Tech + Lifestyle

games, gear, and googleplexes (joke)

AppStore Age Ratings: FIX IT!

This article was first published on the iPhone Games Network. To see my original article, click here.

Age ratings need overhaul and reboot thumbnail

Let me start out by saying this: I’m a big fan of the App Store. Hands down, it is the single best distribution model for mobile gaming that I’ve ever seen, and has seen more success in the last year than anyone would have reasonably expected. It’s easily accessible, with user ratings, simple updating, and fair prices. That being said, it isn’t perfect. One of the major flaws in the system is the age-rating labeling system that every game undergoes.

The age rating is supposed to inform users what age level a particular game is appropriate for. In theory, this should let parents control what their children can and cannot play. Most of us don’t bother checking what label a game has received before buying it. I’m an adult, what do I care if a game I plays is rated for preschoolers or teenagers? Allow me to enlighten you on the ratings some of the more mainstream titles have received.

Resident Evil: Degeneration is rated 9+. Assassin’s Creed: Altair’s Chronicles got a rating of 12+. Terminator Salvation is 9+. Wolfenstein 3D Classic is 12+. The limited visual capabilities of the platform mean these games can’t possibly be as graphic as their console and PC counterparts, but are the ratings appropriate? Hell, the game iDracula – Undead Awakening is rated only 4+. It consists entirely of blowing vampires, werewolves, and witches to bits. Is that really appropriate content for a four-year-old? Granted, it’s the rare pre-school or kindergarten aged kid that will actually ever play the game, but the standards by which games a given ratings really need an overhaul.

The problem here is actually two-fold, and relates directly to the approval process that games undergo. First, if games are inaccurately labeled, then a standard metric for judging their content hasn’t been developed. If that’s the case, then how is Apple able to consistently and fairly judge games for approval and inclusion in the App Store in the first place? What sort of impact is that having on the games we can play on the platform? There’s no telling how many quality games may have been turned away due to mature content that doesn’t fit into the 12+ category that seems to be the current upper limit for most games. Mature-rated games are hugely successful on PC and consoles; who’s to say that they couldn’t do well on the iPhone?

At the moment, Apple’s age-rating system seems arbitrary at best, and has little actual benefit to parents who are trying to keep their children safe. When some of the darkest, most violent games on the platform are deemed appropriate for ages nine and up, the rating process is seriously flawed. What’s more, I’m not even sure that the ratings system in its current form is necessary. Truthfully, how many four-year-old kids do you know that play App Store games?

The ratings system can be fixed quite easily. Add a Children’s Games category, and prominently display it on the App Store front page. That way, we can ditch the silly age ratings that aren’t accurate in the first place. Next, implement a simple system to signify games that have mature content, like the “explicit content” label that goes onto some songs and albums in iTunes. If iTunes can sell songs and R-rated movies that glorify the proverbial “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll” why can’t the App Store have similar content? I’m not suggesting they publish every GTA wannabe or iBoobs that comes their way, but games with violence, profanity, or sexual themes shouldn’t be banned for those reasons alone.

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June 15, 2009 - Posted by | Gaming, iPhone/iPod Touch, Tech | , , , , , , , ,

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