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Video Games and the Language Barrier

By Jared Haines

Recently I traveled to my local GameStop to purchase a new game as a birthday present.  While I can’t say I’m an avid gamer I do appreciate the work that goes into creating games from C (Early Childhood) to A (Adults Only).   I won’t focus this column on whether or not children should be playing video games because that is a decision for each person caring for a child to make.  I instead focus on a situation that I observed while I was in the store. 

After making my selection I got into line, ahead of a family of four purchasing several games, and just behind a mother and son.  Soon it was  mother and son’s turn at the cash register.  She turned to her son and said something in Spanish as the boy put the game on the counter.  The sales person looked at the game and eyed the rating, asking the boy’s mother if she gave her permission for this game to be purchased.  It was rated M (May be suitable for ages 17 or older.  Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content, and/or strong language). 

Her reaction was one of what I might believe is dismissiveness or an effort to speed up the encounter. She waved her hand and said “No hable ingles.” He asked her again and she shrugged her shoulders and repeated, “No hable ingles.” The sales associate turned his attention to the boy who may have been 12-14 and asked if she understood English.  His reply was that she did not and then the associate proceeded to sell the game to the boy. 

I stood in line and wondered what the ultimate choice of the associate would be.  It was very clear that the boy was speaking for both of them during the transaction as he told her to take out her wallet and then the amount as they approached the register. 

In my opinion it is examples like these that perpetuate the damage that happens to the children of our community on a daily basis.  This is but a small example.  It is not the fact that their family’s primary language was Spanish but the fact that the business chose to sell the game, even though all parties knew the parent did not understand what she was buying. 

GameStop claims to respect the ratings of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board.  That might be, but in this instance the person purchasing the game was clearly under the age specified by the ESRB. 

To me this also speaks to the ethics of the situation and the game should not have been sold.  We make choices every day on behalf of those that live in our houses but we need to recognize those instances when we can also stand for those children in our community.

I welcome your feedback and questions.


Jared Haines
JMHaines Parent Education