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Annual Video Game Report Card

Filed under: General Gaming
Posted by Jeremy on November 24, 2004 8:43 AM

The National Institute on Media and the Family (NIMA) released its annual Video Game Report Card a few days ago causing a ruckus in the news media, a phone call from my Mom, and the usual backlash against anyone who dares play an M-rated game. I'm all for keeping violent, sexual, etc. games out of kids' hands, I really am, but year after year the NIMA (and Senator Joe Lieberman) seem to get more and more out-of-touch with what's really happening.

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Take, for example, the line from the NIMA report regarding obesity, "We know that the industry wants to expand its customer base and that it is in their economic interest to hook babies on games." Really? What, are we dealing crack here? Hook babies on games sounds like the worst thing ever. How could I support an industry that hooks babies on anything? The language there is purposely incendiary and shocking. Look at any industry. It is probably also in their best interest to hook babies on whatever product they're selling as well. The logical conclusion being that babies will grow up and buy things. But, the games industry, as a whole, focusing in on "hook[ing] babies"? C'mon.

Here is another excerpt from the report, which I heard Joe Lieberman quote yesterday on C-Span, "It's not that every teen who plays an ultra violent game is going to go out and pick up an Uzi." The irony is, Joe, thanks to the lack of Democratic leadership, any teen CAN go out and pick up an Uzi thanks to the expiration of the assault weapons ban. Some people need to get their priorities straight.

Going even further:

"The praise being heaped on the latest blockbuster game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is another example of the double messages parents receive. Reviewers across the country are hailing this game as one of the greatest ever. Reviewers are lauding the game for its technical qualities while barely mentioning the game's immoral story line. "A game with everything but morals," is the equivalent of a four star restaurant review praising the eatery's ambience and service but then adding as an afterthought the fact that the food is laced with salmonella."

Absurd. Again, wild analogies do not a good argument make. Reviewers, myself and Allison included, have every right to call "GTA: San Andreas" one of the best games of the year. It is. And, it's not simply from a "technical qualities" standpoint. As I wrote in an article on October 28 the violence in "GTA: San Andreas" is part of the fabric of the game (set in a fictional South Central LA, early 90's) and there are many competing mores in the story from a corrupt police force to getting crack off the streets. You simply can't remove the setting and/or circumstances from the story in the same way that you couldn't have a "Saving Private Ryan" without graphic violence and adult themes (of course we all know what happened there).

Most importantly, what Senator Lieberman and others do not understand is that, especially in open-ended games like "GTA", a good deal of the violence you partake in is up to you. If you are a game player that likes to sleep with hookers then kill them, well, that's more a critique of the game player than it is of the game.

It all comes down to the parents. Every major game retailer, in my experience, is doing a great job not only displaying ratings but enforcing them. Ultimately, it is the parents who are to blame. If you let your under 17 year-old play a game like "GTA: San Andreas" then you simply aren't informed or you trust your kid enough to know that it won't affect him/her.

One final item that drove me crazy regarding the press conference on C-Span with Joe Lieberman is that he, almost instinctively, harkened back to his childhood in the 50s. Paraphrasing: TV was new and innocent. People had morals, etc., ad nauseum.

Well, Joe, it ain't the 50s anymore. Perhaps instead of nostalgia you need a big dose of reality. Kids aren't bad today just because you think they are and kids aren't the only ones playing video games.

And, just because the current climate in the US is one of moral outrage regarding everything from Janet Jackson's breast (it's a breast for God's sake!) to Howard Stern to NBA fights to the aforementioned "Saving Private Ryan," it doesn't mean that video games are any better or worse than they have been in the past. They just are.

PS - Oh, and you may be wondering what prompted a phone call from my Mom. Well, she saw that Good Morning America was going to do a report on the video game report. I'm sure she thinks that I'm one step away from going over the edge.

NIMA Report Card Summary for 2004

MediaWise Video Game Report Card

ESRB Ratings Accuracy B-
Ratings Education C-
Retailers' Policy and Employee Training B
Retailers' Enforcement D
Screen time related to overweight F

REACTION FROM IEMA (Interactive Entertainment Merchants Assoc.)

November 23, 2004 12:34 PM US Eastern Timezone

IEMA Reaction Statement to the Annual Video Game Report Card Results Held on Capital Hill

WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Nov. 23, 2004--Reacting to the NIMF press conference this morning, the IEMA issued the following statement which may be attributed to Hal Halpin, president:

It is our belief that it is premature to judge the effectiveness of new and not yet fully-implemented industry self-regulation due to the timing of the research in question. The industry's leading retailers of computer and video games made a substantial and tangible commitment last December (2003) to begin or otherwise re-double their individual and collective efforts in inhibiting the sale of Mature-rated games to minors by this coming December (2004). Performing "sting operations" earlier than that date is divisive, intentionally contrarian, and ultimately renders the data statistically-irrelevant. Questioning the retailer's commitment to programs which are just being rolled-out is fruitless in that they haven't been given a fair opportunity to implement these policies.

It is important to mention that IEMA members chose December in which to have all of their new or newly-improved policies and procedures in place because it is December and January in which children have the necessary discretionary income with which to make these $50 per item purchases. While it is true that the "holiday buying season" starts earlier than December, it is not children who are out buying themselves Christmas presents in October and then waiting until December 25th to enjoy them, it is their parents. These retailers are in locations which require adult transportation and the amount of money needed to make the purchase is more significant than is readily-available to a child before the holidays.

As we pointed out last year, the IEMA carding announcement was made in the spirit of cooperation and because our members believe that they have a social responsibility to work with our consumers and parents. Retailers have made significant investments in educating parents and their own staffs about the ratings system, and have, through this commitment, changed the very nature of the business and the way in which people purchase one of the fastest-growing forms of entertainment. We stated that it would take twelve months to change policies and procedures in thousands of stores and educate many times that clerks, staff, and managers -- all which too is an incredible voluntary investment in time and money.

It is our belief that it is quite simply too early to assign a grade to the retailer's enforcement policies, but that if a grade need be assigned out of habitual ritual nothing less than an "A" is worthy of their collective efforts over the past eleven months.

About the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association

Established in 1997, the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association (IEMA) is the non-profit U.S. trade association dedicated to serving the business interests of leading retailers that sell interactive entertainment software (including video and computer games, multimedia entertainment, peripherals and other software). Member companies of the IEMA collectively account for approximately eighty-five percent of the $10 billion annual interactive entertainment business in the United States. (http://www.iema.org)

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