I recently read a pretty vitriolic post from Big Bear Butt blogger. First things first, BBB is a quality blog and I have no issues with the tone of the post: it was personal, it was full of drama and (sorry BBB) I skimmed through a fair amount as it was pretty long. It's okay, I can skim effectively - I used to be a checker for a verbatim court recording agency: I'm practiced. What I did get out of the post though and what BBB only mentioned at the end is that his young fellah (who's nine) had raided with the guild in question. That's when, for me, the pieces started to fall into place. IMO what we were seeing in the post was partly outrage at the treatment meted out to a fellow blogger but mostly protectiveness towards a child. I have kids and his response makes perfect sense to me. No one wants there to be any likelihood that whilst playing this game their children could be exposed to scumbags.
But you know what? They can... and that's why the rating on the game is T for teen, not because kids younger than 13 wouldn't be able to play the game - I think we can all agree that Blizz has been successful in making the game as easy to play as is humanly possible - but that it's the interwebs where you'll meet a surprisingly large number of anonymous kerb crawlers and abusive trolls. On my server there are over 200,000 players. It seems likely that in addition to upright caring players the following groups will also be represented, especially the last. That is players who are: violent; abusive; pedophiles; mentally unstable; drug users; murderers; rapists; or simply antagonistic asshats. It's in this environment of potential exposure that people are letting their children play. This is not the local village where you know everyone and even an ostensibly 'safe' guild still houses people you only know via their avataric persona. You actually don't really know them at all - you can't.
It's worth looking at the ESRB rating system here:
The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) ratings are designed to provide concise and impartial information about the content in computer and video games so consumers, especially parents, can make an informed purchase decision. ESRB ratings have two equal parts: rating symbols suggest age appropriateness for the game and content descriptors indicate elements in a game that may have triggered a particular rating and/or may be of interest or concern.
Titles rated T (Teen) have content that may be suitable for ages 13 and older. Titles in this category may contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling, and/or infrequent use of strong language.
Two things from this: firstly the rating symbols suggest age appropriateness - your under-13 year old could differ from other under-13 year olds. Fair enough - your house, your rules. Secondly though, the TEEN rating warns that your child could be exposed to crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling, and/or infrequent use of strong language. It does this because there's no way you can effectively rule out all chance that this might happen. With all the firewalls in the world up against other players the game itself will expose young children to these things. There are cogent reasons why children shouldn't be playing the game at an age below the TEEN rating.
More than this though I'd argue that it's not only inappropriate exposure to scumbags who might be loose in the game that children need protection from but from the scumbag operant conditioning that is hardwired into the very processes of the game itself. Habitualisation and Institutionalisation are tools that the good folks at Blizzard (and many other MMOs of course) use liberally in order to remain financially viable and can be just a toxic as any encounter with a questionable player.
More on this in the next post in this series: why teenagers shouldn't play MMOs.
Stay liquid folks,
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