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Friday, October 20, 2006

Huffington Post On Bully

Author and mommy Liz Perle takes a crack at Rockstar's Bully:

As for the actual game, I've seen only what the rest of the world has- trailers. Here's a sampling of comments and responses to the trailer on YouTube where, as of this writing, it had been viewed 41,796 times (only about a hundred of those were from my 13 year old son, I promise). "Dude," says one commenter, "as long as I can get a girl pregnant in this game, I don't care how dated the engine is (presumably a reference to the fact the game is coming out on Playstation 2, not 3 to ensure the broadest possible holiday distribution). Or this contribution, "I wonder if there are unlockables where you can get guns, c4s, poison gas?" To be fair, there were also plenty of innocuous comments ("this game looks aaaaawwwsum, dude") which, while not particularly insightful or illuminating, are probably most representative of those who can't wait to fork over (or have their parents pony up) the $39.95 each game costs.

So what's my beef then? Simple: I think it's sad that I am looking at this game - both as a mother and a professional information purveyor -- with a modicum of relief because it appears not to be as ultra-violent (blood splattering and women being raped and beaten) as other games my kid and his friends want to play. What did Robin Williams say the other day? Something along the lines of 'you know you're bad when you start violating your standards more quickly than you can lower them.' I know my son wants this game for his birthday. Robbed of my usual excuses - no blood or guns allowed - I now have the more nuanced task of discussing role models and pointing out research that shows that the more time spent with aggressive video games, the more inured kids become to aggression. This makes me the boring mom, the killjoy mom. But so be it. Until my kids are old enough to vote me off the island, I still get to decide what's right for them. But like other parents, I must do my homework about video game content, I will read reviews, look at the game, decide with my husband what's right. Then, even though it's not popular, I happily reserve the right to say, "No."
-- Virtual Bully: A Finer Line for Videogames

For the record, Bully is rated T - which means Liz's little one has the clearance from the ESRB. She's acknowledging that she hasn't played it - and let's face it ... most parents don't exactly get the chance to play games before their kids take it home. Still, I don't think a random sampling of YouTube commenters is at all useful for gauging a game's content. In fact, I'd call it downright unfair.

But then again - where is she to go? It's not like Best Buy will offer her to boot up the game and give it a spin. 99% of gamer reviews are geared towards thirteen year olds (and a few may actually be written by them). If she brings up her concerns in most web forums, she's likely to get flamed for being "anti-video game" (as she risks on that post).

What's the solution here? I point her to - one of the few sites with a perspective fit for parents. Still, this seems to illustrate the gap of resources parents really have for making decisions like this one. The ESRB is helpful, sure, but when parents want to dig deeper - where else can they go?

That's the problem game publishers and the ESRB should be trying to solve. And perhaps it could be if lunatics like BatJack would stop throwing frivolous lawsuits and idiotic sound bites at them. Once again, BatJack is only hurting parents by distracting resources from what should be the real dialogue - parents and game publishers communicating so that parents know what they're getting from those boxes on the shelf.

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Greg Tannahill said...

She could - I don't know - read a review. She can't buy the game until it's out, and the second it comes out there'll be a review at Gamespot. Gamespot (and many other sites) aren't necessarily reviewing with the purpose of judging its suitability for children, but they're usually fairly comprehensive.

I'm just getting so frustrated with the whole rating thing in any case. If all media was subject to a uniform rating system, then about 90% of all children's fairy tales, the Bible, daily newspapers, and prime time news and current affairs television would all be rated as unsuitable for children. Children get harmed worse from watching soap operas; it's criminal the things that we expose them to as "normative behaviour" in terms of dispute resolution skills, relationship skills, and communication skills generally.

Josh said...

Well, I find out shortly later that she's part of Common Sense Media (see the link on the left there), if that puts it into a better perspective.

Gamespot, I'll bite, is more comprehensive than most (if I recall my old post on Shining Tears correctly) ... but they're still geared to the user more than the consumer, if you will. The people who will play the game, but not necessarily the one buying it.