NIMF gives top marks to ESRB, console makers

National Institute on Media and Family's annual MediaWise Video Game Report Card heaps praise on ratings board, retailers, and platform holders; parents get an Incomplete.

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Remember last year when the National Institute on Media and Family was warning of an "ominous backslide" in the gaming industry's efforts to protect kids from questionable games? Apparently, the industry buckled down this year, attended summer sessions, and, for one, hit up teachers for advice during scheduled office hours.

In its annual report for 2008, NIMF doled out nearly perfect grades to the gaming industry, giving console manufacturers and the Entertainment Software Rating Board's system and awareness education efforts an "A," with retailers earning a "B+" for ratings enforcement.

For the ESRB's part, NIMF claims that the ratings board has "stepped up its efforts to educate parents about the importance of video game ratings. The watchdog organization calls out such initiatives as the distribution of buying guides to 26,000 PTA chapters, retailer training pamphlets, in-store PSAs, and the recently launched ratings summaries on the ESRB's Web site.

NIMF notes that retailers, too, are making gains in keeping inappropriate games out of kids' hands. Citing the Federal Trade Commission's secret shopper survey from May, the group praised GameStop, Wal-Mart, and Best Buy in particular for selling questionable titles to minors less than 20 percent or less of the time.

As for gamemakers, NIMF was pleased that while M-rated games receive the most attention, family-friendly titles are of increasing prominence. "Video game producers continue to release ultra-violent and mature-content titles, but increasingly, the big industry players are targeting parents and families as an important market for their products and services," reads the report. "Despite the controversial M-rated games (for Mature) still receiving much of the hype and the headlines, the vast majority of game titles have family-friendly ratings."

The report wasn't all about high marks and high-fives, however. NIMF cautioned that many challenges still face the industry, noting that the difficulties in monitoring smartphone game downloads, the rising prominence of predator-haven online worlds such as Second Life's Teen World and World of Warcraft, and such new technology as Emotiv's EPOC headset, which lets gamers "control a video game using only their thoughts. Such technology is amazing and may even prove useful, but it also raises grave questions about the impact of video games on children's developing brains and worldviews."

Lastly, NIMF noted that the onus is on parents to take advantage of the industry's efforts. Indeed, the only mar the Mediawise Report Card came in the parent category, which received an "Incomplete."

"The focus of this year's report card is providing parents with the information they need," the report notes. "All segments of the industry have made significant improvements in recent years. Parents now have more information and tools than ever before. However, the constant changes present new challenges. Parents need to pay more attention to the amount of time and the types of games their kids play."

As noted by GamePolitics, the NIMF and the Entertainment Software Association enjoy a cozier relationship than in years past. In September, the ESA, which owns the ESRB, awarded NIMF a $50,000 grant to "develop an on-line e-learning zone for using the latest interactive technologies to help kids and adults understand the issues and potential areas of concern with the Internet."

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