As a GameStop employee I have to be extremely aware of the ESRB Rating system and what each rating means. Employees are required to test on the rating system before they can begin their employment and are trained to take the ratings very seriously. Every time a M (mature) rated game is entered into the transaction the computers prompt employees to make sure that the person buying the game is either 17 or older or has the permission of a parent/guardian to buy the game. GameStop as a company takes these ratings very seriously and while I can’t speak for other companies that sell games, I imagine that they also take these ratings into full account when selling a game.
What I can’t seem to understand is why parents seem to think that these ratings are frivolous and only make their children’s purchase more difficult because they have to approve the sale of a Mature rated game to a child 16 or younger. Every day that I sell games there is at least one kid who wants a mature rated game and has dragged their parent in to be present at the time of sale. I make a point to tell the parent exactly what the Mature rating entails for the game they are buying and ask if they are comfortable with the content. Almost every single time I ask this parents brush me off and say “Of course” or “What do I care?” The other day I had a NINE year old come in with his mother to pre-order Call of Duty: Back Ops 2. I can guarantee that it has a Mature rating for (at the very least) violence, gore, and language. Not exactly something you would want your 9 year old experiencing/playing!
Now, as a child I definitely played much more violent games than I probably should have, but it was never with my parent’s consent. Usually the game was borrowed from a friend who’s parents would let them buy these games. So I can somewhat understand the argument that your child will get their hands on the game anyways, why should I stop them? If this is your thought process, the very least you could do is make sure to talk to your child about the content that they will be seeing in the game and help them to understand it by any means possible. Granted, I’m not saying that there’s a good way to properly explain to your kid why the nice man just shot someone in the head or why your character is walking through an airport killing hundreds of innocent people… but if you’re going to allow your kid to play a Mature rated game when they are not old enough to buy them on their own, you owe it to them to at least have an open conversation with them about the things they just witnessed.
The thing that makes this whole scenario really upsetting is the fact that the same parents who will allow their kids to play Mature rated games are the ones that will blame the video games for their children’s violent nature. The most prominent instance that sticks out in my mind every time this issue comes up is when a 12 year old boy shot his 10 year old friend immediately after playing Call of Duty: Black Ops. And while the fatal shooting is nothing short of sad and very unfortunate, the fact that the video game was blamed for the children having used the weapon in the first place makes me very angry. There are so many questions we should be asking about this situation before even considering blaming the video game. Such as: Why is there a loaded gun in the same room as the kids video game system? Why are TEN and TWELVE year old kids playing a video game meant for 17+ year olds? Where are their parents? Almost every thing about this incident screams parental neglect to me, not blame the violent video game.
To me, the moral of the story here is that parents need to become much more aware of the content on video games they are buying their children. The employees you buy the games from are more than able to explain to you why a game is rated a certain way and whether or not it would be suitable for kids of any age. Please please please utilize this fact when you are purchasing gifts for small children during this holiday season!