GAME RETAILERS LEAD ENTERTAINMENT SECTOR IN ENFORCEMENT OF AGE RESTRICTIONS
On April 20, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released a study that found video game retailers to be the most effective in enforcing age restriction policies when compared to other entertainment media retailers. In its eighth secret shopper survey since 2000, the FTC found that retailers blocked 87 percent of attempted purchases of Mature-rated games by children under the age of 17, exceeding every other form of entertainment. By comparison, retailers prevented underage shoppers from purchasing CDs labeled with parental advisories 36 percent of the time, and R-rated DVDs 62 percent of the time. Game retailers’ success marks a continued improvement in enforcement since the FTC’s last study in 2009, when game retailers reportedly blocked 80 percent of underage purchases.
The video game industry’s effective enforcement system is led by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), a self-regulatory body that assigns computer and video game content ratings. The ESRB provides parents with age-based ratings and over 30 content descriptors that highlight features of a game that factored into the rating or may be of interest or concern. Both elements appear prominently on game packaging. Consumers can also consult the ESRB’s rating summaries, which offer more detailed descriptions of games’ content and are available on the ESRB’s website, mobile rating search app, and rating search widget. The ESRB also works with retailers and game publishers through its Retail Council and Advertising Review Council to ensure games are appropriately labeled and marketed, and to provide support for enforcement of rating policies.
The ESRB is described as the gold standard for rating systems by family advocates, elected officials and government agencies, and parents rely on it to make informed purchases that are suitable for their families. According to a survey conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the ESRB, 86 percent of parents with children who play video games are aware of the ESRB rating system, and 75 percent regularly check a game’s ratings before making a purchase. Ninety-eight percent of parents believe the rating system is helpful, and 98 percent also expressed confidence that ESRB ratings accurately describe game content and reflect their views about appropriateness for their children.
Additional research conducted by Ipsos MediaCT for the Entertainment Software Association confirms that parents take an active role in monitoring their children’s game play, and are highly involved in decisions to purchase computer and video games. According to this research, 97 percent of parents monitor game content. Children receive their parents’ permission before purchasing or renting a game 86 percent of the time, and 93 percent of parents are present when games are purchased or rented. In addition, 76 percent of parents believe that the password-protected parental controls that are built in to all new video game consoles are useful.
The variety of tools and information offered by the entertainment software industry empowers parents to maintain control over the games their children play, and ensure that all members of their family can enjoy computer and video games.
To see the full press release from the FTC, please visit: http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2011/04/violentkidsent.shtm
To learn more about the ESRB, please visit http://www.esrb.org.
COMPUTER AND VIDEO GAMES HELP SOLDIERS COPE WITH STRESS OF COMBAT
As Memorial Day approaches, it is important to remember the many sacrifices of the members of the United States Armed Services stationed overseas. These soldiers face high levels of stress on a daily basis, often with lasting psychological affects. To help deal with this stress, many soldiers on active duty and those returning from the front turn to computer and video games and their 3D environments and interactive experiences.
Professor Jayne Gackenbach of Grant MacEwan University in Alberta, Canada believes that this entertainment choice may have real benefits for our men and women in uniform. According to an online survey of 98 active military personnel, regularly playing games involving war or combat, such as Activision’s Call of Duty, helps soldiers deal with the effects of stress, including nightmares. Specifically, soldiers who regularly played these types of games reported that their nightmares were less intense, and that they often felt able to fight back against whatever was threatening them. Comparatively, “low gamers,” those who only play video games a few times a year, reported more incidents of feeling helpless against an aggressive, violent enemy in their dreams.
Gackenbach is not alone in acknowledging the benefits of entertainment software for service members. The National Center for Telehealth and Technology (T2), a component of the Department of Defense Military Health System, uses game technology to help soldiers returning from combat. T2 recently used Linden Labs’ virtual world Second Life to create the Virtual PTSD Experience, an interactive learning tool for combat veterans. The program educates military personnel and their families about combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a troubling, but normal human response to traumatic events. Visitors use an avatar to enter a virtual center, experience simulations of combat events that are common causes of PTSD and talk with other visitors. The game includes information on PTSD symptoms, how to identify situations that can trigger these symptoms, and the role of avoidance in the development of PTSD. With slightly more than half of all combat veterans with psychological health problems seeking mental health services, the Virtual PTSD Experience offers a free and anonymous way to learn about PTSD and seek treatment.
Whether through combat simulations or virtual worlds where soldiers can learn and interact, the immersive nature and realistic environments of computer and video games provide service members with new tools for dealing with the stress of their jobs.
CONQUERING FEARS WITH GAMES AND VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENTS
For some people, a springtime thunderstorm or chance encounter with a spider can trigger crippling feelings of anxiety and fear. These individuals may seek therapy to help overcome their phobias, and recent research suggests computer games and virtual reality programs can be an effective treatment option.
A study released by researchers at the University of Quebec, Montreal found that exposing individuals with arachnophobia to animated spiders in a virtual environment was as effective as traditional treatments. In the experiment, participants receiving the virtual reality treatment wore a headset that enabled them to see a virtual environment containing spiders of various shapes and sizes, and completed a series of exercises that required them to interact with the insects. At the end of eight treatment sessions, these patients encountered an oversized black widow spider. Participants receiving traditional treatment handled real-life spiders. Researchers found that both groups demonstrated considerable improvement following treatment, and did not see a significant difference in results between the two groups.
Similar virtual reality programs exist to treat other fears. Previous research from the University of Quebec found Epic Games’ Unreal Tournament to be a useful tool in treating fears of heights and confined spaces. A team of scientists at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom developed a program that helps ease fears of driving by exposing patients to situations such as driving over a tall bridge, passing slow-moving cars, or merging into traffic. Others turn to Linden Labs’ Second Life for help with overcoming their social fears. Atlanta-based psychologist Craig Kerley treats patients at his brick-and-mortar office but also within Second Life, and describes the virtual world as “a great practice ground” for patients to interact with others. In addition, Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C. offers a Virtual Reality Program through its Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences that treats fears of flying, public speaking, heights and thunderstorms. The State University of New York Upstate Medical University offers a similar program through its Adult Psychiatry Clinic. Both organizations note that virtual reality treatments may produce results faster than traditional methods.
Games and virtual environments give patients and their therapists greater control over treatment programs, and provide a comfortable, accessible way for people to address their phobias. Armed with these tools, patients can fight off anxiety and find greater joy in their surroundings.