I remember it like it was yesterday. I was eight years old sitting in front of my parents Goliath, wooden framed TV. The tube itself wasn’t big, it was probably only about 24 or 25 inches but the housing… ohh the housing… it took up about half of the living room. The first time I saw it on TV I knew I had to have it. With its sleek black lines and faux wooden switchboard, I just knew it was going to be mine no matter what it was I had to do. What I’m talking about here folks is the godfather of all gaming systems, the Atari 2600.
It took me about three months of begging and pleading and more begging before my dad gave me a break and told me, “Yo no voy a comprar eso! Si tu quiere esa cosa, lo vas a tener que comprarlo tu”. Which translates to, “I’m not going to buy it! If you want that thing, your going to have to buy it yourself!” Being eight, I of course had my doubts about how I was going to earn the money but, he quickly made it clear what exactly he had in mind. He broke out this torn up old box of pennies that must have weighed seventy or eighty pounds. Dropping it on the floor next to the kitchen table (and thoroughly enjoying how the loud Boom scared me), he told me that I would have to roll pennies until I reached the price of the damn thing. He counted out fifty pennies and showed me how to roll them up. Again, being eight years old, I thought to myself, “Oh man, this is going to be a piece of cake!” Do you have any idea how many rolls of pennies it takes to reach $176.00?!? For those of you who are curious, it’s 352 but it was actually much more than that when you factor the time, blood and sweat. Well, about a month and a half (and many paper cuts and sliced cuticles) later, I finished the job and he kept his word (hidden life lesson, this was my first job ever).
Fast forward a couple of decades to 2009 and here I am still in love with video games. Not only that, I have children who love video games. I have spent countless hours playing both co-op shooter games with my eldest son and two player children’s games with my youngest son (not to mention my wife but she wont admit it publicly). The difference between the games that I grew up on with their boxy characters, vehicles and landscapes and the DVD quality graphics available today are astronomical. The realism paired with the content of these games is so effing bad ass that sometimes, I have to look twice before I decide whether or not it’s appropriate for my youngest. Lucky for me, there is an entire company designed to take the guesswork out of it. They are dedicated to protecting the safety of impressionable little children.
The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) spends many hours of their time reviewing video games to alert parents of their content. The ratings are very easy to understand and are pretty much self explanatory. They are as follows: EC: Early Childhood, E: Everyone, E10: Everyone 10+, T: Teen, M: Mature, AO: Adults Only & RP: Rating Pending. The guidelines require every software company that produces a game to place these labels visibly on both the front and the back of the software package. A very useful tool for parents but here’s the thing , we need to actually pay attention to these ratings.
Many parents are quick to blame the software companies for the deterioration and desensitization of our children’s minds. The funny thing about it is that the last time I checked, we were responsible for what our children play or don’t play. It’s just like society to blame others for what is ultimately our responsibility. I’m tired of hearing argument after argument after argument about how video games are dumbing down our children and how they are sitting in the living room mashing buttons instead of reading or writing or heaven forbid, the actual physical act of playing with toys or real live friends!
How about the lack of responsibility on the part of us parents! Our kid sees a new game and they ask and ask and ask until we give in and drop 50 bucks for some peace and quiet. Because most adults don’t play video games or think that video games are children’s toys and therefore don’t have time for such nonsense (I forgive your ignorance), you don’t realize or notice that the game you just bought little Timmy has what is the equivalent of a solid “R” rating. You buy the game, hand it off to them and probably never see them playing it so there is no way of you knowing that he’s shredding virtual humanoids with a chainsaw or getting a virtual handjob from a virtual hooker in a parked car in some alley of a virtual city! C’mon! Do you really need a rating system to tell you that a game called “Grand Theft Auto” or “Bully” is probably not appropriate for an eight year old?
Some parents are too damn quick to lay the blame of their child’s deficiencies on someone else’s shoulders. Far be it from them to take a step back and think, “Hmm, do I really want my child to play this game?” It’s as if you were to let your little boy or girl watch a horror movie and then blame the movie studio for them not being able to sleep at night. It’s the same thing with video games. We have to come to terms with the fact that video games are no longer geared toward just children. There are some pretty hard core games out there that have no business being in a child’s collection. We as parents bare the sole responsibility of monitoring and controlling what our children play… period, no ifs, ands or buts. If we don’t protect them, who will?