Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Reviewing the Reviewers: Common Sense Media

 If you've been alive during the last, say, 12-14 years, I'll bet you've seen the degradation of the media in general. From movies to television to games to books- yes, even books, media has become dependent on the same old same old, and sells it with borderline pornography and extreme violence, gore, filth, etc.
I'm not a madman who is going to track you down for enjoying any of the above; much as I hate them, I realize that the consumers have been boiled down to little more than swallowing machines. So I don't hate you. But I do hate the (current) producers, who've made a nasty mess of what's supposed to be recreation, and have made it especially hard for you to share fun stuff with your kids. So what's a person (particularly a parent!) supposed to do? Common Sense Media (CSM) says they know just what.
CSM takes most relatively popular books, games, movies, etc., and has one of the staff reviewers write about it with regard to which group of kids it could be safely shared with, and takes a look at a few key aspects, in a addition to value, enjoyability, etc., they also take into account things like messages, violence, sexual content, drug use, etc.

The Good Stuff
In General- Common Sense Media exists to help families find things they can share with their kids and make informed decisions, and tries it's best to point out anything that might offend.

Web 2.0- It has an excellent active userbase and makes good use of interactivity, inviting members to write the own reviews beneath the main, staff one - very good use of the Web 2.0!

Safety- Most sensitive information is private, and you can't see the profiles of younger members. Users can post avatars but these are entirely optional.

Stickiness- This website does, in fact, keep me coming back, partly because their newsletter often contains stuff that I'm just thinking about (i.e. A couple days after I had heard of Chatroulette - and before its short lived media firestorm broke out that led to it's becoming full of perverts, I received wind of it from CSM) and I'm swept back also because sometimes I'm a little suspicious about new stuff that keeps coming out, so I'd like to have some idea of what I might be headed into and whether or not I'd like to have a part in it. I also return just so that I can post reviews and know that I helped somebody make an informed decision- that means alot to me.

What to Watch Out For
Neutrality- I've noticed that in a couple places, it seems we haven't been exactly given 'the straight dope' as it were. For example, look at Cougar Town on CSM, and compare it to their review of Halo 2.
As you may note on the latter, they were much more prepared to give it a 'harder' review because of what it seems to be on the surface, another hyperviolent gore loaded game. While I noted some complaints about the M-Rating (and, looking at gameplay video I'm afraid I agree- this game should have been rated T as there are various other, gorier, more vicious games with the Teen rating- but that's another story) because of 'how it would look', CSM has sacrificed a balanced viewpoint for what's supposed to be it's premise, and on more than one occasion!

Sensationalism- Sometimes with their articles they seem to make a 'mountain of a molehill' as it were, for example their article on 3D movies had the tagline:

Can 3-D Movies Be Harmful? Don't go lightly into that 3-D movie. What you need to know about 3-D.

Later in the article:

Beside the fact it makes scary things scarier (think of a monster jumping out at your child), 3-D also can make kids a bit queasy.

I think this is something that definitely needs fixing! I'd consider that taking advantage of peoples worries, and while it's for the best, it certainly isn't the way to go about running a website of this nature.

Questionable Adult Morals- This one goes right in hand with the above two, and is often related. For example, look at the reviews for Rebelution, and compare the adults to the children. As you can see the (much!) younger reviewers, in this case, have recognized just how terrible the album was and acted accordingly. But you can also see the adult reviews have lower standards in this one case.

Precision- I  found, unfortunately, that this website can be a little bit broad at times- for example, if violence is a concern in, say, the next SMB game, which is quite cartoonish, but there, and let's say every parent says the violence is there but that this game is also appropriate for a 4 year old, on the little 'at a glance' sidebar, it'll say that 100% of parents would consider the game too violent without taking into consideration the magnitude.

The Bottom Line
If you'd like to help and receive help when it comes to finding good media for your family (or yourself, for that matter, if you're sick of crud that's supposed to be entertainment) you've definitely come to the right place. But be forewarned that there's occasional bias, so it's important to keep your wits about you and remember that sometimes things are exaggerated for the sake of driving in traffic, and sometimes it helps to listen to what the kids have to say. In short; use Common Sense while using this website.

Next review is on Tetris Friends,  a great web based game!

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