Clash of the Clans – Why game rating systems are broken

Clash of the Clans is another game which is gaining media attention in relation to children. It’s also a great example of how the rating system no longer provide a useful guide for parents. Clash of the Clans is a fun game. Children (and adults) create a village as well as plan battle strategies. The rating on iTunes is 9+ making it seemly suitable for younger gamers. As it collects personal information you need to be 13 to sign up for it. Don’t confuse this with the video game, movie or television or music classification systems.

Clash of the Clans is rated 9+ because the app developer filled in a form. Thats it, but let me explain more, just to illustrate the issue.

Here are the ratings as per the iTunes store.

  • 4+ Applications in this category contain no objectionable material.
  • 9+ Applications in this category may contain mild or infrequent occurrences of cartoon, fantasy or realistic violence, and infrequent or mild mature, suggestive, or horror-themed content which may not be suitable for children under the age of 9.
  • 12+ Applications in this category may also contain infrequent mild language, frequent or intense cartoon, fantasy or realistic violence, and mild or infrequent mature or suggestive themes, and simulated gambling which may not be suitable for children under the age of 12.
  • 17+ You must be at least 17 years old to purchase this application. Applications in this category may also contain frequent and intense offensive language; frequent and intense cartoon, fantasy or realistic violence; and frequent and intense mature, horror, and suggestive themes; plus sexual content, nudity, alcohol, tobacco, and drugs which may not be suitable for children under the age of 17.

So right off, we can see that Apple actively undermines and circumvents all established content based rating systems in favour of developer-marketing goals. In effect the wolf looks after the sheep, overseen by more wolves.

While clash is cartoon like, and certainly no hack and slash video game … the issue with Clash is not content or game-play, but it’s intentional design to keep children playing as long as possible – in the same way casinos set the lighting to keep gamblers numb to the passing of time. I’ll skip ahead.

Clash of Clans doesn’t sleep. It is what is called a persistent game. Every morning children wake up to a device full of notifications about raids and battles that have gone on. The resulting behaviour is one of giving constant, but not lengthy, attention. During the school day, kids know that people are playing and that being away has a negative effect on them. They want to play, they need to play … so they will find ways to play it on their devices and that will include being dishonest and secretive. The last thing parents want to raise is a child being secretive about what media they are using … but the game isn’t remotely interested in the media-habits or kids other than the persistent nature of inbound revenue.

Parents have little information about games such as this at the time of purchase. The old questions has been “are games addictive” … is rapidly becoming “which games are designed to create new, habitual behaviours from the outset”.

Now I like games right? You know I like them … but seriously, Clash creates new online sub-cultures and promotes massive distraction in kids, especially 10-14 year old boys from my observations … When a kid is struggling to pay attention at basic maths, read a book, yet spends hours in Clash … we really have to wonder about the ‘app’ revolution in schools. Sure, iPads are great for learning, but there is no way teachers can (or should) police the use of skinner-box, persistent snack games when they are trying to do their actual job.

So if you are a parent reading this, and you’re early teen is playing Clash, then I would argue that it will, and is, having an effect on their education, in cases where that child is unable to self-mediate their use of games and where the parent really has little idea how the game is intentionally designed to occupy their mind space constantly. Not all kids, but certainly some kids are displaying signs of negative media-habits … or is there another hypothesis?