ESRB Ratings Not Gospel, Parents Step Up

As a gamer myself for the last 20+ years, I have noted the many changes that my favorite industry has gone through since I was first made aware of it. From crude, yet captivating graphics of the Atari 2600 to the heart-stopping realism of the PS4, gaming has morphed into a $21 billion dollar juggernaut that will not be slowed anytime soon. Despite gaming’s 40+ year history, a vast majority of parents are still clueless about what type of content is in the video games their children play. And yet, whenever a tragedy like Columbine or the murder of 14-year old Stefan Pakeerah occurs, the media is quick to blame violent video game content as if it were a catalyst for destructive and violent behavior.

To this horribly skewed sentiment, I pose two questions:

  1. were the parents aware of their child’s day-to-day activities before tragedy struck?
  2. are they aware of the content within the media that their child chooses or asks to consume?

During some past online discussions, I’ve learned that parents were either blissfully unaware of the content within certain games and/or what other activities their child is engaged in. Where the media has been consistently hinting that violent video games are the cause of youth violence, vast amounts of academic research and personal observations paint a much different picture, one that puts the responsibility of responsible child-rearing square on the shoulders of the parents, and rightfully so.

What is Currently Being Done to Restrict Content


Formed in 1994, the focus of the Entertainment Software Rating Board, or ESRB, is to review the content of each game and assign it a rating. If a developer disagrees with the ESRB’s rating, they are given the chance to make the appropriate changes that would secure a desired rating. And now, the reach of the ESRB is so far, that many retailers will not stock games that have not been reviewed by them.

The introduction of the ESRB came right on the heels of games like Night Trap and Mortal Kombat, which were respectively deemed sexually exploitative and graphically violent.  The entire point of the organization is so that parents can make informed decisions on which games are appropriate for their family. However, studies have shown that as of 2013, an alarming 38% of parents were completely unaware that video games are rated based on content. That is a lot of kids playing Grand Theft Auto V while their parents are completely unaware of the game’s nature.

However, this isn’t to say that violent video games cause violent behavior; far from it, actually. I grew up in an era where PC gaming was still in its infancy (think Doom)and I had just started getting my feet wet after spending the last few years happily gaming on my Nintendo and Super Nintendo. The brutal carnage and objectionable symbolism presented in Doom caused it to be listed as the 3rd most controversial game ever by CNN. At 10 years old, I was, and still am, an avid player of Doom but contrary to what the media may imply about the correlation between violent video games and violent youth behavior, I have never wanted to carry that violence into the real world, and my parents honestly weren’t worried either, even though they were completely aware of the gory in-game content.

Parents are the Foundation and Always Have Been


As has been proven time and again, Mature-rated video games are a part of the industry and they’re not going anywhere anytime soon. The burden is not on the ESRB, who employs a collaborative board review process to assign the most appropriate rating. The ESRB rating system was constructed to solely rate a game based on its content and does not have the power to stop a Mature-rated game from ending up in a child’s possession. In fact, the same curiosity that drives a child to watch an R-rated movie could be what motivates them to play a Mature-rated game, so it is ultimately up to parents to decide what media is appropriate for their child to ingest.

The concept that violent video games create violent youth has been dispelled time and again by judges, child psychiatrists and other industry professionals. These points have been summed up in a student capstone project for an online course at Rutgers University, culminating in a clip in which a brazen and uninformed journalist is shot down on live TV by interpersonal researcher, Dr. Patrick Markey. Though Dr. Markey concedes that violent video games can impact cognition, it doesn’t influence real life behaviors.

Another recent long-term study conducted in the United States has found no link between violent media and violent behavior. The scientist leading the study, psychologist Christopher Ferguson, even went so far as to question the methodology of earlier tests that suggested that there was even a correlation to begin with, as well as lamenting on society’s lack of similar initiative on real-world problems such as poverty and education.

In the end, we as parents and role models alike need to take full responsibility for the media that our children consume. We need to interact with them more and know what their hopes, dreams and fears are. We cannot continue to blame others for our own shortcomings. The responsibility of raising our children cannot be done by the ESRB or video game developers, that job is up to us. If we continue to lash out against the ESRB or video game developers for simply doing their jobs, we aren’t trying hard enough.

Our kids are right there, and despite what they may say to the contrary, they need you, the parent, to give them guidance.


  • oVg Up for a game of Gwent?

    Like this 😛

    • Robert Conrad

      That’s actually pretty accurate, and thanks for reading!

  • Matt Cox

    It gets pretty ridiculous! I used to work at a game store, and there were so many times that parents would send their child into the store with a $50, while they waited in the car. And they had the audacity to get pissed at me, when I sent their child to go get them to come into the store because the kid wanted to buy Dead Space or Grand Theft Auto 4, which are fine games but should not be played by children.

    • You’d be surprised how many times a parent back in 2010, when GTA was well-known to most, would look surprised when their kid picked San Andreas out of the case and I informed them that it featured adult content, including but not limited to picking up prostitutes and them beating them to death to get your money back. So many, “Does it now?” followed by a glare at the child.

    • Robert Conrad

      Just as a consumer I’ve seen this, Matt, and it blows me away that these parents never took the time to consider what they’re kids are playing! Made me really feel for the clerks, even back when I was an impressionable 12-year old kid who LOVED playing Doom (my mom was aware and fine with it).

      Thanks for reading!