batman-arkham-knight-trailerEssay: Don’t follow the MPAA or ESRB rating systems too closely

The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) slapped the upcoming game “Batman: Arkham Knight” with a M (Mature, 17+) rating for Blood, Language, Suggestive Themes, and Violence.

In a full interview with IGN, Sefton Hill (founder of Rocksteady) said “..From our point of view, we never wrote it or made it with a rating in mind. We never did that in the previous two games… We just felt that this is the story we really wanted to tell… I’m not blind to the fact that [the M rating] does mean some fans will miss out… I don’t want to be oblivious to that fact. It would have been wrong to water down the game and deliver a story we didn’t believe in to keep the game ‘mass market’ or enable it for more people. We feel that’s the wrong way to go about it. We said we love the story and we don’t want to jeopardize that.”

maxpayne1I was so excited in 2008 when the film adaptation of “Max Payne” came out. I loved the first two games, and couldn’t wait to see Mark Wahlberg take one of my favorite anti-heroes. I remember the stirring controversy as the studio fought for a more “mass market” PG-13 rating even though it was based on video games rated ‘M’ for ages 17 and up.

The resulting cutdown contributed to the film’s harsh 16% on Rotten Tomatoes. This is a situation Hill of Rocksteady wanted to avoid with “Arkham Knight.”

In the modern age creative control is give more to the corporations who distribute the art than the artists creating it. As fans of these films and games, we need these companies to profit so they can go on to create more awesome products. However, sometimes the fine line is crossed between studio control and an artist’s control.

The two previous “Batman/Arkham” installments were rated T (Teen, 13+) by the ESRB. From this statement, and the pre-existing ‘T’ rated games, we can gather that this a very loose M rating. Which means a mature, well-rounded 14-year-old can probably take on the Arkham Knight.

batman_arkham_knight_70254Here’s the problem though. Many parents don’t see the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) and the ESRB rating systems as guidelines; they take it more literally. You have to be 13 years old to play a silly game like “Worms 3D,” or “Super Smash Bros. Brawl.” You have to be 17 years old to see “Boyhood” or “The King’s Speech.”

There has been multiple studies, including the research published in the Journal of Communication by psychologist Christopher Ferguson in 2014. This research found that there was no link between violent media and behavior. Ferguson stated: “This research may help society focus on issues that really matter and avoid devoting unnecessary resources to the pursuit of moral agendas with little practical value.

I understand, when it comes to your child you can never be too sure. It’s up to the parents to assess the maturity of their child, do proper research, and figure out what level of video games and movies they are ready for. When parents take these rating literally they are removing their children from modern art, most of the time under the impression that movies and video games really aren’t that important anyway. Well, they are just as important as paintings, sculptures and books were to past centuries.

The MPAA and ESRB also add one-sentence descriptions for the content in each product. This can be misleading to the cultural and human value of the product. The “Grand Theft Auto” franchise has consistently fallen victim to this. When someone explains their activities in “Grand Theft Auto” they sound like a complete psychopath: “I bought some weapons, went out to the street, shot some guy, blew up his car, ran over some pedestrians, got chased by the cups, killed about 100 of them, shot down their helicopters… etc.”

Being described solely by words… yes, that sounds awfully sadistic. Now watch this video and see how the explanation of the activities above is delivered¬† in the cartoony, paradoxical way that Rockstar intended:

You probably shouldn’t let your seven-year-old play “Grand Theft Auto,” especially if your child has a history of behavioral issues and doesn’t seem to handle adult content with much maturity. From this information you can gather whether or not your child is mentally capable of handling this content. Kids all mature at different rates though, whether its hereditary or a destructive school/household environment. Saying a video game, or a movie, is the sole cause of your child’s immaturity or destructive behavior, however, is a strong oversimplification to a much more complex problem.

Cut-20Don’t deprive your children of the learning experience and cultural insight that modern art has to offer. “Schindler’s List” is a movie most young teens should definitely see for its educational value. The MPAA slapped “Schindler’s List” with an ‘R’ rating, but to a mature teenager this film can only do more for them on an intellectual level than harm to their already developed maturity.

Most other fictional movies and video games offer-up young creative spirits to come out of their shells to explore new worlds and to earn the morals and messages that the artist strives to convey.

Don’t shrug off art. Rating systems are guidelines, even members of the MPAA and ESRB would attest to that. Don’t be a lazy parent. Do your research, assess your child’s maturity, and open their world to new experiences.