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Is Grand Theft Auto V Ok For Kids?

Grand Theft Auto V was developed by Rockstar Games and published by Take 2 Interactive on September 17, 2013. It was originally released on the PS3 and Xbox 360, but it has since been ported to the PS4, Xbox One, and PC. There are even rumors of an upcoming port to the Nintendo Switch (although those rumors have yet to be substantiated).

GTAV is easily one of the most popular games on Earth and it is infamously M-rated for violence, sexual content, etc. Even when you consider its legendary place as a mature game I STILL get questions about whether or not people should let their kids play.

So, without further delay, here is my answer to the question: Is Grand Theft Auto V ok for kids?

First, I want to refer folks to the ESRB. They rate is as M for Mature and have given it the following rating summary:

In this open-world action game, players assume the role of three criminals whose storylines intersect within the fictional city of Los Santos. Players can switch between each character to follow his storyline, completing missions which often include criminal activities (e.g., stealing cars, executing heists, assassinating targets). Players use pistols, machine guns, sniper rifles, and explosives to kill various enemies (e.g., rival gang members); players also have the ability to shoot non-adversary civilians, though this may negatively affect players’ progress as a penalty system triggers a broad police search. Blood-splatter effects occur frequently, and the game contains rare depictions of dismemberment. In one sequence, players are directed to use various instruments and means (e.g., pipe wrench, tooth removal, electrocution) to extract information from a character; the sequence is intense and prolonged, and it involves some player interaction (i.e., responding to on-screen prompts). The game includes depictions of sexual material/activity: implied fellatio and masturbation; various sex acts that the player’s character procures from a prostitute—while no nudity is depicted in these sequences, various sexual moaning sounds can be heard. Nudity is present, however, primarily in two settings: a topless lap dance in a strip club and a location that includes male cult members with exposed genitalia in a non-sexual context. Within the game, TV programs and radio ads contain instances of mature humor: myriad sex jokes; depictions of raw sewage and feces on a worker’s body; a brief instance of necrophilia (no nudity is depicted). Some sequences within the larger game allow players to use narcotics (e.g., smoking from a bong, lighting a marijuana joint); cocaine use is also depicted. Players’ character can, at various times, consume alcohol and drive while under the influence. The words “f**k,” “c*nt,” and “n**ger” can be heard in the dialogue.


As you can see, GTAV is full of content that is inappropriate for kids.

To put my answer another way:

What do you think? Am I wrong? Let me know in the comments!

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Super Mario Odyssey Rated E 10+ by the ESRB

Super Mario Bros. Odyssey has been rated E10 + by the ESRB. This makes the title the first mainline Super Mario Bros. game in the franchise history to be given a rating greater than E. We don’t know any of the content descriptors yet since the ESRB hasn’t published any of the details yet. In fact, the only confirmation we have regarding the rating is the product page on the Nintendo website.

Odyssey is going to be one of the biggest games this fall and its rating probably isn’t going to affect that. But, it is interesting. What could set this game apart from the other Mario titles that would make it unsuitable for children under the age of 10?

There are a few possibilities.

First, the game does include New Donk City. This is a more realistic world than has ever been included in a Mario game. It features human-like people and a real world atmosphere (sort of). It could be that this level includes some more realistic dangers. Its possible that someone in one of those dark alleys, for example, is smoking a cigar or something similar.

Second, we don’t know all of the worlds yet. It is entirely possible that there is a kingdom that is based on the haunted mansion themes from previous games. Maybe those were deemed to scary?

Lastly, Mario does, essentially, fight like a Skylander in this game. It could very well be that the ESRB reviewers put Odyssey side by side with other kid friendly action platformers and decided to equalize them.

We won’t have to wait much longer for the details as I am sure that the ESRB will be releasing the information soon.

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I am asked questions by concerned parents and caregivers everywhere I go. One of the most common subjects that I am asked about is the ESRB and how it works. I talked about it in a general sense when I posted my articles a few years ago about each rating category, but I didn’t really get down into the nitty-gritty of the process.

There is no time like the present is there? Here we go!

In 1994 the ESA (Entertainment Software Association) established the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board). This is a non-profit organization that assigns content ratings and establishes advertising and privacy practices for the “software entertainment” (Read: video game) industry.

There are two different ratings processes that the ESRB uses to rate games. They have a “Long form” process that is designed for games that will be sold on store shelves and a “Short form” for games that will be distributed on a digital platform (like the iOS App Store). The fact that mobile games are given a less thorough review is less than ideal, but the sheer volume of mobile apps released daily makes the Long form process impractical for use on them.

The Long Form Process

The long form process starts when the game’s publisher submits two key pieces of data to the ESRB for review. They are (quoted directly from the ESRB website):

  • a completed ESRB online questionnaire detailing the game’s pertinent content, which essentially translates to anything that may factor into the game’s rating. This includes not only the content itself (violence, sexual content, language, controlled substances, gambling, etc.), but other relevant factors such as context, reward systems and the degree of player control; and
  • a DVD that captures all pertinent content, including typical gameplay, missions, and cutscenes, along with the most extreme instances of content across all relevant categories. Pertinent content that is not playable (i.e., “locked out”) but will exist in the game code on the final game disc must also be disclosed.

Once this information is received a set of at least three ESRB raters reviews the content and they work together to decide what rating the game should be given. The ESRB staff will then review the information that the raters gave and might even do ANOTHER review to make sure there is parity between the recommendations.

Shortly after this is completed the ESRB will generate a ratings summary which goes into more detail and will include info about the contributing factors. This is where they get into the “why” behind the rating itself.

That rating is then returned the the publisher who has the opportunity to change the game to reduce their rating. If they choose to do so the process will start again. I would guess that HALO 5 went through a lot of these revisions as they deliberately went after a T rating.

Once the rating has been completed and the game is published the ESRB completes yet another review of the games to make sure that nothing snuck in and to ensure compliance with any of their changes. The packaging and the inserts are reviewed as well! (No stones are left unturned here!) A lot of the post release review comes in the form of playtesting which is really similar to what we at EFG do when we review a game. They, however, are mainly focused on the content of the game and whether or not it matches up with what they were told in the pre -launch screening process.

The Short Form Process

The short form process is intended for games that will only be available for purchase online. It is aptly names as it consists mainly of a questionnaire that is made up of multiple choice questions. The digital game’s publishers will answer questions similar to the above, but will also answer questions about location sharing, monetization and if the user is granted unrestricted internet access through its use.  These responses are used to automatically generate the rating category, content descriptors,  and interactive elements.

I’m sure a lot of you are wondering how the ESRB handles ratings issues. Mistakes can obviously happen since this is just a questionnaire and some people, are downright malicious. The ESRB makes use of a wide range of reporting tools through web based game distribution channels and reacts swiftly when games are rated incorrectly.

If the ESRB is made aware of these errors they will move swiftly to correct those ratings. In fact, if it is an obviously malicious act then they will move to have the game pulled from the stores entirely.

 

And that, my friends, is that. The ESRB Rating process in a nutshell.

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The ESRB rating eC is given to games that contain no content that could be considered questionable for anyone ages 3 and below. Most often these games are based on characters in children’s television like Nick Jr or Sesame Street. At the very least they will contain mascots and avatars that are cute and simple with colorful graphics

There are a number of barriers you might run into when looking at games this rating category. The biggest one is that our first instinct is often to look for games that we would qualify as “good games” or “quality gaming experiences” from our perspective as adults. The reality is that there is a large disparity between what makes a game “good” for the adult gamer and for children ages 3 or less.

Games rated eC are often grouped in with games rated E. This is generally fine from a content perspective. But, that does not necessarily mean that the game will be accessible. The most important difference between eC rated games and those rated E is the level of interactivity that they require. Games rated E are not necessarily simple. They can require timing, object recognition and the ability to react to changes in environment quickly. There are not many people who would make a reasonable claim that a 3 year old would be able to play Super Mario Galaxy. It is simply too complex and requires the use of too many concepts that they do not understand.

Most eC rated games require limited interaction. Meaning they are little more than mildly interactive movies or cartoons that give the children opportunities to experience if not actually “play” a game.

A great example of a quality game in this category is a title released on the Wii called “Learning with the PooYoos.” It is a WiiWare title and has a price point of 500 Wii points ($5) so no one should expect a blockbuster gaming experience, but for the price there is plenty of game play available. (Especially once you get a 2 year old to do one of the dances. That is worth the price of admission alone.)

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We’re going to be spending a lot of time here at Engaged Family Gaming talking about the ESRB rating system because it is the single most important tool available to parents when it comes to choosing the games that their children play.

I’ve always thought the best place to start is at the beginning. So below you will find a brief explanation of what the ESRB is and how the ratings are determined.

In 1994 the ESA (Entertainment Software Association) established the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board). This is a non-profit organization that assigns content ratings and establishes advertising and privacy practices for the “software entertainment” (Read: video game) industry.

The rating process is detailed on their website, but largely consists of a group of trained reviewers looking over written documentation, early builds and video footage of the most extreme examples of the content in the game. The game developers need to be careful to include everything; the ESRB makes rating decisions based on all of the content included on the game disks. This even includes game data that is locked out and unavailable for play.

After the content is reviewed, each game is designated with one of six rating categories and is assigned content descriptors. These descriptors document what parts of the game are responsible for the rating or may be a point of concern for consumers.

ESRB rating is not mandatory. There is no state or federal mandate (currently) demanding that all games go through the process. However, most major retailers, like Wal-Mart and GameStop, will not carry a game that has not been rated by the ESRB so it is encouraged in order to help games be commercially viable.

There you have it. This is the ESRB rating process in a nutshell. It is far from perfect, but the work these people do provides some of the most clear and specific information regarding a games content that is available.

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