Is 17 the Right Cut-Off Age for Mature-Rated Games?

In the video game industry, debate rages over what kind of content is appropriate for children and what is not. Some say that the interactivity of a violent game make it a potentially more dangerous activity for the average child than watching a violent film. Those on the other side of the debate say that with the vast majority of players, violent games have little impact, and the industry should not be treated differently than Hollywood.

As readers of my columns here on SlashGear know, I'm very much a supporter of the gaming industry. And I fully believe that games should be held to the same standard as films. I personally know that violent games did not make me violent when I was a child. But as for other kids, well, I'm not a psychologist, so I can't really say for sure.

But all this talk of what's good for kids and what's not often leaves out a key component in that entire debate: the ESRB's Mature rating. The Mature rating is designed to keep kids away from potentially objectionable content. Games with a Mature rating are considered suitable only for people aged 17 years or older. It's the gaming industry's answer to Hollywood's R rating.

Over the weekend, I was discussing ESRB ratings with some friends who have children. I outlined for them the major differences between the ratings and talked about some games that fit into each category. After I mentioned the Mature rating and included titles like Call of Duty: Black Ops and the Grand Theft Auto series, a friend stopped me and asked me a rather interesting question: "Why 17?"

Of course, the simple answer is that the ESRB likely followed the film industry's lead with the R rating. But the question also made me think. Is 17 really the right age for a mature-rated title? And if not, should it be higher, lower, or eliminated altogether?

It's a question that cannot be answered so easily. Some titles, including Medal of Honor, Call of Duty: Black Ops, and several others, certainly feature content that might be objectionable to kids. But as anyone who has spent time playing mature-rated games on Xbox Live knows, the mature rating is largely ignored by younger teenagers that want to frag you as soon as you turn around. And when they do so, they usually throw off a few obscenities to make you know who did it.

However, just because younger kids are playing these games doesn't mean that the Mature rating's age requirement is too strict. Quite the contrary, it might just mean that few people care.

At the same time, how would upping the age requirement affect the industry? It's likely not something that teenagers would like to see happen, and considering 18 years old is the age at which people can go off to war, having the Mature rating's age requirement any higher than that wouldn't make much sense.

And then there is the question of whether or not we need age requirements at all. Should a parent be able to decide what's right for their kids and what's not, regardless of age? Should kids themselves have the ability to make their own decisions about a particular game, even if the title they want to play is Call of Duty: Black Ops and they're 12 years old?

It's hard to say. And in the end, it likely depends on the individual. But like the movie industry, the video game business likely has a responsibility to impose some kind of limitation on kids when objectionable material is readily available. It's just debatable if age, and especially 17 years of age, should be used to judge whether or not a child can handle a respective video game's content.

So, let's hear from you. Is 17 the right cut-off for mature-rated games?