I was traveling the past few days, and when I travel USA Today is often outside my hotel room door. Yesterday it was there and it was exciting to see a USA Today story about games. From the headline, it looked like Steven Spielberg was talking about his new game . . . and it was for kids. . . and it was not violent . . . and it was good. . . and we could all be happy. . . and we get national coverage for a game in a story which is not slamming the business . . . and then I read the story. Sure he is on a marketing campaign for the game, but does he really have to bash the industry to put his game in a positive light? He is not saying his kids can't see Iron Man in in his promotional interviews for Indiana Jones. Mr. Spielberg explained:
Though as a filmmaker he has created some of the screen's most intense experiences, he says, "some games are so over-the-top violent and so extraordinarily interactive that I am even afraid of them. I am not going to name names."
He believes that M-rated (mature) games are a stronger lure for children than R-rated movies. "My kids will never go in and take an R-rated DVD and play it. But there is something very compelling and different about the artwork on the box of what might be an M game that could tempt my kids."
Since Jaws was PG (he says it would be PG 13 today) he isn't technically contradicting himself in this quote from a January 2008 Vanity Fair interview, but he comes pretty damn close:
What age do you set for Jaws?
I haven’t shown Jaws to my 10- or 11-year-old, and I won’t. I showed Jaws to Sawyer when he was, I think, 13. Because then they use the argument, “Dad, I was bar mitzvahed last week. Everybody said today I’m a man, and you still won’t let me see Jaws?” Sometimes the kids outsmart me. It is PG, but that was before the PG-13 rating. Today Jaws would obviously be PG-13.
There was a lot of blood in Jaws and it is pretty intense for a 13 year-old, so I can understand his concern. But with regard to the film, his son is exhibiting the very behavior Mr. Spielberg fears from games. Since his quote is about covers, let's look at the covers side by side:
Art is very subjective, so it may just be me, but in terms of appeal, these boxes look pretty similar. Granted Raiders is PG, but as he expressed in interviews, the content in these films is not appropriate for children. These pictures were all grabbed from Amazon, and I do pick up on a very apparent distinction. All of the game boxes have ratings positioned prominently on the front of the box, none of the films do, an obvious distinction when I am walking through Blockbuster, looking to pick out a film to watch with my son. I look all around the box, and pull out my magnifying glass to determine whether the film is R or PG. When considering a game, the rating is right there on the front of the box, and in Wal Mart, Target, Best Buy, Blockbuster and Gamestop, the register will prompt the cashier to check id and not sell a game to someone under 17.
These ratings on the front of the box are very useful for parents, like Mr. Spielberg, who want to be involved in their children's media consumption. As he explained the USA Today piece:
As a parent, he strictly monitors the games in his home. "There are games that are taboo. And I won't have them on the premises. I don't want my kids saying, 'How come Dad is playing that and we can't?' "
He is right, this is a tough question to answer. My son is 12 and has yet to ask to play an M Rated game, but if he does, I will tell him it is because he is not old enough. If he pushes too hard, as 12 year-olds can do, perhaps I will rely on points raised in another interview with Mr. Spielberg, where he brilliantly explained the role of parental involvement in the Vanity Fair interview:
I was wondering what you’ve done with your own kids. Do you show them Jaws at some point?
I don’t really have a schedule of when I want to show my children my movies. They usually ask me to see Indiana Jones, which I think is fine for my younger kids, but then they’ve asked me to see Jaws and even Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List, and when they ask me these questions, I pretty much have to evaluate their relative maturation, because kids, even in the same family, mature at different rates. For instance—I don’t want to name names, because kids in the same family like to protest the unfairness of one child gaining a privilege over another—I have a couple of kids who saw Schindler’s List when they were younger than the average audience that would be permitted by average parents to see that story.
Like under 10?
Not under 10. Not at all. No one’s seen Schindler’s List in my family under 15. No one has.
That sounds about right.
The important thing is, you’ve got to know your kids, and you’ve got to know them as individuals. I love my kids as individuals, not as a herd, and I do have a herd of children: I have seven kids.
So, if I understand this correctly, Mr. Spielberg's children are drawn to films which they are not yet ready to see and Mr. Spielberg is able to explain they have to wait until they are older - even though Dad not only watches the films, but made them. Call me a radical, but it kind of sounds like kids testing boundaries and parents being parents. Who'd a thunk it. He's just like the rest of us. Wouldn't this work for games too?