The New York Department of Criminal Justice has released a 20-minute video entitled Video Games and Children: Virtual Playground vs Danger Zone, meant to educate parents on the games their children play. Though one might suspect that extra guidance for parents trying to understand ESRB ratings could be a helpful resource, Video Games and Children (available online at the NY Criminal Justice Services Web site) takes the familiar route of sensationalizing violence in games. In a press release issued by the Department of Criminal Justice, commissioner Denise O'Donnell says:
"With more than 5,000 game titles available, some of which contain graphic violence, sexual themes and adult content, parents should be cautious and remain vigilant when selecting video games… This presentation provides parents with guidance, resources and tips in choosing age-appropriate games for their children."
To that end, Video Games and Children manages to detail the V-Tech Rampage controversy before examining and explaining the ESRB rating system in detail. A segment later in the video details a "Video Game History" in which just six games—starting with Pong, moving through Mortal Kombat, Soldier of Fortune and others—make the cut. Though the presentation notes that the "research is inconclusive," it doesn't hesitate to warn viewers that games will make children aggressive, socially isolated, fat addicts. Notably, the video lists well-documented satire site MAVAV as a "resource" for parents looking for more information.
Ideally, organizations looking to put together a video about violence in games would go to the right folks for resources: real gamers. Ask an adult who plays 20 hours per week what games he'd give his kids, and you'll likely have a list much more useful than anything a Department of Criminal Justice might cook up from Google. Running down a list of games that a parent familiar with the ratings system wouldn't be buying anyway—is that really as proactive as detailing the best games for kids?
As often as we see efforts to educate parents fall short of the mark, the thought of the missed opportunity to really make a difference never fails to disappoint. Rather than detail some of the family-friendly titles and franchises available on current- and last-gen consoles, the New York Department of Criminal Justice took the easy route: trying to scare the crap out of parents.