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Over the last 45 years, video games have changed the way people perceive the virtual entertainment industry. Countless transitions from the 8-bit to the 16-bit era and so on have improved game mechanics as well as stylistic play, giving players the freedom to make decisions while playing rather than forcing them to follow a linear path restricted to certain rules. Along with these new and improved games, players became acquainted with their 16-bit, 32-bit, and 64-bit media platform counterparts, which varied from home consoles, personal computers, and portable hand-held devices. The release of new video game platforms improved several gaming aspects, such as image rendering, compatibility with previous games, and system longevity. Starting from as early as Atari’s Pong (1972), many games have continued to set the standard for top-notch gaming. Pong’s simple, yet ingenious design and gameplay revolutionized the video game industry and paved the way for game masterpieces, including Pac-Man (1980), Tetris (1984), and Super Mario Bros. (1985).
Since the 1980s, new technological advances have allowed various game companies to develop new types of video games, filled with complete, interactive environments along with stunning imagery, profound character development, and voice acting. On one hand, while these new games are gaining a huge amount of popularity from gamers and non-gamers all over the world, the United States Supreme Court is not pleased with the controversial messages expressed in certain video games. The government wishes to raise awareness on gratuitous violence in these types of games and the harmful effects it can have on teenagers and children. On top of that, the government is more concerned with the means by which these controversial messages are brought upon today’s youth.
In May 2011, California proposed a new law that petitioned for dramatic changes in the video game industry, including a modified list of descriptions as expressed by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), the printing of two-inch square labels on the front covers of mature-rated games and, most importantly, the ban on selling and purchasing violent video games for minors. The ban on selling/purchasing violent as well as other types of M-rated games continues to be a widely debatable topic that I’m not going to get into (because honestly, I can make my case either way), but I thought about how interesting it would be to approach it from an “escape the room” perspective.
Now, we at Brainy Actz don’t personally offer a horror-themed escape room experience because we host many kid groups on a regular basis and don’t want to exclude them from the experience due to inappropriate/controversial material in our rooms. Children love to play games and these types of immersive adventures are pivotal to a child’s mental stimulation as it fosters critical thinking and problem solving. On the downside though, certain games can negatively influence their young, highly impressionable minds.
It’s one thing to experience something horrific in a video game. It’s different when you experience it live.
I remember my first time seeing violence in a game. I was four-years-old and my brothers and I got our hands on a copy of the first ever Mortal Kombat for Super Nintendo. The gratuitous violence, the gory fatalities – I thought it was awesome, to be honest. Granted, I was just a little kid back then and didn’t know any better. I feel like my parents are lucky that I didn’t develop any violent tendencies or aggressive behaviors.
Mortal Kombat was the reason why the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) rating system was created, as it was their sole purpose of rating games from a purely objective, non-biased standpoint and giving them appropriate labels according to their proposed ratings. Although, game retailers are entrusted with more responsibility in enforcing the ESRB ratings, parents should also share the responsibility in actively enforcing the types of material that may or may not be suitable for their children. There is no reason why they shouldn’t be held as accountable as their children for any inappropriate material viewed without their supervision.
Now, I know it’s up to the parent’s discretion – hell, I used to work at GameStop and can’t count how many times kids bought M-rated games with their parent’s approval – but if you’re going to let your children view potentially harming material, then you might as well be there to supervise their exposure. Think of it like going to watch an R-rated movie and bringing your child along. There’s a good reason why people under 17 are not admitted without parental guidance. Like the ESRB, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) was created to accurately rate a film’s content and its suitability for a particular audience. It is a parent’s full responsibility to research a film thoroughly AND discuss the subject matter with their kid before taking them to watch the film in theaters.
Horror-themed escape rooms are a whole different story.
As I explained in my piece on interactive storytelling in escape rooms, every medium has its own creative method of expression.
Watching film equates to 2nd-person immersion because you personally follow the protagonist and see how their story unfolds. Video games take immersion a step further and bridge the gap from “viewer” to “player” (2nd-person to 1st-person). Instead of simply watching things happen, the viewer becomes the protagonist or an avatar (in-game representation of a different character) and experiences everything first-hand.
And that’s where experiencing a horror-themed escape room can be your kid’s worst nightmare.
Children have wild imaginations, which can sometimes be a good or bad thing. They are able to think creatively, but at the same time they are susceptible to being easily influenced. It just depends on their individual personality. I remember one particular time, when I hosted a family in our Lost Jungle Safari, and there was a kid who didn’t want to go anywhere near our sarcophagus because he was afraid of a mummy lurking inside.
That being said, imagine the look of horror on your child as they stepped into a dimly-lit dungeon or basement, laced with creepy messages written in blood, old skeletons, or dismembered bodies.
They wouldn’t sleep for days.
Remember, the player doesn’t just get to experience the story/narrative. They get to live it. Kids can expand the premise of the story, filling in the blanks with their own thoughts as they progress in their escape room experience. They immerse themselves as characters of influence, freely performing their own actions, sharing their feelings, and making their own decisions.
Horror-themed escape rooms should be treated differently compared to watching an R-rated movie or playing an M-rated game. Due to the interactive nature of these escape games, it is highly encouraged that parents steer their kids away from these type of experiences until they’re mature enough to handle the subject material. There’s no hard rule on the specific age they need to be, however, it’s important to accurately assess when your kid can distinguish fantasy from reality.
Now, one could argue that some children would be thrilled to explore the possibility of a mummy hiding within their immersive adventure or to solve a cryptic bloody message on the wall with a corpse’s severed hand dangling on the final letter.
But few can stomach the latter scenario and not let it affect their psyche.