is just another manifestation of that desire to be older. In a sense, I suspect there's also a lot of "wanting what you can't shouldn't have" going on there too.
Of course, there were plenty of children drawn directly to Terraria and Minecraft, which was comforting to see, but they were islands lost in an ocean. Speaking with a few of the children about why they were favouring these 18 Rated games over other, more 'suitable' titles, the children stated that the games given a rating of their own age were 'baby games' and the 18 Rated ones were 'cool' and 'all [their] friends play it'. When I asked one child why he thought GTA 5 had an 18 Rating, he shrugged and told me "It's not that bad". I then asked what he thought about the Rating system, and his genuine opinion was that it was unnecessary and was spoiling his fun. With fear of slipping into stereotyping, this child's mother said nothing to him the entire time they were in the store other than complaining about the price of games, loudly and with plenty of swear words, and looked like she generally wanted to be anywhere but there.
Boy, howdy, this looks appropriate entertainment for a ten year old! Look, ma! That man had his teeth pulled and is now being water-boarded with gasoline!
I later took a moment to quiz a few parents about their thoughts on games and ratings. The largest response was one of confusion - that the rating system didn't really clarify what was in it. What was the difference between a PEGI 16 and a PEGI 18 on 'Harsh Language'? Why does this game only have a PEGI 12, and that one a PEGI 18? Several seemed utterly unaware of the content of the games they had unwittingly brought with them to the counter ("Are you aware that this game contains explicit scenes of violence, torture, drug use, rape and prostitution?"), whilst more than a handful seemed utterly apathetic, responding with "What can I do?". As a parent, ma'am, you can say 'no'.
Back online, before heading out into 'the wild', I had spoken with an acquaintance of mine in Scotland on the topic; a father of two, and an avid gamer. He expressed the same concerns that I had witnessed, that his children shunned games like Rayman Origins and Rayman Legends without even turning the case around to look at the back. It was as if the lack of a PEGI Rating sticker had already told the child everything they needed to know about the game. These are great games with a very strong fanbase and a very high Metacritic score. His concern was that, despite his vehemence to stick to age appropriate titles, his children would still be exposed to inappropriate games at a friend's house. Regardless, he told me, he would stick to his guns, and maybe speak with these parents on why they deem these games appropriate for their children.
And that is the issue here. Overwhelmingly, parents are uninformed and confused about these games their children mysteriously want. Some believe that, if their friends are all playing it then, despite the PEGI 18 Rating, it can't be all that bad. Others are unhappy about the situation but feel powerless; either because they dislike disappointing their child, they cave in under a barrage of begs and pleads over a long period of time, or because they simply are lost to the apathy that "If I don't get it for him, he'll just play it at his friend's house anyway". Simply put, parents are giving in, and I can understand why. A few lax or, apologies, uncaring parents spoil it for those who do care. How could I keep telling my child that this game is inappropriate for him because of his age, when other children his age are playing it? It's an undermining of authority that leaves my child feeling picked on and left out. Another massive driving influence in children is their desire to fit in.
Call of Duty is "just a shooter" - it's "not that violent or graphic" and "probably doesn't deserve an 18 Rating except for some harsh language" - Sarcasm.
Then there are the adults. Again, as an adult gamer, I witness plenty of gamers my age dismiss anything lower than a 16 PEGI rating as inferior or geared to children. "It'll be too easy" they say to me, "I'll finish it too quickly". Remind me again how long it took to complete the Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare campaign? Oh. Oh, right. Yeah.
As another friend so well said to me, "I know some of the games that are out there that aren't 18's are cheesy, but not all of them are mouldy cheeses! Quite of few... ...are mozzarella or Nacho cheeses... ...you gotta love them! One example would be Skylanders. Yes I know... a lot of kids love them but think to yourself "Why?", it's because they're crazy, wacky and goofy." It's because these games are fun. These games don't rely on rating baiting to pull an audience, they don't need sex or gore to sell them, they focus on the gameplay, the story, the fun. It's what has made Nintendo so wildly popular for so long.
Look at the line-up for the Wii U and Nintendo 3DS. Most of those games are rated 12+ or lower, with a few 16+ ratings. There are very few 18 Rated games. Surely, this means they are kids consoles, right? Now check out Nintendo's largest demographics. Now check the scores on the games. The Wii U alone has more 80+% Metacritic rated games than the PS4 and XBox One combined. Suddenly, things aren't standing up. That, "18 Rated is better", doesn't work, but for some reason, it's still what gamers of all ages seem to believe. I'm not saying Nintendo are the best company out there, I gave up caring about 'Console Wars' years ago, but for your kids, compare the line-up of games on the Wii U to the XO and PS4 - they have higher scores and are more age appropriate. Do the math.
Of course, it's all pointless rambling if you can't get your kids sold on the idea. Don't go spending £250 on a Wii U only for your child to spend the next year ignoring it and going to his mate's to play GTA 5 or Mortal Kombat X. Oh, and parents, again, you wouldn't let your kids watch an 18 Rated movie, so why let them participate in an 18 Rated game? Not only are you being hypocrits, you're undermining the good intentions of the parents who do care.
What are your thoughts on the issue? I'm still well and truly open to more opinions, so get commenting!