The video game industry has been around since Atari released Pong in 1972.
Since the days of low bit graphics, video games have collectively grown into a billion-dollar industry that is now part of mainstream media.
As technology and graphics have advanced, so too have the games themselves.
Executing an enemy fighter in Mortal Kombat II on an early ‘90s Super Nintendo looks very different than on an Xbox 360 today.
In 1994, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) was created to inform the public of specific video game content. ESRB reviews a game’s content before sale, and assigns it a rating.
All video games sold today have one of the following labels: Early Childhood (EC), Everyone (E), Everyone ages 10 and up (E 10+), Teen (T), Mature (M) and Adults Only (AO).
These can be found on the front of video game boxes, along with a description of the game’s content on the back. For example, games with an “M” rating—suitable for those 17 and older—can contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
However, major retailers and video game stores like GameStop and Walmart require the customer to either be at least 17 years old or be accompanied by someone who is.
Marcie Beltran, 23, an employee at GameStop’s Chapman Avenue location in Fullerton, explained how youth still gain access to these games.
“We do not sell M-rated games to those underage,” said Beltran. “I get about three or four people every day that I inform them of the game they are buying for their 8-year-old may contain blood and gore and sexual content, and they just buy it anyway.”
Of the top ten video games sold in 2012, half of them, including top-selling military shooting game Call of Duty: Black Ops II, were rated M for violence, according to the NPD Group. Oddly enough, of the 1,218 ratings assigned by the ESRB last year, only 9 percent received an ‘M’ rating.
This shows that even though mature games are not the bulk of the industry, they dominate the popular market.
Prior to 2009, no more than three M-rated titles made top-ten sales in any year. That number doubled by 2011.
The increase in mature games also seem to correspond to video game critics.
The aggregate ratings of Metacritic.com, a site that compiles reviews from industry critics, show that that in addition to an increased number of violent games cracking the top-ten sales list, half of the top critically-acclaimed games also fell into this category.
Even with this segment of the industry being so small, its immense popularity manages to gain attention within mass media.
Violent video games get their share of blame for tragedies that occur in the real world.
After the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D – West Virginia) introduced a bill for the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to study the impact that violent video games have on children.
The negative effects of violent images on the mind have been well documented.
A 2012 study from Ohio State University showed that habitual playing of violent video games over a three day period increased “aggressive behavior and hostile expectations.”
Kids can become aggressive when they cannot have what they want. This can lead to them finding other means to get it.
“How to Buy M Rated Games,” an 11-step guide to help underage customers obtain violent video games, appears on wikiHow.com. It suggests methods such as renting the games rather than buying them, or ordering them online and lying about your age since no official ID check is required.
With the changes to more mature content, the real trend in the industry may be a shift in audience. Video games are no longer just for kids—in the future, they might not be for kids at all.