Tuesday, September 16, 2014

20 years of ESRB

The past twenty years have zipped by in a blink of an eye. Thinking back to the 90's I have fond memories of grunge music, Starbucks coffee, Seinfeld and Friends, Mobile phones and minivans.  But most of all for our family the 90's were a decade of the Internet and Video Games.

We were on a very tight budget and so it made sense (to us) to get a home video game player that we could play with our boys instead of always going out to see a movie. It would save money in the long run (we justified it this way). We started out with a Nintendo Entertainment System and then marveled at the Nintendo 64 upgrade. Too much fun. We were a Nintendo family. There were great family friendly games and I didn't really think there was anything to worry about.

My boys were almost 8 and 6 when Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was released. We had played hours and hours of Mario games and my boys were hooked. But in the video game Turok there was a very different vibe. Turok was fierce. He was a Dinosaur hunter and when he killed the dinosaurs there was blood. My boys, who were totally video game geeks, argued that we could change the color of the blood and besides that everyone knows that Dinosaurs are extinct and so this game really has nothing to do with reality.  But I was concerned. I wasn't sure if we should get this game and risk turning my boys into fiends who would become more and more aggressive because of their video game play. Or if we should not get the game and encourage them to continue saving the princess.

Ultimately, we bought Turok.

But it was clear we were in need of some guidelines. Video games were changing and becoming more vivid and more violent. When we bought Turok I asked the boys to write down the reasons why we should buy this video game. Basically, they needed to convince me.


It was around that time that our family started using the ESRB ratings.

Our boys grew up knowing that if a game was rated T (for Teen) they were going to have to wait and earn the privilege of having that game in the house. Most of all if the game was rated M there was really no need for discussion. It wasn't going to happen.

We did have to talk about what they would do when they went over to their friend's houses because not all the other families were following these same guidelines.

For the most part they waited.

Today those gamers are 23 and 25 and they still love playing video games. It has become a great way for them to stay in touch with their friends. Even though a number of their childhood buddies are living in different cities now they can still get on to their Xbox systems and play the same games together.

In one recent game night they were playing a multi-player game that was rated M and there was a 15 year old guy playing in their session. This little dude had a squeaky voice and was really terrible so he was getting ganged up on and being called names because he was so terrible. All of the sudden the voice changed and it was this player's mom. But the player wasn't a 15 year old boy. The mom started hollering at all the other players for talking such trash to her 11 year old daughter. My guys wondered who bought the game for this sweet little cherub and then also wondered how that game got into this woman's house. Was it Magic? The game was clearly marked M and it would have required a person over 18 to buy this game for this 11 year old. They told me that they wished everyone would follow the ESRB ratings because it really takes away from the game for them when they are playing a game that should be just for a mature audience and there are kids on there trying to pretend to be all grown up.


Here are some of the things we have learned over the past 20 years of playing video games:

1. Playing video games together as a family is essential. Kids who play video games with their families often get better grades and are generally safer online.

2. When you play video games with your kids they tend to open up to conversations they might not have with you otherwise.

3. A video game is a great equalizer. When a kid sees that there is something that they can do better than their parents it helps them make that transition from kid to young adult to adult and still have a great relationship with their parents. It's ok to be able to do something better than your parents or know something that they don't know.

4. Young girls who play video games with their parents (and especially their dads) have a greater self-esteem which is so important especially in middle school and high school.

5. Playing multi-player video games can break down stereotypes. Our kids have played with kids from all over the world and had some great conversations. One time playing Call of Duty a group of kids from the Middle East were playing with a group of kids from the pacific northwest in the USA. Perhaps the answer to world peace is more video game time.

The most important lesson of the past 20 years is that the easiest way for parents to stop worrying about the video games their kids are playing is to sit down and play those games with them. (But always check the ESRB rating first).


One of the greatest developments in the past 20 years is the ESRB app.  The great thing about this app is that you never have to be the bad guy when it comes to telling your 10 year old that they cannot have that M rated game that "everyone" in their class is playing. When they ask for a video game while you are in the store you can just pull up the ESRB app and check out the real deal. Your kid may tell you that all the kids at the elementary school are playing Assassin's Creed. You just need to pull up the ESRB app and show them that this game is rated M and why it is.

Kids are smart. Video Games are awesome. The ESRB has your back.

The ESRB is celebrating it's 20th anniversary with a #ESRB20 Twitter Party on 9/24 at 8pm EST. 

Join the celebration on September 16 on Twitter @ESRBratings

CLICK HERE to read more about the ESRB parent ambassadors at Parent Grapevine

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