A MMOG by any Other Rating
Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar has not yet been rated. This article is not intended to suggest any rating; merely to debate the principles behind the rating systems and its effect on young gamers
It seems like every MMOG I get behind has a portion of its fan base
crying, “Give this game an M rating to keep the kiddies out!” Can an
Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB ) rating of M (Mature, for
ages 17 and older) really keep kids out of MMOGs like Lord of the
Rings: Shadows of Angmar? And should it? In my opinion, ESRB ratings
don't keep kids from playing mature-themed games; and not all kid
gamers need to be kept from playing MMOGs.
When it comes to parents controlling what their kids experience, the
fact of the matter is, I’ve met more than a few who seem oblivious to
the meaning behind those Es and Ms on the game titles they put in their
children’s hands. My son’s friend received Grand Theft Auto: San
Andreas for his 10th birthday…from his parents. I haven’t had the
inclination to ask them whether they purchased the game knowing their
kid was going to be fragging cops, sleeping with prostitutes, jacking
cars, and robbing homes.
I don’t believe adding an M rating to LotRO will do much to keep kids
out of the game, or any other game, for that matter. ESRB ratings can
serve as a guide for parents who pay attention to them, but the sad
fact is, many parents use video games as digital babysitters without
paying much attention to their content. And kids are wise--I doubt my
son’s friend is going to chirp, “Guess what, Mom! I bedded a hooker and
shanked a couple cops last night,” over his morning bowl of Frosted
Flakes. Ah, if mother only knew!
This doesn’t mean I’m some avid watchdog of a parent who feels all
games that aren’t rated E (for Everyone) should be banned. I’ve slain
many a creature, humanoid and otherwise, in various MMOs over the
years, but, I’ve never had the urge to draw my sword and behead the
evil counter clerk at the DMV who’s telling me I filled out the wrong
form and I’ll have to wait in line again. (Well, perhaps I’ve felt the
urge, but I’ve never acted on it.)
let my own 11-year-old boy play the occasional rated M game. He played
Fable, for instance. But I didn’t get the game for him just because he
wanted it--I knew what it was all about. I knew the game would have my
kid making some mature choices, and doing some mature things. I also
know my kid, and I know he can handle it. I liked the moral choices
posed in Fable, and I was strangely tickled to see my son’s character
at the end game with a glowing halo and butterflies circling around his
head (indicating he made moral choices).
All it takes to be the responsible parent of a kid gamer is a little
interest in what she’s seeing while she’s sitting there with that
controller in her hand, or tapping away at the keyboard. You don’t have
to be a gamer yourself to do a little research. There are sites all
over the web that will tell you what sorts of content a game contains. ESRB.org
is one example. Kaboose:
has a listing of popular and kid-friendly titles. These
and other resources make shopping for games for your kids a whole lot
easier. You can even ask your local game retailer for pointers--most of
the folks working in game stores have first-hand experience playing the
games they sell. (In other words, they could’ve warned my son’s
friend’s parents about the hookers and the carjacking.)
But what about MMOGs? What about the ESRB warning: “Experience may
change during online play?” MMOGs are indeed different animals. And
yet, I’ve let my son play EverQuest (EQ) since he was 8. Why? Because I
knew I could control what was coming at him to a reasonable degree. I
turned on the language filters, turned off /OOC and /SHOUT, and let him
have his fun whacking away at orcs and skeletons in the newbie zone. I
gave him three simple rules to follow: no kill-stealing (KSing); don’t
talk to strangers; and no grouping. (The latter was more for his
potential group-mates’ protection than his own.) And I kept an eye on
him. I never let him play for hours on end, and I always remained
watchful to make sure everything remained on the up and up.
Am I a bad parent for letting my kid play EQ? Draw your own
conclusions. I didn’t feel that letting my boy run around smacking
evildoers with a rusty scimitar was hurting anyone--not him, and not
the other, more serious gamers.
Which brings me back to those people who want to keep young gamers out
of MMOGs. I’ve found that gamers come in all varieties, and age has
nothing to do with maturity. I’d much rather deal with 10 pre-teen kids
who accidentally KS my giant bats in the newbie zone than one
23-year-old griefer who repeatedly trains my group for kicks. I’ve
grouped with very young gamers who play with skill and wisdom. Then
again, I’ve grouped with 20-something gamers whose antics could’ve
easily landed them a spot on MTV’s Jackass.
Will ESRB M ratings keep immature players out of games? Nope. Will they
keep kids out of games? Unlikely. And, when it comes to kids at least,
maybe the bigger question is whether they should. After all, J.R.R.
Tolkien wrote The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings with a young
audience in mind. I know that my own kids would jump at the chance to
play an elven hunter, slinging a bow like Legolas, and I don’t view
their enthusiasm as a bad thing.
Back when I was a teenager, in the age of Atari, video games were
demonized as if they were some sort of evil and addictive drug. Parents
warned that if we played too much of the stuff it would rot our minds.
People referred to gamers as “vidiots.” My parents were the exception.
Nine times out of ten, when I wanted to grab a quick game of Asteroids,
I’d find my mom parked in front of the TV, controller clutched in her
hands, tongue dangling out of the corner of her mouth, with her little
pixel space ship going “Pew! Pew! Pew!” as she blaste
d toward a new family record.
And maybe that’s why I have the attitude that I do where my own kids
and video games are concerned. I’m not indiscriminate, and I don’t let
them play any game just because it’s the latest thing (you won’t see
GTA: San Andreas in my house), but I do encourage their gaming, just as
my mom did when I was a teen. “It actually builds good hand-eye
coordination,” she would say.
No doubt hand-eye coordination is a good thing (we call ‘em “twitch
skills” now, Mom), but as I watch my own kids play role-playing games,
from EverQuest, to Fable to the pen-and-paper Dungeons & Dragons, I
see how acting and making choices in a virtual world and a virtual
society helps foster creativity and teamwork. My son’s teacher would
quite likely agree with my assessment, since my gamer-boy recently
wrote the script for and participated in a group project to create an
anti-drug commercial for Time Warner Cable. Their commercial was
selected a top-20 finalist of 1500 entries statewide, and we’re waiting
for the day in March when we’ll find out whether it will become the
grand prize winner and our family (and the families of the other kids
involved) will be on its way to Disney Land.
Not bad for a vidiot. Not bad for a kid, either. You might not mind a
kid like that running around your MMOG.