The Future of Video Gaming and Parental Control - March 22nd 2012

Recent talks of internet censorship via the SOPA and PIPA bills have sparked outrage among internet users who feel their freedom of speech has been compromised. The intention of the SOPA and PIPA bills was to stop internet piracy by removing funding for websites who host pirated content. But the language found within the bills could potentially give media companies and other agencies the power to block any website which they deem to be an offender of piracy. Which can only lead us to think, if our governments begin censoring the internet, what's next?

The first thing that comes to mind is the video game industry and the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board). For those who are not aware of who the ESRB are, they are responsible for giving every game a content rating so consumers know exactly what subject matter is included in each game (see for more information). According to the ESRB website, their mission is to help give consumers "the ability to make informed decisions about the computer and video games they choose for their families."

This sparked my interest and got me thinking: what if the Federal Government and the ESRB stopped using passive tactics to help parents ensure their children are exposed to content appropriate to their age group? What if game developers were forced to embed software in their games which could automatically tailor the gaming experience for a specific age bracket based on the age group selected by parents when setting up their child's console?

Cool biker guys do not look at explosions.

Take Grand Theft Auto for example. What if parents could choose a setting which would censor the game for different age groups? The game would retain its normal gameplay content for mature audiences but for those whose console profiles fall into any other category than "mature", then certain aspects of the game could be removed, such as blood and foul language. As the player grew older and reached the age of 17 (the minimum age at which a "mature" rated game can be purchased in the United States without a parent or guardian present) the game would automatically change its content to reflect the players' new age group.

It would not be difficult to implement these changes. The Xbox 360 and PS3 currently limit which content is available to specific age groups via their online marketplaces, but have yet to expand this feature into their games. And although younger players may not be very enthusiastic about this idea, it could be a godsend for parents who worry about the content their children are exposed to. It could also boost sales for game developers such as Rockstar, whose often controversial games come under fire from parents on a regular basis via protests and boycotts. It may sound like something out of George Orwell's dystopia novel "1984," but this new feature could potentially boost sales due to parents who were once against buying "mature" rated games for their children, now being more accepting as long as the content was censored.

Violent, but fun.

However, there is still the possibility that these features could potentially be used for matters other than entertainment. There have been many games in the past which have been either developed by, or endorsed by, the US military. One of these games was America's Army. Released back in 2002, America's Army was a game developed with heavy influence from the US Army to be used as a tool to increase recruitment. Three installments of the game were released and the US Army spent a total of $32.8 million on the series. The games were given a "Teen" rating by the ESRB and were aimed toward gamers in that age group.

If censoring video games became a reality, the concept behind America's Army could be revived, thus giving government agencies the ability to control what players see within the game, increasing the possibility of subliminal messages. Players who fall within certain age groups could be shown different content which could potentially sway impressionable minds. As players grew older and graduated to new age groups, the game would change to a more mature form; The changes could be justified by making players think they unlocked new levels, or a new storyline, almost as if it were a "birthday present" from the game. This might seem like an overtly aggressive approach, but the benefits from a recruitment perspective would be plentiful.

The possibilities of what could happen if video game censorship became a reality are endless. Some good, some bad, but all would change the face of video gaming forever.

RJ Barranti

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