Most video games sold or downloaded have some type of a rating, intended to provide age-appropriate guidelines. These guidelines although varying in different countries, are based on the game's content. Some people have questioned the effectiveness of ratings, especially as to whether anyone takes much notice of them. The new Iowa study suggests the ratings are effective if parents follow them.
According to the lead researcher, Professor Russell Laczniak when parents adhere to the ratings system the net effect is that the behavior of children is modified in that by playing fewer violent video games children are less likely to act out or misbehave. The research also found out something else of interest to parents who worry about the number of hours a child is glued in front of a screen playing games: the findings suggest that as the time spent playing a video game increase then the greater negative behaviors of children become, irrespective of the violent content of the game.
In the U.S., video games are rated according to a scheme developed by the Entertainment Software Rating Board
and it has been in place since 1994. This was to address concerns about violence and sexual content in certain games. To assess the appropriateness of the ratings
, the Iowa researchers ran an online survey of 220 families with children eight to 12 years old. This age range was seen as key in terms of children going through important cognitive changes. With the survey, parents and children were assessed separately.
Questions for parents included information about the rating of games and the number of hours a child played video games for. Questions were also asked about the behavior of the child. Questions for the children included their perception of rules related to video game play. The demographics of the survey ended up with most parents being mothers and most of the children being boys.
To encourage ‘positive’ behavior, the research suggested that parents need to observe video game ratings by mediating the purchases made by children and to actively assess which games are played, and for how long. In other words, parents needed to be active, informed and involved.
Professor Laczniak has offered some suggestions to make the process easier:
Game developers should superimpose ratings on the game. This will help parents see what their child is playing by looking at the screen.
Governments should publicize more often about the ratings system and how it works.
Parents should control and, where necessary, limit the amount of video game play that a child undertakes. This is part of developing a ‘healthy media diet’ for children.
One concern from the study was that parents do not fully understand the ratings system and their mixed perceptions about its suitability.
The outcome of the study is published in
the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing
. The research paper is titled “Parental Restrictive Mediation and Children's Violent Video Game Play: The Effectiveness of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) Rating System.”