Parents and the ESRB: Still Dazed and Confused

The ESRB is a parent's best friend, there is no question. In a large percentage of cases, this organization can help you make sound decisions in your game purchases. However, it's far from perfect, and some game content is bringing the gaps in the system into sharp relief.

The ESRB is not really aimed at "gamers" per se. When it was established in 1994, the concept that people who played games would be parents wasn't on anyone's radar. Its true target was and is parents who aren't gamers. And while we have our own troubles with it, there is a prevailing attitude suggesting that any mainstream parent who can pour Pepsi out of a boot without a road map will be happy if only they pay attention to the sign in the game store and the big white letter in the black box.

That's not at all an accurate stance in the real world. The ESRB's age ranges and content labels are applied inconsistently. Even with the context that the ESRB's descriptions of gaming experience provide, the labels are so vague and overlapping that they're almost meaningless on a practical level. The system is missing labels that are vital to making a truly informed decision about issues that some parents are really concerned about. And beyond that, the "T" rating fails to take into account the giant gap in age and development between ages 13 and 17.

A couple times a year we get games that highlight the worst of these weaknesses. This year's best candidate would be Batman: Arkham Asylum, with Infamous and Prototype vying for second.

Before I go any farther, I want to say I'm not suggesting that Batman should be re-rated to M like they did with Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion back in May of 2006. But this precise question was asked me by a neighbor with a 14-year-old who begged and pleaded for it for Christmas: Why is Batman: Arkham Asylum T-rated, while Oblivion was changed to an "M" rating?

She and I had gone through the Oblivion mess with his older brother, and after watching her younger son play this, she was upset. And she's got a point. Arkham Asylum goes right down the line with some very similar issues, even to the same dangling, dead bodies. They weren't on fire in Arkham, but still, the player has to slog through The Joker's intermittent, creepy announcements, his exhortations to his henchmen to do you in, depictions of people being tortured, and plenty of other twisted stuff. Some spots festoon the dead from ropes all over, like macabre holiday decorations. It's quite obvious not all the nutjobs are behind the locked doors in that facility even on a good day. And her angry discussion with me about it sent me to investigate the current state of things.

Inconsistent Application Of labels And Age Ratings
That disconnect with Batman's labels and other games isn't a new problem. I had to come to grips with my boys back in the day over Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, which is T rated (for Blood, Drug Reference and Violence) but includes such fun as hanging off the rafters cutting throats, while the M-rated (for Animated Blood and Animated Violence) Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, which involves sneaking up behind people and breaking their necks. Both have players shooting realistic people in realistic settings with very similar results. The section where Raiden is running around naked can't be the difference. In an interesting omission, MGS2 doesn't have a nudity label.

Vague And Overlapping Descriptions
There are five labels for violence. Seems like they cover it all in a fairly straightforward fashion, until you try to figure out what they mean when they're applied to a game's specific setting. To juxtapose two games close in age and general type, how about Prototype and Infamous?

The T-rated Infamous comes with "Blood, Drug Reference, Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, [and] Violence" labels. Prototype comes with just "Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language" and an M rating. The setting of the two games is quite similar: You've been changed into something more than human and you're running through city streets, fighting roving gangs of civilians, military/authorities, nasty things and pretty much anything else that moves to accomplish your goals.

What's the difference between "Violence" and "Intense Violence?" Let's look at the ESRB's Ratings Guide: Intense violence is described as "graphic and realistic-looking depictions of physical conflict ... ." It continues on to bring up gore, which overlaps with the "Blood and Gore" label, and then mentions blood which overlies both "Blood" and "Blood and Gore". So why do we have both listed on the game?

You're punching helicopters in Prototype. This is not realistic. Much of the over-the-top gameplay of Prototype comes off like The Incredible Hulk for the Xbox360, which had a T rating and a "Violence" label. In Infamous, you end up frying people all around your character like you're a human electric eel. This is not realistic, and there's a label for unrealistic violence that's not bloody—"Fantasy Violence." Wouldn't it would be more accurate to use that?

I'm not suggesting Prototype didn't earn it's M rating. You grind your dead enemies into your skin like a ghastly beauty treatment so you can disguise yourself with their likeness. Ick. In Infamous you're electrocuting things to a crisp and sucking charge out of living people, but at least you're not wearing them. On the other hand you do plenty of other bloody damage, and I'm not sure scorched corpses littering the street are a better end product.

Stack up the labels and there is no way to really understand what the qualitative difference between the two games is, or why I should choose one over the other in reference to my children's gameplay.

Issues Not Covered By labels At All, But That Are Important To Parents
I know it's hard to imagine everything anyone can come up with, but there have been a few common ones brought up over the years.

  • They try to cover various types of violence, but no label discusses the scale. In the ending of Infamous the player is allowed to choose to murder thousands of people in cold blood. Having to beat a big bad guy is one thing; killing everyone in a large radius is another. There's no label for "Mass Murder," or however you want to term this kind of bloodbath.
  • Guns and other realistic weapons. Some parents don't have a problem with little Jimmy's character using some sort of cartoon ray-gun, but if he's picking up real guns and ammo like in the E-rated Shadow the Hedgehog they're not happy.
  • Illegal activities aren't covered. For a blatant example, The Godfather games are based on your character performing the acts of a '20s Italian mobster. You run racketeering, bootlegging, gambling and hook-houses, on top of carrying out extortion, blackmail, and murder. None of this is called out unless it involves violence or sex. For a less charged but more insidious example, take a look at the rap sheet you'd get from most Tony Hawk games, particularly Underground and American Wasteland.
  • Whether the player is the instigator or not is never discussed. Batman himself may not be killing anyone at Arkham, but that doesn't stop anyone else in the game. Between the virus and the thugs, you are constantly wading through piles of mingled dead and unconscious bodies. To some people, the fact that Batman isn't doing the killing matters.
  • Another question I get—mostly from people I know through church—is occult and religious references. For example, I know someone who doesn't have a problem with something like Ninja Gaiden but was a little squicked by Darksiders and the way it implied that God was absent.

The Age-Chasm Between The T And M Ratings
Please understand that as a gamer and as a fan of Batman for many years, I enjoyed the game thoroughly. I believe it deserved all the positive reviews it got. But ask yourself honestly: Do you think your wife would like to have your 13-year-old play this game unsupervised? Do you? And not just your centered, mature and properly supervised youngster. Think of the least balanced latch-key kid in his homeroom class. That's what a T rating means—all the content in the game is suitable for anyone 13 years and older with no restriction or supervision.

I do not understand why anti-game mavens have a cow about M-rated games they think should be AO while ignoring this issue completely. Getting supposedly AO content in the hands of a 17-year-old is only one year early. Getting M content in the hands of a 13-year-old is a much more worrisome proposition. There are four very important growing years between 13 and 17. Trying to limit all 16-year-olds to the same content as all 13-year-olds is laughable. They are so completely different. Go to a junior high and compare the eighth graders with the juniors at your local high school.

But I Did What You Said...
The part that ticks his mother off most, I think, is that she did what we all keep saying was due diligence and she still got burned. When he'd asked for it on his Christmas list, she looked it up. She found out the rating, and also found that Common Sense Media suggested it as a replacement for Grand Theft Auto IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony in their list of 10 Cool Games that are Uncool for Kids. The GTA game was never in any danger of coming in the house, but she thought, with the facts she'd found and those authoritative endorsements—on top of the way he loved the demo, she was home free.

What Parents Can Do
There are things that parents can do to make this system more approachable for themselves. If you know where to look, there is more information available now.

  • Ratings Summary: Used to be, all you got was those cryptic phrases to judge the content. But now the ESRB's website offers more detailed descriptions of newer games. They're not printed on the box, but if you look up a specific game via their website or other search tools, you'll find a paragraph or two describing the game's content in more detail.
  • ESRB Rating Search Widget: If you want to add a quick and easy way to search the ESRB on your website or personal blog, you can download and install a widget that will allow you to search the ratings system and get the platforms, rating, rating summary and content labels right there at your fingertips. There's also a desktop version for your PC.
  • ESRB Mobile Ratings Guide: If all the ratings on the boxes and posters on the wall in the stores aren't enough, you can also use the ESRB's mobile version of their website. Download the app for your iPhone/iPod from iTunes or the App Store, or go to http://www.esrb.org/mobile from any other mobile device's web browser.

I've long been a proponent of responsible consumption across all media. How did I handle stuff like this when my gang was younger? Well, it's not a solution all parents can put in place. We had a rule that I had to finish all games rated T or above before they were allowed to play it until they were 13, and even at that point I reserved the right to do so if I felt a game was risky. That held true until everyone in the house was M-rated or higher. It has already been suggested that I'm a jackbooted fascist, but I got burnt just like my neighbor did on games like Def Jam Vendetta and Jet Set Radio.

A more generally practical solution all of this is for parents to do the best they can with what the ESRB gives. Follow the age ratings, have intelligent limits on duration, and pay a lot of attention to the kids while they're playing. If something seems off to you, talk to knowledgeable friends or helpful game-store employees. Renting a game and giving it a try yourself may also be an option.

Comments

Ah, I stand corrected. Interesting.

But oversheltering is, IMO, a cure that's immeasurably worse than the disease.

I don't doubt that parents fall short on both sides of this fence, but dictating as an outsider where that line of appropriate falls just isn't your call. You can't draw a line in the sand and say "At age 13 they should be able to deal with this, and if they can't it's probably your fault, parent." While it may be true that many kids are equipped to deal with violence in video games in a way that is considered standard in our culture, that doesn't negate the kids who aren't prepared for it or whose parents have the right to make the call that they don't want their kids exposed to that.

A statement like the one above carries a lot of moral assumptions with it, and it's arrogant to assume that yours is a superior opinion on the matter. While I agree with you from a functional sense, I disagree with the position that those who don't adopt your angle are doing more harm than good.

Thanks for mentioning Common Sense Media, and I thank the GWJ community for not having a fit over it.

In a previous allegedly for gamers with children someone once brought up CSM and the forum goers chastised the poster for consorting with "the enemy." No lie, they actually called CSM "the enemy."

Personally, I find CSM invaluable for figuring out exactly what the ESRB ratings mean. And not for my children's benefit, but for my own. The ESRB rates the cosmetics of the action on screen, but not the moral content. CSM makes sure the reader knows who the player is expected to fight and why.

They also have a rating for the "Commercial" nature of games which is unintentionally hilarious. Reading about the assorted debauchery in a Grand Theft Auto game followed by a lamentation of product placement or a glorification of materialism is amusing.

Elysium wrote:
But oversheltering is, IMO, a cure that's immeasurably worse than the disease.

I don't doubt that parents fall short on both sides of this fence, but dictating as an outsider where that line of appropriate falls just isn't your call. You can't draw a line in the sand and say "At age 13 they should be able to deal with this, and if they can't it's probably your fault, parent." While it may be true that many kids are equipped to deal with violence in video games in a way that is considered standard in our culture, that doesn't negate the kids who aren't prepared for it or whose parents have the right to make the call that they don't want their kids exposed to that.

A statement like the one above carries a lot of moral assumptions with it, and it's arrogant to assume that yours is a superior opinion on the matter. While I agree with you from a functional sense, I disagree with the position that those who don't adopt your angle are doing more harm than good.

QFT

I think it's important to have a discussion with ones kids regarding what games are allowed and what ones aren't. Just banning a game from the house with no explanation makes it taboo, which is a bad thing from a parental standpoint because the kid will exhaust every avenue to see what you don't want him/her to see. Sitting down and explaining why, for example, Manhunt isn't an appropriate game to your eleven year old even though his friends all say it's awesome goes a long way toward building trust and will hopefully help him understand why the rule is important and should be followed.

Full disclosure: I have two kids under 3 years old, so I haven't actually implemented any of this yet. But from my interactions with them so far, I've found that it's much better to treat the kids like people who deserve some explanation about what's going on around them. Case in point, my daughter hated getting her teeth brushed. She'd fight like crazy every time I got the brush out, and we'd have to hold her down. It was awful. Then one day my wife and I had the bright idea of asking her if she would help us brush her teeth. She wasn't talking yet, but we figured it was worth a shot. Sure enough, we asked her to open up and say ahh for the toothbrush, and she did.

Treating your kids like people goes a long way. Just remember that they're people, not peers.

Especially with a morality system that considers boobs worse than gory decapitations.

Exactly. There is also a cultural difference here. Here in Germany the ratings organization USK and the general public will let religious themes and nudity slide but will set draconian measures when it comes to violence. (Even going so far as wanting to restrict these games for grown ups)

Is violence worse than nudity? I think so and appreciate a rating according to that but that doesn't mean I'm right.
Restricting games to Lego-violence and violence to non-human characters for my 10 year old son is my system for now but I still cringe when Lego Indiana Jones has to shoot 30 Nazis to get through a level.

My plan for the future is just like yours, I will play the games and then I decide whether or not it is ok for my kids. But I must admit I don't remember any throat cutting in Pandora Tomorrow, I must have played that game very differently. That may become a problem one day, I just don't play that way, how can I ever judge a game accordingly?

muammar wrote:

spam.

I agree. This would certainly not be appropriate for 13-year-olds.

I love it when newcomers can add valid points to the discussion.

Chumpy_McChump wrote:
muammar wrote:

spam

I agree. This would certainly not be appropriate for 13-year-olds.

I love it when newcomers can add valid points to the discussion. :)

At least give us some links muammar!

Is it just me or does raising children sound like a lot of trouble??

I thought it was a rather professional article, momgamer. Regardless of what muammar says.

This article focuses on the ESRB and other tools parents can use to make choices about purchasing video games. As such, I think there are four types of tools: on the box labels, written product information on websites, visual and audible information on websites, and actual experience with the game.

I think as an organization, the ESRB is mainly responsible for the rating and labels on the box. Because of the limited space, the content descriptors have to be limited, but also meaningful. I think there could be better descriptors and rating schemes, but also think that adding things like "Religious Content" is extremely tricky. There are rarely any games with stories that won't have this type of content. Because these labels can easily be seen by any parent at the time of purchase, perhaps they are the most important.

All the other categories are for the most part only used by concerned parents who take the extra step to find out about the products. There are countless websites describing the games and themes, including the ESRB, that there is probably enough information for people to make a decision. Is this content all in one nice place? Maybe not. Is the ESRB responsible for it? I don't think so. From reading a site like the Christian review, watching the trailers, watching a few Youtube videos, and looking at a few screenshots, a person should have a good idea of what is in the game. Is there going to be some hidden, hard to find "questionable content?" Perhaps, but if it was such a problem, one of those sites would have likely made a fuss over it.

My favorite part is seeing that the spam post was edited five times, a confused spammer in Moldova wondering why his links aren't showing up.

Certis wrote:

My favorite part is seeing that the spam post was edited five times, a confused spammer in Moldova wondering why his links aren't showing up.

Где наше бесплатное порно?!?!?

Hopefully he will now relink.

I got a spammer! And I missed it. Drat.

Jonman wrote:

Great article momgamer - but aren't you preaching to the choir here? I've love to see this kind of article get wider coverage in some other places where it'll get read by folk who need to know this.

Actually, we're becoming a bit of a diverse crowd I think. Take heavyfeul for example. That guy is off my babysitter list.

Dax wrote:
Jonman wrote:

Great article momgamer - but aren't you preaching to the choir here? I've love to see this kind of article get wider coverage in some other places where it'll get read by folk who need to know this.

Actually, we're becoming a bit of a diverse crowd I think. Take heavyfeul for example. That guy is off my babysitter list.

You should consider it. We will do constructive activities such as,

Gears of War tournament - Winner -> Bag of glass. Runner up -> Bag of nails.

It is a big hit with my toddlers! The only downside is that they will one day grow up to be serial killers, because, as we know, that is what happens to kids who play violent video games.

In all seriousness though, what I am most concerned with as a parent is the effect video games have on my kids. I will not let my three year old play a Mature rated game, but if I find out, one day in the far distant future, that my 14 year old son played a Gears of War or a God of War type game over at a friends house I will shrug it of and probably jump in a round and show him how the old man has still got some fragging skillz.

I think Momgamer's system works great, but I will probably be less strict once my kids become teenagers. When I was thirteen I snuck into horror movies and plugged a gajillion quarters into Mortal Kombat and I never had a problem distinguishing between the "magic circle" violence and the true horror of real world violence. I will probably not condone, but I will be more concerned that they are staying out of trouble and doing well in school. I doubt I will care what video games they are playing and they will probably "borrow" games from my secret stash anyway.

And the truth is, I will probably restrict what they are allowed to consume, but they will find a way to get the media they crave one way or another in their teenage years.

One of the areas where I look is whether the player kills people. Killing aliens or monsters isn't the same, especially if the people are humanized. In this respect, strategy games are (somewhat) exempt in my mind - probably because it's the goal, not the gore as the end result.

heavyfeul wrote:

And the truth is, I will probably restrict what they are allowed to consume, but they will find a way to get the media they crave one way or another in their teenage years.

I think this is a good attitude. Even if you fail to restrict access to "adult" material (be it sexual, violent, or thematic; or substances like alcohol, tobacco, etc.) you are sending a message just by officially restricting it.

When I saw "Faces Of Death", I don't think it warped me for life, but I knew it was something kind of "bad" that I shouldn't be watching. If my old man had known I was watching it, I might have felt it was somehow normal to watch people getting violently killed for amusement.

I'm considering a policy of "You can watch or play whatever you want, but I have to be able to watch it with you and force you to have a long, awkward conversation about it afterward."

beeporama wrote:

When I saw "Faces Of Death", I don't think it warped me for life, but I knew it was something kind of "bad" that I shouldn't be watching. If my old man had known I was watching it, I might have felt it was somehow normal to watch people getting violently killed for amusement.

That movie was legendary when I was a kid. I never met anyone who actually saw it, but I knew quite a few people who knew someone who saw it...AND DIED!!!

To this day I haven't actually seen it. Still a legendary horror movie that I will probably never work up the courage to ever watch. I am happy to keep it that way.

wordsmythe wrote:

I'm considering a policy of "You can watch or play whatever you want, but I have to be able to watch it with you and force you to have a long, awkward conversation about it afterward."

"What'd you think of that sex scene, son? Did you find it arousing? Are you flaccid?"

You're gonna be like the dad from American Pie.

McChuck wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:

I'm considering a policy of "You can watch or play whatever you want, but I have to be able to watch it with you and force you to have a long, awkward conversation about it afterward."

"What'd you think of that sex scene, son? Did you find it arousing? Are you flaccid?"

You're gonna be like the dad from American Pie.

I'm just here to ruin your fun, son.

I'm not sure that adding another rating between T and M is necessarily a good solution. The more granular you make the ratings system, the more arbitrary it becomes. Yes, the four years between 13 and 17 are important ones that involve arguably more personal growth than any other four years in your life besides the first four, but no two kids will go through them at the same pace and in the same way. If you think trying to make sense between the arbitrary distinction between which games are rated T and which are rated M is bad, imagine trying to figure out what the difference is between a T, T+, M-, and M.

I'm not about to say that the current ESRB system has no room for improvement, but just as important IMO is recognizing that no media ratings system can ever apply equally to all people. The only real solution is to look at ratings as a general guide enabling parents to know in which direction to research further.

I don't mean solely to point the finger at parents, either. Gamers and game store clerks have a responsibility, too: since we're ostensibly the knowledgeable ones in this equation, we have to be willing to help parents who might not be as knowledgeable to educate themselves rather than just point to the rating and say, "It's T, he's 14, it's fine, shut up and go away."

When I was in high school many moons ago, I had a friend whose parents would not let him play any video game in which the player used magic. It didn't matter to them whether it was presented in an occult context or if it was "magic" in the Peter Pan "I DO believe in fairies!" sense: magic was evil and they didn't want their son exposed to that.

Now, these people may have been bat!@#$ crazy religious fundamentalists, but I will hand this to them: they knew what they didn't want to buy, and they were willing to put in the research (and this was back when there were waaaay fewer resources for concerned parents of video-gaming teens) to make sure that they didn't buy it.

It's really bizarre to think that the first Ratchet and Clank game and Arkham Asylum are both rated T.

I agree with momgamer that ESRB ratings as they are now are more or less useless. I wouldn't bet five cents on anything in there being meaningful or useful.

That said, I also agree that handing down a "restricted" or "banned" list for teenagers is desirable and normal and probably part of a normal upbringing. The method of enforcement can vary from individual to individual or from family to family, but as with toddlers and school-age children, teenagers are looking for guidance and support.

If the only way they'll listen to what you say is to act the part of the jackbooted thug, then you have to bite the bullet and be that jackbooted thug.

The fact that the Playboy mag is hidden and you have to sneak around to get it is probably a more powerful message for teens than actually not allowing them access wholesale. If they can access it, then they know what the material is and they know it's supposed to be restricted. This allows them to make the proper social calls in the wider world.

Arguably, for teens who are unusually obedient and controllable, you have to introduce the material yourself with the clear message that about its place in the adult world, rather than let them go about being completely ignorant about such content. Kinda awkward, though.

On the whole, it's much easier to declare Playboy "bad" and then leave it around where it won't be impossible to find.

heavyfeul wrote:
beeporama wrote:

"Faces Of Death"

That movie was legendary when I was a kid. I never met anyone who actually saw it, but I knew quite a few people who knew someone who saw it...AND DIED!!!

To this day I haven't actually seen it. Still a legendary horror movie that I will probably never work up the courage to ever watch. I am happy to keep it that way.

I think it would be incredibly anticlimactic, especially in this day and age. I recall it was sort of presented as a documentary, narrated by a "doctor" who was fascinated by the study of ways people can die.

LarryC wrote:

Arguably, for teens who are unusually obedient and controllable, you have to introduce the material yourself with the clear message that about its place in the adult world, rather than let them go about being completely ignorant about such content. Kinda awkward, though.

On the whole, it's much easier to declare Playboy "bad" and then leave it around where it won't be impossible to find.

I think we had similar points. In hindsight, I suspect my father did exactly this, although I'm a little too awkward to ask.

Amusing slightly off-topic anecdote: when my wife was in third grade, a neighbor's Playboy was mistakenly delivered to her house. She got the mail. It was a faux "Miss America" issue full of women wearing nothing but a sash and a smile. Incredulous, she knew she had to take it to school and show her girlfriends. They had to see what all these Miss America contestants were doing off the TV set!

They were agog, wondering if their bodies were going to end up looking like that. Of course the boys ruined it when they found out what was going on, by crowding around and making noise.

Her extremely embarrassed single mother got a call at work and had to come in to talk to the principal. Then her mother, weirdly enough, returned the Playboy to their neighbor in person. Could it get more awkward?

beeporama:

LOL. Well, at least that solved how she was going to start talking to her daughter about puberty changes!

It's exactly concerns and issues like these that make me think that it's wrong to legislate parenting. Parenting isn't something you can put on a assembly line and promulgate through laws. Censorship laws, I think, are less about helping parents, and more about certain morality-oriented groups imposing their worldview on others.

Let's get real, here. Any interested parent should review material that their kids are getting. Slapping an "M" on a game or other media content does nothing more than ensure that the kids of lazier parents eventually get education about violence and sex from secret and uncontrolled movie showings or incidental or accidental exposure.

Children of parents who couldn't care less about their well being will be able to access M rated content, regardless of whether it's rated M or not, because parents are adults, and children who ask disinterested parents for these games are going to get them anyway.

Either way, it's no help. This is why I openly question as to whether ESRB ratings are really for the preservation of morality and aids to parenting. Clearly, they are not.

Rather than a rating, a short descriptive paragraph about content that might be of concern to majority parents in the US should be included, and individualized, since the ESRB supposedly screens every game and content exhaustively, anyway.

Accuracy and content are what interests parents. This is why, increasingly, parents of my acquaintance turn to peer information and networking to okay a game rather than the ESRB and its ratings. GI Joe has violent themes and realistic weapons; but strangely enough, no one actually dies in GI Joe (not Resolute - people die there).

Conversely, LOTS of people die in Harry Potter, some on-page and others off. It also has a lot of horrific content, and it sports a very noticeable absence of any religious leaning, implying that Harry is an atheist. Some parents would want to know about that.

Bonus_Eruptus wrote:
Gravey wrote:
Bonus_Eruptus wrote:
Gravey wrote:
Minarchist wrote:

I have nothing to add to this article; I just wanted to say this:

The Godfather games are based on your character performing the acts of a '20s Italian mobster.

See, internet? This is how you abbreviate decades! The apostrophe goes in front of the number, not behind it!

Yeah, 'tho you could also write '20s /w an apostrophe before the "s" too !

It's already before the 's'.

I meant immediately before. Actually, I meant to be a jerk. I'll stop now.

Yeah, me, too. :)

To double down on the jerksauce:

When you write 90s you can put an apostrophe out front ('90s) or right before the "s" (90's), but they denote different things. The apostrophe right before the 9 is denoting a contraction. It is sitting there in place of missing characters (in this case 19). The apostrophe right before the "s" is one of the few times an apostrophe can be used to denote a plural (this is specifically how it is done in many versions of the Chicago Manual of Style). Usually, both of these two things are not used at the same time because it looks confusing (it makes the 90 look as if it is in quotes) or because the style guide you are using never allows apostrophes to be used to denote plurals.

LarryC wrote:

Good Stuff

I am more interested in this new found liquidity and freedom that children in the world have. Back when I was raking leaves and doing dishes for 5 bucks a week, mom and/or dad still had to drive me to the story 3 months later so I could buy whatever game I wanted. Not to mention there was no way I could afford hardware.

Are kids suddenly hopping onto their hover-scooters and robbing liquor stores to buy games? Rating or no, how the hell does someone under 14 get the money required for a 50, 60 dollar game, let alone a 200-400 dollar console, or 700 dollar PC?

Yaz wrote:

To double down on the jerksauce:

When you write 90s you can put an apostrophe out front ('90s) or right before the "s" (90's), but they denote different things. The apostrophe right before the 9 is denoting a contraction. It is sitting there in place of missing characters (in this case 19). The apostrophe right before the "s" is one of the few times an apostrophe can be used to denote a plural (this is specifically how it is done in many versions of the Chicago Manual of Style). Usually, both of these two things are not used at the same time because it looks confusing (it makes the 90 look as if it is in quotes) or because the style guide you are using never allows apostrophes to be used to denote plurals.

All true. Since, I'm not a fan of the pluralizing with an apostrophe, even if it is with stand-alone letters or numbers, I'm much more inclined to let the initial apostrophe carry in this case. I'll stick with the second apostrophe for possession, e.g. when talking about the 90's mistaken belief that swing music deserved a comeback.

Batman Arkham's content isn't really appropriate for kids

Maybe if I had played it as a kid, I would have missed the cruelty and sadism of some of the actions and characters. As an adult, it's really apparent to me

As an experiment, I was working a summer camp job sometime after Dark Knight was released. I asked the kids a few questions, approx age 12-14, just to see if they got any of the themes behind Dark Knight. To them, Joker was just a run of the mill villain, mind as well be another Modern Warfare villian (another thing they were into)