Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

Video Gaming: Playing With Ethics?

The following comments are from a panel on ethics and video gaming, co-sponsored by the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, the Center for Science, Technology, and Society, and the Tech Museum. Speakers included journalist Mike Antonucci, State Assemblyman Leland Yee, game developer Kristin Asleson, and SCU senior computer engineering major Caroline Ratajski. This is an excerpt from Ratajski's remarks.

I play games: board games, card games, PC console, tabletop RPG. I've tried every genre I can think of. I like games because there's a certain fantasy aspect. You can travel through time and space into the imaginations of people who never truly grew up.

As I have grown older, my games have grown with me. And, yes, I play violent video games. I enjoy the competition, but I can separate the fantasy from the reality. I can say the world of "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" is not the world in which I live, and the things that I do in this game are not the things I do in reality.

I wouldn't want a 12-year-old playing "Grand Theft Auto." Not every game is appropriate for every age. And we have the Entertainment Software Review Board, the ESRB, which rates these games, so that parents can know what their children can and cannot play. With 82 percent of the parents claiming they're satisfied with the ratings and 5 percent even saying that the ratings are too harsh, I think the ESRB is actually doing all right. If parents just paid attention to the rating and didn't let their 13-year-old child, who's clearly under 17, play "Grand Theft Auto," then I think we'd be better off.

Now some would say that the gaming industry has a certain social responsibility, and I agree that it does. Every medium does. The music industry, which brings you lyrics glorifying gangster violence-they have a social responsibility. The movie industry, which brings you films glorifying drug use-they also have a social responsibility.

I'm not trying to direct your attention elsewhere. All I'm saying is that every media industry has a social responsibility. The industry that is responsible for making a single-shooter game like Halo has a social responsibility, and so do the parents who give their child $50 plus tax to buy the game and $300 to buy the console.

In creating the ESRB, I believe the industry has taken a big step in fulfilling its social responsibility. What remains to be understood, however, is how children are getting these games and how parents are letting them play these games and not monitoring their children's behavior.

November 2005

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