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A Lesson in Parenting from Just Dance

10th October 2012; By KnucklesSonic8

Informed parents who govern household purchasing decisions recognize that while ESRB ratings serve as an indicator to game elements one could possibly take issue with, it is by no means a substitute for further research in line with what they do and do not want their children exposed to. Of course, this doesn't take into account the perception of what factors have a weighty bearing on whether a game is filed with an E10+ or Teen rating. But that's for another day. A thought has been festering inside me for a while in connection with the Just Dance games, and now that Just Dance 4 is seeing release this week, this is of particular relevance.

As far as the main line goes, you'll notice each and every one of these titles are classified with an E10+ rating, with reasons for the jump from an E rating being tied to the song selection, either in whole or in significant part. Specifically when it comes to the third and fourth entries, though, it can be said that certain liberties were taken with the material of these games, and these are worth addressing from the standpoint of how a parent should react to even E-rated games. Before I go any further, I want to make something clear: I'm not suggesting under any circumstances that these two entries (or any others, for that matter) should've been given a Teen rating. That would be absurd. However, the possible implications surrounding the ingrained content are such that they serve as a good reminder for parents not to abdicate their role by placing too much trust in an organized rating scheme. 

To me, the most embarrassing slip-up across the series rests with the inaccuracy of some of the on-screen lyrics. Just as one example, "Unconditionally" was incorrectly interpreted as "Uncut just to need me". But connected to that is the censorship implemented from the very beginning to either replace or completely cut out instances of profanity, euphemisms, and alcohol references -- songs like Hot N' Cold, Tik Tok were subject to this rule in Just Dance and Just Dance 2, respectively. It appears, though, that the team has gotten a bit lax in this area moving forward, and it's not even just a matter of it being silly; more that it's something to be questioned.

Take Just Dance 3 for starters. I wasn't surprised to see Katy Perry's California Gurls appear on the song list, given the popularity of the song and Ubisoft's enthusiastic support for the artist -- which, I might add, has continued through to the fourth iteration -- but with the amount of cutting they had to do of certain words, it seems that that support won out over a sensitivity to the ears of those who would partake in these musically-driven sessions. In this example and others like it, the crudeness may be dulled a tad when you bleep out or completely remove portions of lyrics, but the messages are still sensed, which makes me wonder why they included such songs in the first place. It's not even just limited to the lyrical content, either. I was (and, frankly, still am) shocked over the inclusion of Promiscuous. The very presence of this song goes against the idea that Just Dance is totally family-friendly, but more than that, when a greater portion of the audience who plays this game consists of teenage girls, are these the sorts of messages that should really be encouraged?

Touching further on how wishy-washy they've gotten on the filtration, I've already taken note of Just Dance 4 having some pretty laughable censorship -- in some cases worse than previous entries. Some of the words that were censored in previous iterations have been left untouched, and to add to it, some of the words that are censored aren't done with a complete screening. Consequently, lyrical content that may be vulgar or suggestive in nature is still pretty decipherable to the ears, even if you're not overly familiar with the song. This is especially the case with Super Bass. Never mind the fact that they brought in the song period -- like my earlier example, its presence alone is enough cause to raise an eyebrow -- but their attempt at creating a clean version isn't very successful for reasons cited above.

On one hand, no one's forcing the songs to be chosen, but the fact that they are there at all presents certain liabilities. To change the terms a bit, how about those even younger in years, say, eight- and nine-year-olds? I can't prejudge the intelligence of these children, but the fact is, some may just not know better, and they're absolutely prone to taking a song that they found catchy and repeating it long after they've removed themselves from the experience. What's to stop them from going on YouTube to listen to that same song in their spare time, only to find that the actual lyrics -- in their uncensored and raw format -- present what shouldn't be encouraged for someone of that age? This is really a matter of principle over all else.

It's possible the developers felt those belonging to a younger age group wouldn't clue in or make a fuss about the underlying meanings behind some of the included songs and the mature suggestions they center around, but I take people -- and, what is more, the consumer base for these games -- to be smarter than that. From the presence of tactless innuendos to the sometimes lousy censorship, all this merits greater consideration on the part of parents, and it shows the importance of them taking the time to examine more closely the content in the games their children are playing -- even in titles that are on the more inclusive end of the rating spectrum. Thus, rather than taking things at face value and viewing ESRB ratings as the sole, final determination on the games their children will be entertained by, parents would want to discuss the material of these content fields so they can steer them away from any inappropriateness that's forwarded by the lyrical messages contained therein.

Feature by KnucklesSonic8