Should the Gaming Industry Pursue a Public Relations Campaign?

I get easily frustrated when I hear about a video game’s violent or sexual content on the news. The reason I get so frustrated is because mainstream media doesn’t seem to understand that video games aren’t mindless and that they have differing target audiences.

A game such as Mass Effect isn’t being marketed to and isn’t being created for people under age 17. There is a reason that there is a ratings system in gaming, and yet, media outlets constantly seem to report sexual and violent acts in games as being inappropriate. There is a clear double-standard here. While a film such as Gladiator (one of my personal favorites) is lauded by the press and collects heaps of awards, a video game with equally violent content and equally frightening sexual connotations would be attacked. Why? Because a majority of the public still views video games as a medium geared at young people. Perhaps, given this public view, it should be up to the electronic entertainment industry to work to change this skewed perspective.

As an avid gamer and games journalist, I want the public to take what I enjoy and what I write about seriously. Nine out of ten people respond to my career choice with an attitude that says, “Why do you waste your time writing about children’s toys?” While book critics and film reviewers are well respected, games journalists are unfairly burdened with a misconception that we cover a child’s industry. The public believes video games are made for kids in their teens and as a result, when they hear about sex scenes or extreme violence in games they automatically conclude that the industry is placing inappropriate content in children’s hands.

I find that, usually, when I explain a video game that I am impressed with to older people who want to know about my interest in gaming, they seem to inherit a change of mind. Their misconceptions can be thrown to the curb when they are properly informed about the content of a game and the audience it aims for. After playing through Mass Effect 2 I felt compelled to discuss why I felt it was such an amazing experience with, of all people, my mother. I explained the manner in which my character was completely unique from any other, and how it really features a mature storyline with dark themes and an incredibly realized universe. And she then was able to understood my fascination with well-made games.

Mass Effect's storyline is intended for adults. So why does the public think it's made for a younger age group?

The electronic entertainment industry suffers from this stereotype and should take a page from the experiences of so many avid, older gamers by promoting an awareness of what the gaming industry is. If we can promote a greater awareness, perhaps we can end the unfair belief that games are made solely for children. The electronic entertainment industry would be wise to combat the belief that a game such as GTA IV is made for kids by hiring a public relations manager or firm whose sole job is to educate the public about how gaming has evolved over the decades. Our industry would be well-served to have advertisements that clarify the ratings system. Personally, I would love to see Kevin Butler explaining that God of War III and other titles like it are aimed at adults and that, much like an R-rated film, parents should exercise caution when considering purchasing the game for their children. I’m tired of seeing blame deflected on the industry when young gamers are caught playing the GTA‘s and God of War‘s and Mass Effect‘s that ought to be kept out of their hands. Let’s make our ratings system more publicly visible and let people know that games are not always aimed at the thirteen year-old kid down the street but rather are a vast storytelling medium that focuses on a great diversity of age groups. And furthermore, let’s help our cause by more prominently advertising a game’s rating. We would have a much easier time gaining respect and we would avoid debacles such as the “sexgate” issue that stemmed from Mass Effect‘s sex scenes if advertisements on television informed about the ratings system and if ads for mature games clarified just who the game is intended for.

As a gamer and games journalist I want our industry to grow and be widely accepted as a strong storytelling medium. It would serve us well to promote our image and let people know that the ESRB ratings system is there for a reason and should be regarded as respectfully as the film rating system is. Force the public to abandon the misconception that games are always aimed at teens and younger kids and perhaps we’ll gain the respect we deserve and avoid the controversies we don’t deserve.