Caution: Children at play
I was wandering around the shops with my 11-year-old son last weekend and, as usual, he went into a games shop to look around. Our infrequent excursions to shopping centres tend to end up in these kinds of establishments. Not that I can blame him. The gravitational pull that games shops exercise on my son is very similar to the forces that used to impel me towards record shops many moons ago.
The big difference, however, is that I could buy most of the music on sale in those record shops because very little of it was certified to be unsuitable for my young ears to listen to. I couldn’t help but be surprised, therefore, at how many of the top selling games for the Xbox One and PS4 had an 18 or 16 certificate, putting them out of reach of my son. Needless to say, this didn’t stop him from asking whether he could buy one of those games because “so many other people my age have them”.
Given the popularity of over-age games, it does make me wonder whether a lot of them, despite their certification, are being played by much younger kids. As a measure of just how popular games for older kids and young adults are, GfK reported that seven of the top 20 Xbox one games in the UK for the week ending 22 April were 18s and four were 16s. Similarly, for the PS4, eight were 18s and four were 16s.
Perhaps this heavy bias towards older age groups merely reflects the age demographic of people who own an Xbox One or PS4 but I have to admit I’m not entirely convinced by that suggestion. One thing I’m fairly sure about is that it’s not healthy or wise for kids of 10, 11 or 12 to be playing Grand Theft Auto or Call Of Duty.
So what can be done to try and ensure they aren’t? One option could be for the games developers to provide a wider range of titles that don’t fall into the 16 or 18 age rating. However, there’s probably some kind of rebellious kudos attached to having a game with a more adult rating for the developer and the customer. And you can understand the guilty pleasure for a young boy of playing a game aimed at someone older.
Besides, there are bound to be quite a few households where there is a mixture of children aged from 10-18 and beyond, making it near impossible to stop younger siblings from playing their older brother’s or sister’s games.
But what if the games world took a leaf out of the music industry’s book? There are many occasions when listening to the radio that you hear songs where the expletives have been cut out of chart versions of songs. People can even download ‘clean’ versions of these songs.
What if the games developers could provide two versions of their games on the same disk? One could be the 18 or 16 version and the other would be one suitable for 12 year olds with some of the more gory or contentious scenes edited or removed. The parent buying the game could be given a PIN to unlock the older version (or to access the under-age version, whichever works best).
Assuming this isn’t too difficult technically, it would enable games developers to reach a wider audience and younger kids to legitimately play some of the biggest games for their consoles without being confronted with scenes that aren’t suitable for their age group. Mind you, it sounds so simple – child’s play, really – that it’s bound to be far too difficult to achieve.