I have now, sitting on my laptop, a leaked copy of the National Institute on Media and the Family's annual Media Wise Video Game Report Card, set to be officially released tomorrow.
The annual report card is becoming increasingly out-dated and unnecessary, something that probably explains the desperate tone of this year's report. In his executive summary for the report, David Walsh tries to drum up a little fear, a little attention by first admitting that things have actually gotten quite good when it comes to ratings awareness and enforcement, but then hints at an "ominous backslide on multiple fronts".
What's interesting is that the summary cites very specific examples for the positive, such as Target removing Manhunt 2 from shelves after finding AO content was viewable with a hack, or that GameStop has started firing people for selling M-rated games to minors, but doesn't really do the same for the negative. Instead Walsh writes that "Complacency, especially on the part of retailers and parents, appears to have caused a backslide in ratings awareness and enforcement."
And, at the same time, while the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) has continued to educate the public about its video game rating system, several shocking incidents have inadvertently revealed dangerous loopholes in the ratings process. Simply put, some of the hard-won progress seen in previous years has been lost, and now, too many children are spending too much time playing inappropriate video games that can harm their health and development.
His only example, the fact that a few churches were using Halo as a way to attract young gamers back to the church.
It is in from this morass of self-doubt and shaky evidence that NIMF launches their detailed "report card" on gaming this year. This year's report card is broken into five parts: The MediaWise Video Game Report Card, the Buying Guide, the ESRB Rating System and Ratings Education Efforts, the Retailer Ratings Education and Enforcement Surveys and a new poll they conducted of kids and parents with Harris Interactive.
Here's the quick summary for each.
The MediaWise Video Game Report Card Parental Involvement: Grade: C ESRB Ratings Education: Grade: B Retailer Policies: Grade: C Retailer Ratings Enforcement National Retailers: Grade: D Specialty Stores: Grade: B Rental Stores: Grade: F The Gaming Industry: Grade: C
The Buying Guide Parent Alert! Games to Avoid for your Children and Teens Assassin's Creed M Call to Duty 4 M Conan M The Darkness M Jericho M Kane & Lynch: Dead Men M Manhunt 2 M Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles M Stranglehold M Time Shift M
MediaWise Recommended Games for Children and Teens Game Rating FIFA Soccer 08 E Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock T Hannah Montana: Spotlight World Tour E Madden NFL 08 E Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games E Need for Speed Pro Street E+10 The Sims 2: Castaway T Super Mario Bros. 3 E Super Mario Galaxy E Viva Pinta E
ESRB Rating System and Ratings Education Efforts I was surprised to find myself agreeing with some of what NIMF had to say about the ESRB. It's not excusable that Manhunt 2 content remained in the game, and just blurred. I still don't see why the result was so different than with what happened with the Hot Coffee incident.
As the report says, something needs to be done about the evaluation of video games by the ESRB. If they can't monitor everything in a game, or find a way to deal with stuff that gets slipped in, than there's a problem.
The Retailer Ratings Education and Enforcement Surveys As they do each year NIMF sent kids into 58 stores across the country to try and buy M-rated titles. They end result? Kids were able to buy M-rated games 45 percent of the time. The break down shows that gaming stores were the best at enforcing the rules (80 percent compliance) and rental stores were the worst (17 percent compliance.)
Annual MediaWise-Harris Interactive Poll While NIMF seems to be trying to use this new poll they conducted to prove that television ratings are used more often the video game ratings by parents, I don't think that's really true. If you skip their summary and dig into the raw numbers you find that 27 percent of parents never use tv ratings to decide if their kids should watch a show and 23 percent of parents never use video game rating to decide if their kids should play a game. Seems pretty neck and neck to me.