Game warn­ings need ob­fus­ca­tion

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. -

Here comes Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned, the lat­est ver­sion of the bad-boy video game par­ents are for­ever warned about.

Its new in­car­na­tion has just a lit­tle some­thing ex­tra — fullfrontal male nu­dity. Let the hand-wring­ing be­gin. Or let’s have all the par­ents re­cite once more, “Please check the la­bels on video games and don’t let your chil­dren buy games la­beled ‘ M’ for ma­ture, and maybe not even ‘T’ for teen, and pay at­ten­tion to the rec­om­mended ages, blah, blah, blah.”

The $10 bil­lion in­dus­try will then go back to sell­ing its games, the young peo­ple will go back to play­ing the games (in­clud­ing the par­ent-pro­hib­ited ones they find at each other’s houses), and the par­ents will go back to what­ever they were do­ing.

It’s re­al­ity-check time about th­ese vaunted video-game la­bels. Bot­tom line, they are a big, fat con.

To par­ents, video-game la­bels of­fer im­por­tant in­for­ma­tion to help them steer their chil­dren away from the p o t t y-m o u t h , head-split­ting, blood-spat­ter­ing, shoot-’emall games. To kids, “M” means “must have” — even lit­tle kids don’t want the games la­beled “E” for every­one.

Where did I get th­ese ideas? A new study in Pe­di­atrics, ti­tled “Age and Vi­o­lent-Con­tent La­bels Make Video Games For­bid­den Fruits for Youth.”

Dutch re­searchers in­vented 12 video games and de­scribed them to 310 Dutch youths ages 7 to 17. Then they asked the kids to tell them whether th­ese “new games” sounded in­ter­est­ing or bor­ing.

Some video-game de­scrip­tions had no rat­ing la­bels at all. Oth­ers had age rat­ings (such as 7+, 12+, 16+ and 18+), and ei­ther a sym­bol in­di­cat­ing it “con­tained vi­o­lence” or “con­tained no vi­o­lence.”

The re­sults? Even the youngest chil­dren strongly pre­ferred the games rated for older kids. The games with vi­o­lent­con­tent warn­ings were hands­down fa­vorites among both boys and girls, and among all age groups.

Which games looked most bor­ing? Those con­tain­ing “no vi­o­lence” or miss­ing any kind of la­bel.

“The re­sults of our study clearly showed that age-based la­bels and vi­o­lence con­tent la­bels only make video games more at­trac­tive, like for­bid­den fruits,” wrote Uni­ver­sity of Am- ster­dam scholar Mar­ije Nije Bi­j­vank, who col­lab­o­rated with re­searchers from the In­sti­tute for So­cial Re­search at the Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan.

Thus, la­bel­ing ob­jec­tion­able con­tent in video games “back­fires” with youth be­cause it causes them to de­sire such games, they wrote. It’s “a boomerang ef­fect.”

Ear­lier, I called the la­bels a con. Sorry, they’re ap­par­ently boomerangs. My bad.

Surely even the bright­est par­ents know video-game la­bels are aimed at mak­ing them feel bet­ter so they’ll plop down an­other $50 for a new game. I have a mod­est pro­posal. First, drop the video-game la­bels. Re­ally, if they’re only go­ing to at­tract the kids to the ob­jec­tion­able stuff, they’re worse than use­less.

In­stead, re­quire all fu­ture game de­scrip­tions to be writ­ten with poly­syl­labic words. No more easy-to-read phrases such as “night­mares be­low” and “demons march­ing.” We want fancy words such as “con­fla­gra­tion” and com­plex de­scrip­tions such as “Af­ter lu­cubra­tion, the plenipo­ten­tiar y ad­vised salient in­ter­dic­tion.”

Third, to en­sure max­i­mum wordi­ness and in­com­pre­hen­si­bil­ity, game de­scrip­tions should be writ­ten by fed­eral bu­reau­crats, edited by lawyers and proofed by the peo­ple who write mort­gage doc­u­ments.

We may not be able to stop our kids’ love af­fairs with video games, but we could at least make them work harder to fig­ure out where to get their next dig­i­tal blood­bath — or dose of full-frontal male nu­dity.

Cher yl Wetzstein can be reached at cwet­zstein@ wash­ing­ton­

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