Video Game Ratings

One might assume that only teenagers are playing games with mature content, such as Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto games. Games such as these are labeled with a rating anywhere from “Everyone 10+” to “Mature,” and receive these ratings generally because of violence, language, sexual content, or mature themes. When looking at who might be playing these games, one might initially exclude kids eight and under. However, in 2000, a Federal Trade Commission investigation found that these violent video games are marketed even towards young children. It found that children are targeted for other violent media as well, so it would be naive to assume that children under eight only play games with an “Everyone” rating (Strasburger, Wilson, & Jordan, 440).

In addition to this intentional marketing, not all parents completely respect or understand the rating system, and allow their young children to play games with more mature content than is deemed suitable for an eight year old. A survey of parents of children ages five and younger found that “even well-educated parents lack familiarity with video game ratings” (Strasburger, Wilson, & Jordan, 445). This is significant because games with mature themes have a higher potential for exaggerated gender portrayals, thus capable of having a larger effect on young children. As stated earlier, the majority of these games with these ratings portray gender in a polarizing way. Men are strong, aggressive, and heroic. Women are helpless, over sexualized, and many times merely props. One of the main concerns with these definitive gender portrayals is that “[video] games reaffirm or inscribe dominant and patriarchal conceptions of gender roles through their frequent dependence upon rescue-plot structures with male heroes and female victims” (Cassell & Jenkins, 12). The difficulty here lies in the fact that there is extremely little research done on children eight years and younger playing games with mature content, specifically dealing with the effects of gender portrayals. The effects of the harsh gender constructions in these games can only be speculated when it comes to children under eight. However, because “there are continuing problems that include lack of agreement with consumer perceptions, failure to enforce ratings, and lack of consumer familiarity with ratings,” it is known that that kids in this age group will continue to play video games with “Teen” and “Mature” ratings (Strasburger, Wilson, & Jordan, 445).

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Works Cited:

  • Cassell, Justine, and Henry Jenkins. From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games. MIT, 2000. Google Scholar. Web. 2 Dec. 2010.
  • Strasburger, Victor C., Barbara J. Wilson, and Amy Beth Jordan. Children, Adolescents, and the Media. SAGE, 2009. Google Scholar. Web. 2 Dec. 2010.