While video games have age ratings in a similar manner to films, they're often regarded loosely by many. Most that frequent video game stores have a tale to tell of a parent buying their young child the next Call of Duty or GTA release, seemingly oblivious to the fact there's an age rating at all. Sometimes stores are lax in applying the rules, and on other occasions are powerless as parents buy the game and simply pass it on once outside the store.
Age ratings are often ignored, then, for games and various media, yet a group of head teachers in the UK are planning to crack down on parents that allow their children play 18-rated games. In a bold but potentially infeasible move, the Nantwich Education Partnership (which covers a number of schools in Cheshire, England) is planning to report parents to the police and social services for neglect. An excerpt from a letter sent to parents is below.
If your child is allowed to have inappropriate access to any game or associated product that is designated 18+, we are advised to contact the police and children's social care as this is deemed neglectful.
While some may applaud the principle that parents should be tackled over this issue, it's a legally fuzzy area (we believe it's only illegal to buy games under-age, not to play them) and Margaret Morrissey, of the group Parents Outloud, doesn't see it as the right move.
Accepting the huge concerns about these violent games and their effect on children, I think the schools are stepping outside the realm of what is probably acceptable.
It will be construed by many parents as a threat and it is not helpful. If schools want to get the support of parents and gain their confidence, threatening them with social services will not help.
It's a tricky area, with teacher's responsibilities (applied by law in the UK) to consider a child's wellbeing clashing with practicalities and realities. It'll likely be difficult for these efforts from the teachers to actually lead anywhere, while there's an argument to be made that the proposed reporting on the grounds of neglect is unreasonable. On the flipside, there's certainly a perspective that age ratings should be respected and that parents need to take responsibility, even if threats and action are needed.
Speaking to Eurogamer, CEO of games industry trade body Ukie, Dr Jo Twist, said the following.
There are thousands of games that are suitable for all ages, and there are some games that deal with adult themes in the same way that some films, television programmes and books do.
We have PEGI age ratings and parental controls on all consoles to ensure games that are meant for more mature audiences are not played by children. Parents should use all the guidance and tools that are available, and make sure that they talk to their children about what they are playing, what content is suitable for them and what is not.
The ratings and online information services like AskAboutGames.com are there to help them with these conversations.
It's a tough topic, with this move by some teachers in the UK certainly ramping up the issue. Where do you stand on age-ratings, the games children play and the responsibilities of parents?