Those of you who know me also know that I don't care much for being told what to do, what I can watch, and so forth. (Boy, did I sign up for the right religion!) If I were a parent though, I'd want to judge the suitability of video games, movies, and other inputs for my kids. After all, I'd prefer they grow up in accordance with values I hold dear. And until kids have developed good critical thinking faculties, it's part of the responsibility of any parent to shepherd them along. (There are some notable failures in this regard.)
Kids play video games probably just as much as (more than?) they consume any other type of entertainment, but they're qualitatively different due to the activity and interactivity. You are exposed to information (books, TV, and movies do that), often work in teams (like sports or boardgames), and have to solve puzzles (MasterMind was always one of my faves). Video games do all that and way more. The games parents tend to be worried about are fast-paced, and often involve war, crime, and other types of violence, sexual themes, and so forth. The level of first-person involvement in the games means the player is immersed in a manner unequalled by most movies, books, and even some sports.
In short, most exciting video games are antithetical to the desires of many Muslim parents. So what's a parent to do when looking for entertaining and engaging video games? It's not like it's practical to pre-screen all of them yourself.
For one possible answer, let's turn to the Iranian government. (Never thought I'd say that…) Enter the IRAN National Foundation of Computer Game [sic], aka the IRCG. In 2007, IRCG established a self-regulating body known as the Entertainment Software Rating Association (ESRA). ESRA is run by Dr. Behrouz Minaei, Managing Director at Iran National Foundation of Computer Game, and includes a research team of 17 psychologists and 8 sociologists. ESRA rates both domestic and foreign video games according to physical, intellectual, emotional, and social characteristics. The games are assigned age-appropriate buckets: Very young kids (3), early childhood (7), early adolescence (12), late adolescence (15), single adult (18), and married adult (25). (There appear to be no provisions for divorced adults.)
Once the games are assessed for the basic four characteristics and bucketed into age groups, they are also assigned content descriptions (complete source):
- Violence : The display of violence is when a behavior displayed to harm someone or something, ranged from destroying the belongings and making the unanimated things out of order…
- Tobacco and drug : Watching the use of drug and tobacco in games can lose the internal-social taboo of not using it for the addressees.
- Sexual stimuli : Sexual diversity, sexuality out of social norms, etc can end to the social and physical harms related to the sexual needs of the addressees and his /her social situations.
- Fear : Fear is an internal feeling based on insecurity and not the lack of trust to the atmosphere, which leads to chronic stress, conservative behaviors, etc in social atmosphere.
- Religious values violation : The violation of religious values is in accord with the Islamic principles. Two of the important elements of it are as follow:
- The violation of the basic principles or religious believes (the howness of the display of the heaven or hell),
- Sacrilege the holy places (sacrilege the mosque, church)
- The social norms violation : Using the vulgar words and the uprightness behaviors which lead to breaking the social norms are among the social harms that the kids and the adolescents become familiar with.
- Hopelessness : This content in games is related to a kind of feeling where the gamer have to do or not to do something which makes him/her feel sinful..
Sure, the definition for violence is bordering on Engrish, and most of the rest are pretty much as expected (Sexual diversity? Fear? Iran's government is worried about conservative behaviour?). What really caught my eye though, was the inclusion of what's been termed "hopelessness." I really wonder whether any other video game rating system takes into account the emotional impact of being forced to make a choice that no matter what the outcome, will make the gamer feel sinful. Wow. That's some serious insight that's worth paying attention to.
Dr. Minaei said last week at the Dubai World Game Expo "the rating system is designed based on the culture, society and the special values of Islam" and with recognition that Islamic societies are generally considered conservative. Ahh… yup. Should be interesting to see what games make it to the international computer game festival they're planning for Tehran in 2011. Not much detail yet.
On the site, domestic games have a screen cap and short description, but I wasn't able to easily find their ESRA rating. That struck me as odd. Foreign games on the other hand, are listed in a manner I can't understand with clearly displayed ESRA ratings. No descriptions though; too bad, since they would be pretty useful. I really can't tell what kind of games "Stranger" or "Prototype" are, and it might be harder for Iranian parents to do meaningful research. Helpfully, the foreign games listing also tells you whether a game is accepted, being evaluated, forbidden, or prohibited (not sure what the difference is between the last two).
There's no legal enforceability at this stage, but the ratings will probably make parents pretty happy, and game developers can use the ESRA system to ensure their products are tailored and marketed appropriately. It's harsh to spend all kinds of time and development money only to learn your product isn't acceptable to the target market. Hopefully it should be clear to the makers of Grand Theft Auto why their game won't be welcomed in Iran. Iran's video game industry is now in full gear. I wonder how many of them depict Grand Theft Democracy.