Dr. David Walsh (left) of the National Institute on Media & the Family issued his 12th Annual Video Game Report Card this morning. In doing so he criticized the video game industry for "an ominous backslide on multiple fronts."
Flanked by a pair of U.S. Senators (Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota) as well as Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN), Walsh awarded an overall grade of C to the game business. The report card explains:
Assessing the performance of the gaming industry this year is a difficult task… Console manufacturers, for the most part, seem to understand the importance of making games safe for kids. Microsoft included a timer feature that allows parents to limit their children’s video game playing time, a praiseworthy innovation…
Some software makers made great games that pushed the edge of the envelope in creativity and storytelling. Others, once again, dredged the well of poor taste, with titles like Rockstar’s Manhunt 2 and Eidos Interactive’s Kane & Lynch: Dead Men.
Some game makers also found creative new ways to market adult games on kids, a disgustingly familiar practice over the years. Too few game makers disclose when illegal versions of their games are stolen from their facilities and leaked on the Internet.
Some explanation of "creative new ways to market adult games on [to?] kids" is needed. That’s quite an accusatory statement. What games? What companies? What strategies?
The same applies to the statement about leaked games. Is NIMF referring to the notorious Manhunt 2 leak? If so, that was disclosed immediately – by the people who leaked it. In fact, on those rare occasions when a game is leaked, it’s always big news in the online game community. Explain, please, NIMF…
National retailers, who did so well on last year’s Report Card, got slammed this time around. Big box stores slipped from an "A" to a "D". Meanwhile, game specialty stores moved in the opposite direction, jumping from last year’s "F" to a respectable "B". Rental stores, however, flunked. Such dramatic jumps – in either direction – seem a bit odd.
The general category of "Retailer Policies" earned a C+:
We were surprised by this year’s surveys… that showed one out of three retailers does not educate its employees on the ESRB ratings. That’s a significant drop from last year. Even more shocking was that only 30 percent of local retailers provided families with information on the game rating system.
The ESRB also received a C+ but, as expected, NIMF did not let the Manhunt 2 controversy pass unnoticed:
The Manhunt 2 rating debacle shows that the ESRB needs to change its procedures to close a gaping loophole that some game publishers are all too eager to slip though. The ESRB rating should be based on all of a game’s content and code, locked or unlocked, blurred or unblurred. A game’s rating will be meaningless unless serious steps are taken to prevent games from being unlocked.
NIMF also took the opportunity to renew its call for a universal media content rating system. The Halo-in-church controversy came in for a mention as well:
Libraries, schools, churches and other pubic institutions should follow the game’s rating and only allow games appropriate for the age of the youth. By promoting M-rated games, they are undercutting the ESRB’s rating system and undermining parental credibility and authority.
Also included are the results of a lengthy Harris poll on the role of video games in the lives of children. Read the full Report Card here (26-page pdf)…