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22 Nov 2016

Opinion: Has our perception of a game changed and how can we manage the new reality?

When you say the word ‘game’, what does it make you think of? Does it conjure up ideas of friendly fun, or violence and horror?

I know for me, my perception of a game is something that gets people engaging with one another and laughing, testing the mind a little and coming away feeling jovial and light spirited.

However, in this modern world, the word ‘game’ is more and more related to scenes of extreme violence and crime.

The rise of video games have allowed the technology industry to transform games into an immersive experience in a world where law and order isn’t prevalent, and instead you can explore a virtual version of reality that exploits women, promotes crime and even murder.

When looking into a standard definition of the word ‘game’, the Oxford English Dictionary describes a game as “a form of competitive activity or sport played according to rules” or “an activity that one engages in for amusement.”

These definitions don’t immediately shout out horror or violence to me.

I can’t be the only one in feeling the way I do, and with this in mind, I’m wondering if parents and caregivers really understand the true extent that online gaming and video games have reached?With film or video ratings, adults tend to take the ratings fairly seriously.

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) is an independent body who aim to bring classification to films via an age rating system, and have been using this process to classify films since 1912.

The BBFC aim to protect children from unsuitable or even harmful content in films and videos and give consumers information they need about a particular film or video.

The BBFC describe an 18 rating as ‘Suitable only for adults’ and that no one younger than 18 may see the film in a cinema or buy or rent the film.

These rules are fairly well respected by consumers, and most parents would be unlikely to willingly allow their child (aged under 18) to watch a film of this rating, because of the risk of graphic images of sex and violence.

With this in mind, why do parents find it more acceptable to provide their children with a game rated 18?

PEGI are the Pan European Game Information age rating system, whose aim, similarly to the BBFC, is to ensure entertainment content of games is seen only by those it is appropriate for, allowing consumers (particularly parents) to make an informed purchasing decision.

The PEGI 18 adult classification is applied when the content can be described as reaching gross violence and is made for adults only.

To give you an indication of this, Call of Duty, Battlefield, Far Cry, Dishonoured and Watch Dogs are all popular video games with a rating of PEGI 18, which by PEGI’s definition should only be played by adults.

However, many of these video games are in circulation amongst under 18’s with many children having access granted to these games by their parents and playing them on a regular basis.

Why do we find it acceptable to grant access to this content, just because it is labelled as ‘a game’?

When PEGI conducted a review of their age rating system, 93% of video gamers say they recognized the PEGI labels, however, rather more tellingly, only 49% of parents said they find the ratings useful.

It is evident that more guidance is needed amongst children and parents as to the implications of the ratings. In a lot of instances, parents also aren’t aware that the video game device can act as a gateway to the internet, with voice and messenger chat being popular amongst video gamers.

We must be aware of the risks that this can pose, with the case of Breck Bednar offering a chilling reality to the harsh side of online gaming and chat. Research by the American Psychology Association into the effect of violent games on actual violence found a direct correlation.

"The research demonstrates a consistent relation between violent video game use and increases in aggressive behaviour, aggressive cognitions and aggressive affect, and decreases in pro-social behaviour, empathy and sensitivity to aggression."

With this in mind, it’s imperative we teach our children the differences between reality and those within a game, and perhaps encourage them to interact in activities that are more true to games, competitive in nature and that offer amusement.

So what can we do to help?

It’s important that all caregivers to children understand the threat of video games, especially those with a rating beyond the age of the child playing the game.

We must encourage children and parents to understand that the ratings are there for a reason, to protect children, and encourage game playing in different ways.

At school can often be the most difficult place for managing this, as one child’s bragging of owning a new video game such as Call of Duty in the playground often leads to a feeling of deprivation by those not allowed to play by their parents.

Teachers should be listening for these conversations and encouraging parents who are buying these games to research the PEGI rating system before buying the games, and encourage an environment in school that doesn’t allow for talk of violent game playing.

Schools also need to take extra care whether choosing to allow video games in school, as the PEGI ratings should always be considered before access is granted.

What are your thoughts on this matter? Are you a teacher or a parent who has concerns of the growing violence in video games? Let us know in the comments below.

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