Parents Must Monitor Kids' Video Games
Most parents are familiar with the rating system for movies and as a result many parents refuse to let their children see R-rated flicks.
V-chips in newer model television sets allow parents to block out violent or other racy programming.
Less familiar is the video game rating system. It's goal is to help parents make smart, age-appropriate decisions about the games their children are playing.
Some video games contain violent and sexually graphic images. For example some games reward players for killing an opponent, shooting a cop or stealing a car. This content does not belong in the hands of children.
Most recently, news headlines have focused on games that have explicit hidden scenes -- pornography that can be viewed simply by using software available on the Internet or nudity easily accessed through use of a special code.
Those incidents have led to calls for more federal regulation of the video game industry.
But parents don't have to wait for Congress to act. Area residents, organized as Game Smart Thurston County, hope to increase awareness among parents and retail clerks that video games carry a rating system that will help parents make wise selections for their children. Look for brochures and posters promoting the rating system in retail outlets.
The video game industry has created its own voluntary rating system with seven categories:
Early childhood for children three and older.
Everyone for children six and older.
Everyone 10+ for age 10 and older.
Teen for those 13 and older
Mature for 17 and older.
Adults only games are not to be sold to anyone younger than 18.
Rating pending for games that have not undergone the content review.
Youngsters are quick to tell their parents that "it's just a game," and that they are not affected by the violence they see in the games. "We know the difference between video games and real life," said Jordan Flemister, 12, of Olympia.
But the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2001 said exposure to violence in media -- everything from television and movies to music and video -- poses a major risk to the health of children and adolescents. And in the case of video games, the children aren't just watching violence -- they are acting out the roles of violent characters.
During a South Sound visit last year, clinical psychologist Sherwin Cotler said, "If you put aggressive behavior in, you get aggressive behavior out."
State legislators passed a law in 2003 making it a misdemeanor offense to sell games marked "mature" or "adults only" to anyone younger than 18. But a federal judge struck down the law as unconstitutional, a violation of free speech.
Lawmakers were back this year with a focus on education. They passed House Bill 1366, which requires stores to prominently post signs and brochures near game displays and points of sale notifying customers about the video game rating system. Thanks to community donations totaling $4,083, the local Game Smart committee was able to print thousands of brochures that will be distributed at community meetings and events.
"This bill focuses on getting information out," said Rep. Mary Helen Roberts, D-Edmonds, prime sponsor of the bill. "The primary target is parents and people that work in the point of sales. While we can't reach into people's homes and say 'Your children shouldn't be watching this,' we can provide them with information," Roberts said.
Whether parents use the rating system is, of course, up to them.
"The rating system is overrated," said Mike Flemister, Jordan's father. "I know exactly what they're playing."
And that's the key. Parents need to know about the video game rating system, make intelligent choices for their children and monitor their video game use.
Increasing public awareness through posters and brochures may be a small step, but it's a step in the right direction.