Picture the scene. A parent with a small child in tow approach a cash desk at a retail shop to buy Grand Theft Auto V. The advisor selling the game informs the parent that the game is rated 18 and contains extreme violence, language and sexual content. This information flies over the head of the parent, distracted by a message on her phone. ''It's fine'' the parent mutters carelessly as she hands the game to the minor and away they go. This happened many times in the store during the hectic 24 hours following GTA's launch and I'd imagine all over the country. I know this because I was the person who served this customer. Yes, I work in games retail and write a gaming blog, what are the chances? The thing is, I no longer enjoy the former profession anymore and it's for my above ramblings that I have grown frustrated.
I'm sure there are many parents who never wish their child to be exposed to interactive torture scenes and up close titillation. I'm also aware that older gamers will proclaim to have played Grand Theft Auto when they were fourteen but ''they're fine now''. I respect those opinions, but when they have kids themselves, or worse have other people's kids bully or shout obscenities around them, will they have the same trade of thought?
Most parents in this generation are mostly uninterested in video games. Their disinterest and rampant naivety is to blame for the exposure their children have to ADULT only material. A lot of parents will not make the link between an 18 rated game to an 18 rated film. Grand Theft Auto looks cartoony to them and they exist on the same machines that power up Skylanders. An 18 rated film to parents, stands by itself as a piece of fictional reality that is absolutely for adults only. The point I'm making is that parents need to be educated on gaming's darker side. They need to be told that just because a game looks cartoony, that doesn't automatically excuse possible psychological effects that can result in a twelve year old simulating the act of pulling out a man's tooth with a pair of pliers. It's unacceptable. This act of violence in GTA's most notorious scene is no less disturbing than anything in a Saw or Hostel film and I'm confident that a lot of parents who allow their very young to play Grand Theft Auto are not allowed to watch the aforementioned films.
This is why I think PEGI (Pan European Game Information) need to express more concern over this matter and educate parents into what their ratings mean and why they are awarded to certain games. Greg Miller, Host and Producer from IGN.com argues that aside to advice from age rating systems, there needs to be dialogue between the parents and their kids about unsuitable video games,
'My parents allowed me to watch R-rated movies, but they did so with rules. I couldn't curse like the movie did. I needed to know right from wrong. My parents watched along with me. It was a trust I earned, and I think some kids are quick to dismiss that it's a two-way street. I had lunch with a dev the other day whose 15-year-old plays GTA V for the parents. He plays, they watch, the family bonds. That's how it should be -- for them. I get that not every parent enjoys GTA's humour; I'm not saying everyone should do that. But there needs to be a dialogue. Kids need to talk to their parents about what this is and why they want it. Then, they have to listen to what the parents say.'
Of course, there will be parents who are aware and simply couldn't give two about what their children play. Unfortunately those people exist and an outright ban would be the only way to stop their kids from playing such material. This won't happen, but I do propose that Rockstar take a good look at themselves and think when including such nasty sequences and questionable morals into their games, they consider the all too probable notion that kids way under the age of eighteen will be playing along happily without guidance. Marcus Beer from Gametrailers.com expressed his disgust on his latest episode of Annoyed Gamer (found here) about the parental issue of GTA. He went as far as to regarding parents allowing their underage child to play GTA V as 'child abuse'.
So what do you think? Should developers stop making games this violent? Should our censors be as sensitive as other countries (e.g. ACB - Australian Classification Board)? Or do our own censors make more effort to educate parents on the content found in violent computer games? Let me know here or on twitter @kellehbehbeh.
Follow Mark Varley on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MRvarley64