The National Institute on Media and the Family has issued its 13th annual MediaWise Report Card, and for once the videogame industry has earned top marks across the board.

In the introduction to the 2008 Report Card, NIMF founder Dr. David Walsh said reforms in the game industry have resulted in a new focus on the influence of parents on young gamers. “As the games become more sophisticated, parents must be aware that both the potential benefits and harm grow,” Walsh wrote. As a result, the 2008 report includes a Parents’ Guide to Videogames, “an all-in-one summary that provides parents with everything they need to begin or continue making MediaWise videogame choices for their kids.”

The NIMF has been a vocal critic of the game industry in the past, but commends the ESRB, retailers and console manufacturers for their efforts at keeping inappropriate games out of the hands of children. The ESRB earned “A” grades for both its rating system, which the NIMF recently praised for now offering more detailed online game summaries, and for its work in educating the public about its mission. “We commend the ESRB for intensifying efforts to help parents understand the video game ratings,” the report card says. “The ESRB has become the entertainment industry leader in educating retailers and parents about the rating system.”

Retailers also get positive marks from the group for an overall 80 percent enforcement rate of ESRB ratings, earning a B+ for “significant progress with still some room for improvement.” Console manufacturers, meanwhile, also take home an “A” for the implementation of parental controls, “timing devices” and their own educational initiatives that provide parents “more tools to supervise game play.”

In fact, the only sub-standard mark awarded on this year’s report card went to the parents themselves, who were given an “incomplete.” As GamePolitics pointed out, the actual level of parental involvement is impossible to measure so the score is meaningless, but it’s no doubt meant by the group to highlight the fact that while the industry has made great strides toward ensuring the effectiveness of age ratings, their success or failure is ultimately in the hands of parents.

“Parents now have more information and tools than ever before,” the report says. “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.”

It’s quite a change for the NIMF, which used to regularly punish the ESRB and the game industry as a whole for its failure to provide and enforce effective videogame age ratings. The recent decision by the NIMF to accept funding from the Entertainment Software Association could lead to questions about its objectivity, but there’s no question that the industry as a whole has taken, and is continuing to take, big steps toward ensuring its rating system is understood and adhered to. The effectiveness of those steps has been verified by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, which said in a May 2008 report that the videogame industry has an 80 percent compliance rate with age ratings, compared to 65 percent compliance at movie theaters, 53 percent for R-rated DVDs and only 46 percent for Parental Advisory Label music.

The 2008 MediaWise Video Game Report Card is available for downloaded here. (PDF format)


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