Here’s a hot news flash: Research has determined that slapping mature ratings on videogames containing objectionable content makes kids want to play them even more.
No, we haven’t exactly found the Rosetta Stone here but research in the Netherlands on 310 children aged 7 to 17 has confirmed what most of us already knew: The desire a kid has for something is directly proportional to how strongly we tell him he can’t have it. In the study, the children read descriptions of fictitious games and then rated how much they wanted to play each one; in every group studied, according to the Chicago Tribune, “The more objectionable the content, the more kids clamored for the controller.”
It’s not exactly a revelation, no, a fact reflected in the researchers’ decision to refer to the games as “forbidden fruit.” When I was younger I had the same kind of interest in 2 Live Crew and and Body Count’s “Cop Killer,” not because I cared much about the music but because I knew it was controversial and not something I should have. And while previous research has confirmed this phenomenon in television shows and movies, this is the first study of its kind to be done on videogames. Why anyone thought the result might be different is beyond me, but then again I’m not a scientist.
The authors of the study, Brad Bushman of the University of Michigan and Elly Konijn of VU University Amsterdam, say kids shouldn’t be allowed to buy their own games, although whether that means just age-inappropriate games or videogames of any sort is unclear, and that parents and physicians should be aware of telltale signs of problem videogaming, like dropping grades; they also suggest that the classification system be “re-thought” and changed to avoid making M-rated games “unspeakably desirable” to children.
Regular readers may recall Professor Bushman from his recent efforts to determine which students are more likely to be able to tell when a fight is fake. Meanwhile, to be helpful, I have begun work on developing a new language that only adults will be able to read and comprehend.