The Entertainment Software Ratings Board, and other self-regulatory entertainment ratings boards, should review and improve their policies to “ensure access to content is limited to age-appropriate consumers,” according to the findings of the Federal Commission on School Safety, which released in a 180-page report Tuesday.
The commission was formed following the spree shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla. on Feb. 14 that left 17 dead. The Stoneman Douglas High School shooting was the deadliest at an American high school. One section of the report, which also includes a call on the media to adopt a “no notoriety” policy toward school shooters, focuses on violent entertainment and rating systems.
“Children have 24/7 access to multiple forms of entertainment at their fingertips,” according to the opening of the section. “Their exposure to violent entertainment is of particular concern—in television, video games, social media, music, movies, graphic novels, and books. Violent content is ubiquitous across these platforms and continues to grow. Neighbors of the alleged Parkland shooter, for instance, told reporters that he often played violent video games for up to 15 hours a day. According to one, ‘It was kill, kill, blow up something, and kill some more, all day.'”
The report goes on to note that the issue of violent entertainment wasn’t directly addressed by a similar 2007 report following the Virginia Tech shootings. It also noted that then-President Barak Obama called for $10 million to research any possible relationship between video games, media images, and violence. The research would have also looked at gun violence. That research was never conducted, though, because Congress never approved the money for it.
The two-page section goes on to summarize some of the research done on the possible connection between violent media and real-world violence, noting both reports that suggest there are a connection and ones that suggest there isn’t. It then delves into the issue of ratings and how rating systems can play an important role in informing parents about what sort of media their children are consuming.
The ratings systems for television, movies, music and video games are each run by the industries themselves, often with insight from experts and parents. The report notes specifically that the ESRB ratings are known to 86 percent of parents with kids as of a 2016 survey.
Ultimately, the report falls back on three recommendations, two of which center on internet safety at schools. The third, which broaches the topic of ratings, is overly vague.
“While some self-regulators provide easy-to-understand rating systems and effectively restrict content through retailer requirements,” according to the report, “all of them should review and improve policies to ensure access to content is limited to age-appropriate consumers.”
In the report’s overall conclusion, the report once more notes that good ratings systems are important for parents and that they need to allow parents to “fully assess the appropriateness of entertainment their children are consuming.”
Reached for comment Tuesday, the Entertainment Software Association said it appreciates the School Safety Commission’s “thorough review of media and entertainment.”
“The same video games are played all over the world by 2.6 billion gamers, yet the United States stands alone in its rate of gun violence,” a spokesperson said. “As we shared with the Commission, study after study has shown no causal link between video games and real-world violence.”
The Entertainment Software Ratings Board also said it was pleased with the way the organization was represented in the report.
“Our 2018 research shows that 83% of parents are aware of ESRB ratings, and 73% regularly check the ratings prior to making a purchase. That said, ESRB is always looking at potential enhancements to the rating system as the industry evolves and parental demands change,” a spokesperson told Variety. “While the ESRB rating system is a great way to get information about what’s in a game, we also recommend that parents set parental controls for all of their family’s consoles, handheld video game devices, computers, and smart devices. Of course, we also encourage parents to take the time to talk with their children about what kinds of games are appropriate for their family, and why.”
Neither group addressed the commission’s call for the group to “review and improve” policies.