The ESRB has been in existence since 1994. It was created in the wake of a game known as Mortal Kombat releasing on consoles where children could consume them in their homes. It was set up as a standard of ratings that describes the contents inside of a package for children.
I don’t think I have to describe the ratings system to you as I assume a majority of my readership has purchased and looked at the back of a game box. Some of you reading this might not remember there being a time where game boxes didn’t have this logo. This organization has been the advocate of our culture for almost 20 years now.
So when I see a woman trying to buy an M-rated game for her 2 children under 10, I have to question whether this even matters.
So here’s the story. I’m at Gamestop picking up a copy of Jeanne d’Arc when I overhear a Trophy Wife (the quickest explanation works best) and her two boys (roughly 7 and 9) shopping for video games. So she is wanting to pick up, of all the games in the store, Mortal Kombat for her kids.
As a father, this shocked me. So much that I actually looked up at the clerk just to see how this was going to play out. Like a boss, this professional (likely the only time you will hear me call a Gamestop representative this) proceeded to caution her about the glorified violence in the game.
Now I was no saint when I was a kid. Maybe I was a year or two older than these kids when I got my hands on the first Mortal Kombat. What was it like 1993 or 1994 on the Genesis? So my palms aren’t exactly clean on this. Though back then we had to sneak like ninjas to even get that game past my mom. Even then, I remember how hard it was for us to even figure out the fatalities on our own. No moves list menu back in the day.
So I’m not entirely ready to pass judgement on this woman yet. She probably has no idea what Mortal Kombat is. I can understand that.
Now I called this clerk a professional because when he told her the game is very violent, he didn’t sugar coat it. So when the woman asked “is it violent like those Call of Duty games,” in my head I was thinking he was getting through to her. She had seen a report, an article, or something that talked about how gritty and violent the medium has become as a cautionary tale of woe to unsuspecting parents. She has frame of reference.
Our clerk went on to explain how different the violence is. Where Call of Duty is pushing the player in to a violent situation, Mortal Kombat is violence purely for shock. That this game would in fact be showcasing a much more brutal form of violence than one can experience in Call of Duty. You could tell by the tone in his voice that he was basically trying to caution her from buying something that just wasn’t made for these kids.
He then proceeded to even downgrade her to the more acceptable (by ESRB standards) Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe for her prepubescent children. I almost applauded him. Here I was staring at a man not looking for the sale of newer product, but just trying to give honest advice to somebody that could make a bad mistake for her children potentially by simply giving her a comparable product. If it were me, I would have done the same thing.
“Well, they play Call of Duty all the time with their friends,” she said as if the man had not spoken a word this entire time. “So this should be fine.”
I stood there open mouthed for a second, then as if on cue the youngest of the two spoke up. He looked at the clerk and said in the most innocent voice, “oh wow! Lego Batman 2 looks really cool.” He was looking at one of those giant cardboard boxes, not seeing anything more than cover art.
“Yeah, in this one you can play with Superman too.”
If you could gauge a child’s sense of amazement in one look, that would have been it. My only hope as I walked out of there while the two boys were still running around the store, is that the boys would go home and sit on the couch and find that playing as a Lego version of Batman and Robin would be more interesting than ripping out Johnny Cage’s heart from behind.
Now I debated in my head walking up to her and telling her that she needed to get a less violent game for her kids, but this guy had just spent 3 minutes talking her out of a sale. If these kids are awarded the opportunity to go home and play some Call of Duty at their leisure, what exactly am I going to protect them from.
This is only going to escalate with the younger brother playing the elder’s games, so what else is there to do in these situations?
I mentioned that I was a father above and I will have to concern myself with breaking my child in to these graphic games. As somebody that has grown up with this industry, I can better monitor her playing habits yet I still don’t know if I can even do that. I hear stories like this all the time and wonder how many kids under the age of 10 really are playing violent games.
I’m not writing about how bad Mortal Kombat is. I’m playing the Vita version right now and it’s really fun. I do know Ed Boon wouldn’t be happy with a 7 year old owning a copy of his game though. I really just wanted to share a story of a Gamestop employee that did his job that day. Unfortunately, you can’t fix bad parenting.