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In response to "Obsolescence Pending: Rating the ESRB" from The Escapist Forum: Very pointed observations in your article, Miss Grimes. I have little to say on the matter other than agreement, so I'm going to comment on something else:
I do concur that the ESRB, in the greater scheme of things, doesn't control anything. They are a creature of the ESA, lest we forget; and the membership of that parent organization includes the console manufacturers themselves. What's more, when explaining the tendency for certain types of content to always produce particular ratings, the ESRB has repeatedly reminded us that they don't create the social standards of our society (however bizarre) but that they merely follow them.
However, I would contend that the ESRB is at least complicit in the de facto censorship of content in the games industry, chiefly through the farcical "Adults Only" rating.
The console manufacturers and retailers may be the ones who summarily ban AO titles from commercial release, but when I look at the rating, I find myself hard-pressed to dismiss the ESRB's role in this nonsense. The "Mature" rating supposedly covers games appropriate for individuals seventeen years of age or older while AO is somehow exclusive to those of us at least eighteen years of age? Absurd.
How can any entertainment ratings system possibly be accurate enough to advise consumers on suitability of product content to within an age gap of one year? Even more ridiculous, it is implicit in the mission and rhetoric of the ESRB that the suggestions their ratings offer are universally applicable to all families. The perceived difference between M and AO is essentially arbitrary, exactly as the ESRB has designed it.
For all intents and purposes, the AO rating is nothing more than the broom that the ESRB uses to sweep potential troublemakers under the rug.
Is the MPAA less relevant because people aren't paying to have their videos rated before they post them on YouTube? Or because it didn't warn theater-goers that they might overhear someone engaging in risqué conversation in the seats behind them? I find this critique of the ESRB to be equally absurd.
Regardless of how it may appear to an uninformed consumer's point of view, the ESRB is not a regulatory body established to label every piece of software ever created. It is an advisory committee, established to provide content-based age-appropriateness suggestions for mass-produced games from major publishers, based on a subjective but (hopefully) consistent set of criteria. That is how it was always supposed to work and that is how it does work, no matter how those suggestions may be enforced elsewhere in the games industry
The ESRB received the praise and accolades noted in the article for doing what it was set up to do, not for overstepping its mission or interfering with First Amendment rights, as the author seems to hint she thinks it now should consider. As long as there are kids who want to play those games, and as long as there are parents who are concerned about the content those kids may access, the ESRB has its relevant purpose.
Be glad that your ratings board -has- a rating for every game. Mine does not, and it's the cause of nation-wide anxiety when a popular, yet risky game faces the censors. They don't call them censors, of course, they call them "Classifiers", but since they lack the ability to "classify" everything, and have a status "refused classification", it's censorship.
I think the ESRB does quite a good job, though. I've been alerted to their educational advertising on multiple occasions by independant sources, and I feel that, were I a parent in the US, I could make an educated decision based on the rating given, and cursory research on my part.
Videogame ratings and classification is a complicated issue, but it's not solely up to the Board to ensure that people do the right things. As a game retailer myself, I actively and deliberately will ask for photo ID, I'll ask for parental consent, and inform of "restricted" level ratings. Admittedly, that's the law in Australia, but I'd do it anyway, I think. It's not often that I see a parent ask independantly what the content of a game is like, or see them turn a game down based on my advice. That's fine, though. That's their choice. It's not the responsibility of any Board, Council, Group, or Government to parent people's children for them.
And ultimately, that's the point of the ESRB - To be an aid for parents. Whether or not this is achieved through regulation or education isn't the point.
In response to "TGI: Power in the Making" from The Escapist Forum: This is certainly an interesting and encouraging read nonetheless. Returning from VGXPO a founder of a small NJ studio putting out their first game recommended moving to the West Coast if you want a job in games, as there just isn't as much on the East Coast. However, it would be great to see a larger presence here, and it's looking like that may happen. With this triangle, Harmonix and newly found Moonshot Games in Boston and developers like Atari in NYC and Vicarious Visions in Albany, getting a job in games on the East coast may be easier.