For 18 years now, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) has labeled the contents of all video games sold through retail outlets, informing parents about the terrible, awful things that go on in Mortal Kombat, in the event the game title didn’t make it clear.
Even so, yet another small burst of coverage about violent video games churned up in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn. In what is obviously an attempt to respond to anybody who actually thinks parents out there just don’t know what goes on in those crazy video games (“Assassin’s Creed is about world history, Mom!”), the ESRB is embarking in a new information campaign. The goal is to hit the 15 percent of parents (in their own estimate) who don’t know of the ratings system so that they can clearly grasp that the video game with military men on the cover are shooting guns at each other.
You can read about their informational campaign here. The press release writers seem to have made a game of their own of how much corporate jargon can be tossed in (“Coordinate with video game retailers to use both their physical store footprints and dedicated online networks to educate millions of their customers about video game ratings and parental controls”).
The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) dragged in Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) to give their stamps of approval. It would have been better to leave them out. What’s good about the ESRB is that it is industry self-regulation outside government mandates. But as the responses to the Sandy Hook tragedy showed, there are plenty of people who would like to get the government involved in gaming regulation, Supreme Court ruling notwithstanding. If the ESA thinks politicians or organizations like the National Rifle Association won’t continue to target video games to score political points with certain electoral bases, I’ve got a swamp stage for sale, suitable for either a platformer or an RPG.