223: Obsolescence Pending: Rating the ESRB

 Pages PREV 1 2 3 NEXT
 

SaintPeter:
It just seems cheap to me to snark the ESRB for doing what they say they'll do and then predicting that they will wither and die because they cannot do the impossible.

Fair enough - but is that really what's happening here?

In terms of the 3 points you've listed...
1) ok, but how does this provide evidence to refute the proposition that as an increasing number of games feature content that is not rated, and as an increasing proportion of individual game content also fits into this category, the total volume of game content NOT being rated will surpass the volume of content that IS being rated, thereby limiting the authority and scope of the ESRB as a "game" ratings board? Just think about it in terms of volume alone. Or think about your own arguments re: compliance rates. Do you really think that compliance rates reflect non-rated content? if so, how do you suppose they measure this exactly? What is currently included and not included in these measurements...and how might the disparity between what IS being rated/measure and NOT being rated/measured continue to grow as a larger percentage of game content is "not rated". And what does this "do" to their overall relevance?

2)3) - as much as going to the cinema might be "just like" an online game, we all know that it's not quite the same. you say that assigning a rating to a kids' online game/content would be impossible, but look through the comments above - there are already some great proposals here e.g. see slopeslider's post above: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/forums/read/6.149258#3481451. I think that many parents and kids would appreciate knowing just which of these "cinemas" have been programmed in such a way that shouting out "bad things" isn't allowed by the design (or by the moderator).

Again - not that this would apply to all games/pretend cinemas - but it would be immensely useful to parents to know if an E rated game will suddenly become a free-for-all online, or if the online interactions are E rated as well. And seriously, some already are - there are plenty of kids' games that already heavily moderate and manage their players and successfully create very kid-friendly spaces...they just aren't being acknowledged within the current system.

Lastly, my comment that it's "too bad" the ESRB isn't doing more to help parents in this regard isn't a call for some sort of sweeping classification of everyone's online interactions - but if there is a way to provide some guidelines about how parents can approach and deal with online content, the ESRB WOULD seem to be ideally positioned to evaluate moderation services/restrictions because of their established relationships with industry members (and overlaps between the two groups) and because of their high compliance rates among game developers. But if you've read the article, you already know that I don't really think that any of this is going to happen - the current system is too static (for all the reasons you and everyone else has listed above), it's a top down system operating in an increasingly decentralized gaming environment that seems to be screaming for a much more responsive, inclusive (i.e. many voices) and user-driven alternative anyway.

BehattedWanderer:

slopeslider:
I have a few Ideas.
For online interactions there could be a new rating category.
Moderated/unmoderated user-generated content.
Moderated/unmoderated player chat
For multiplayer online games maybe a special moderated chat line for kiddies. It would be moderated, but the rules would be soo strict that it wouldn't be a problem moderating 2% of the overall game chat. I know if they had this most people A. dont want to talk to little kids and B. don't like super strict speech guidlines. That means they wouldn't have to moderate 1 million people chatting online at once, more like 10,000.

That actually doesn't sound like a bad Idea. If they were to display a prominent warning about 'User made un/moderated content', specifically stating that 'users of varying ages can createj online content, which may result in inappropriate content being generated and played before it attracts moderator attention', then it would go a long way towards helping to assess the interactions that they cannot (but probably can hazard a guess) predict.

So clever. What would you think if the system also enabled users to actively submit their content for some sort of peer-reviewed or moderator rating? For instance, if you think your game level should be rated E, you could flag it so that it gets some special (or more immediate) attention - perhaps through some kind of volunteer (or nominated, if the community is large enough) parent-gamer group. Parents could then set up child accounts that can only access content confirmed as appropriate.

Or something along those lines.

In my opinion, the ESRB has never done a good job, because in effect its job is to take away the parents' responsibility to monitor their children's play. No ratings board can do that - nor should they try to. The ESRB, the MPAA and every other ratings organization hurt much more than they help. The faster they're done away with, the better.

Dark Templar:

The ESRB doesn't try to control anything.

It exists as a rating system so that parents have a vague idea what kind of games are right for their kids.

That IS an advisory role.

Any organization that rates media based on content is a de-facto censor. You can pretend it's not, but if anyone pulls boxes off shelves due to an ESRB rating, that's censorship - and it's censorship in which the ESRB plays a major role.

I am considering comments such as "...it seems more interested in repositioning itself as an educator than sustaining its role as regulator." I don't need to glean anything: You state clearly here your conception that the ESRB acts (or is supposed to act) in the role of a regulator. I think that's just plain wrong.

I find "often arbitrary mobilization" to be a very opinionated accusation to throw around without any support. According to the ESRB's stated purposes and functions, "AO" is as valid a rating as any other, with criteria just as clear and consistent. The fact that most of the big publishers which can afford to have their games rated in the first place are hoping to sell those games at WalMart and Target does absolutely nothing to mitigate that validity.

Again, we disagree on the purpose of the ratings board. I maintain that, as detailed on its website and through 15 years of press releases, the ESRB was established to provide consistent, transparent age-appropriateness ratings, while you now seem to be arguing its job is to act as some sort of crusader for under-represented content.

It is the retailers who decide whether or not to sell "AO" rated games or unrated movies, and I assume those decisions are ultimately based on market forces. I see very little hope of the ESRB, or another such agency, in regulating those.

BehattedWanderer:

slopeslider:
I have a few Ideas.
For online interactions there could be a new rating category.
Moderated/unmoderated user-generated content.
Moderated/unmoderated player chat
For multiplayer online games maybe a special moderated chat line for kiddies. It would be moderated, but the rules would be soo strict that it wouldn't be a problem moderating 2% of the overall game chat. I know if they had this most people A. dont want to talk to little kids and B. don't like super strict speech guidlines. That means they wouldn't have to moderate 1 million people chatting online at once, more like 10,000.

That actually doesn't sound like a bad Idea. If they were to display a prominent warning about 'User made un/moderated content', specifically stating that 'users of varying ages can createj online content, which may result in inappropriate content being generated and played before it attracts moderator attention', then it would go a long way towards helping to assess the interactions that they cannot (but probably can hazard a guess) predict.

What they would need to do is put out a psa, or something, a short commercial, to be aired on the big channels--wouldn't have to be long, just a minute or so, alerting parents to the new type of content, and to look at the rating on the box, and that they should use their judgement when purchasing--Games rated T and M might feature more mature subject matter in the online play from both adolescents and adults, which would expose their children to such.

Good KISS (Keep it simple, stupid) solution. Any more complicated a type of solution is just going to make everyone miserable and confused in the long run.

Sara Grimes:

BehattedWanderer:

That actually doesn't sound like a bad Idea. If they were to display a prominent warning about 'User made un/moderated content', specifically stating that 'users of varying ages can createj online content, which may result in inappropriate content being generated and played before it attracts moderator attention', then it would go a long way towards helping to assess the interactions that they cannot (but probably can hazard a guess) predict.

So clever. What would you think if the system also enabled users to actively submit their content for some sort of peer-reviewed or moderator rating? For instance, if you think your game level should be rated E, you could flag it so that it gets some special (or more immediate) attention - perhaps through some kind of volunteer (or nominated, if the community is large enough) parent-gamer group. Parents could then set up child accounts that can only access content confirmed as appropriate.

Or something along those lines.

I agree with you up to the point of peer review--that's all well and good, and could work pretty well, as long as there is unbiased review as well--it randomly picks someone from the review board (whom you don't know), and gives you a rating and a review from there, if not a quick chop from the cutting axe for trying to post an overly sexually-themed level in the 'E' category. Each review board is accompanied by one moderator, just to ensure fairness. After two or three of these random and anonymous reviews by the peer review or moderator groups, the rating is affirmed, and put into it's appropriate category.

The part I have a bit of issue with, however, is the latter part--specifically the child accounts. Parental settings are fine and dandy, and work on occasion. But the issue with that is that children are devilish when the want to be, and most can figure out how to either get around the parental controls, or flat out just change the parental control settings so that they have their own access. What's more, for every child account that is created and ahered to, dozens more won't even be created, leaving unfiltered settings for the child to browse. Most parents (I'm talking about those not that familiar with online play, mostly the older parents) wouldn't know to filter the content online, not expecting there to be such content so readily available within the game. It's for that reason I propose the ads--just to draw attention that their children might be accessing this kind of content without their knowledge. It's that age old idiom of "knowing is half the battle"--most aren't even aware there's an issue of unrated and unfiltered content.

RedBaron19:

Good KISS (Keep it simple, stupid) solution. Any more complicated a type of solution is just going to make everyone miserable and confused in the long run.

Which is, coincidentally, where the problem with the growing obsolescence lies--some things are too complicated, and require too much attention. Between knowing your audience and addressing the issue, something gets lost or mistranslated, and it's part of the reason we've ended up with the situation we have now.

Beery:

Dark Templar:

The ESRB doesn't try to control anything.

It exists as a rating system so that parents have a vague idea what kind of games are right for their kids.

That IS an advisory role.

Any organization that rates media based on content is a de-facto censor. You can pretend it's not, but if anyone pulls boxes off shelves due to an ESRB rating, that's censorship - and it's censorship in which the ESRB plays a major role.

The only time a game has ever been pulled off of a store shelf due to its rating was when GTA:SA was re-rated "AO." The ESRB played a major role in that, to be sure, but it's completely backward to blame the board of censorship.

Let's say some hotshot reviewer at IGN gives an over-hyped game a really, really bad score, and the gaming community picks up on that opinion, and in response, GameStop regional executives reduce their orders or drop the game completely from inventory. Is IGN now playing a "major role" in censorship as well?

So what then, should the IGN reviewer be prevented from expressing his qualified opinion, even though it's his job to express it, simply because it might make it harder for you to buy that game? Wouldn't that be censorship too?

In this day and age, you could derive a quite accurate community rating by picking a number of people at random who have bought the game, and asking them to fill a ratings questionnaire. This job would naturally fall to game vendors because they are the only ones who know who has bought what. To increase confidence in the ratings, stores like Amazon could offer this only to people who have bought the game two weeks ago or more. Steam could go further and actually observe that the person has played the game for X amount of time.

Well, this kind of rating might have trouble catching spikes of content that come late in the game (70 hours into a JRPG...) or by random (an unmarked location in a sandbox game you might find or not...) but it would produce good ratings for the great majority of games. One can think of additional mechanisms specifically to deal with these cases.

This system would follow the actual audience attitudes closely without getting "stuck" in the morality of any given group. Also, the system would not need to flatten the results in one rating (though it could also do that for at-a-glance reading). Most of the actual data could remain browsable online with various filters, with only identity-compromising information stripped. The implications of half the audience rating something AO and half rating it T are quite different from everyone rating it M, though dumb averaging would make these two cases look the same. It's also to be expected that ratings vary depending on geographical area; for most people the ratings would be more accurate if they could use ones from their own area instead of all ratings.

Stinking Kevin:
I am considering comments such as "...it seems more interested in repositioning itself as an educator than sustaining its role as regulator." I don't need to glean anything: You state clearly here your conception that the ESRB acts (or is supposed to act) in the role of a regulator. I think that's just plain wrong.

Cut and paste from http://www.esrb.org/ratings/faq.jsp#1
What is the ESRB?
The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is a non-profit, self-regulatory body established in 1994 by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), formerly known as the Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA). ESRB assigns computer and video game content ratings, enforces industry-adopted advertising guidelines and helps ensure responsible online privacy practices for the interactive entertainment software industry.

Sara Grimes:

Stinking Kevin:
I am considering comments such as "...it seems more interested in repositioning itself as an educator than sustaining its role as regulator." I don't need to glean anything: You state clearly here your conception that the ESRB acts (or is supposed to act) in the role of a regulator. I think that's just plain wrong.

Cut and paste from http://www.esrb.org/ratings/faq.jsp#1
What is the ESRB?
The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is a non-profit, self-regulatory body established in 1994 by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), formerly known as the Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA). ESRB assigns computer and video game content ratings, enforces industry-adopted advertising guidelines and helps ensure responsible online privacy practices for the interactive entertainment software industry.

Wow. Really?

Surely you are not confusing "self-regulatory" (meaning not having to answer to its industry-sponsored parent company or any other external authority), with "regulatory" (as in regulating the industry, as opposed to playing an "advisory" or "educational" role).

If you intended the meaning "self-regulatory" in all the places where you used the word "regulatory" in the article, well, I guess the article was much more confusing than I realized at first. I shouldn't have even bothered.

Stinking Kevin:
If you intended the meaning "self-regulatory" in all the places where you used the word "regulatory" in the article, well, I guess the article was much more confusing than I realized at first. I shouldn't have even bothered.

While you're very right that self-regulatory is not the equivalent of governmental regulation, there is nothing about the term itself that necessarily implies the later. I'm certainly not convinced that the term "regulator" can't apply to self-regulatory boards and industry self-regulation, nor is this idea supported by the wording found in either policy documents or in the academic literature. If this is a convention that you are familiar with, it's certainly not universal.

But just because the terms and relationships that make up regulatory regimes are complex doesn't mean you shouldn't bother to think about and challenge them, or to challenge other people's interpretations of them. It's actually a real breath of fresh air great to see nuances such as these discussed in a public forum, so no need for the sarcasm, there's much to learn from even casual forms of debate.

I went back and re-read the article with a bit more attention to detail. Upon further consideration, I'm not sure that I completely disagree with you thesis. However, I think you could have more carefully elucidated it. The bulk of your article addresses the history of the ESRB and it isn't until the end of the second page that you launch into your rationale of why the ESRB is approaching obsolescence.

Looking at the last page, I see the following points:
1) The ESRB does not and has no plans rate Online content
As I've previously stated, I don't believe that it is reasonable to expect the ESRB or any organization to rate online conduct. It may be possible to rate the protective measures employed, but even the most vigorous methods that I've heard of still fall prey to the ingenuity of griefers and those who seek to subvert the various games.

Moreover, I don't hear a great hue and cry for online content to be rated. Parents either don't yet care or understand that everyone little billy is playing MGS4 online with swears like a sailor. If there is any awareness of what goes on, I imageine it is perceived as being a "bad neighborhood" rather than being the fault or responsibility of the game developer.

In this area, the biggest concern seems to be about mythical "online predators". Could games be rated "NMOP" for "Not Many Online Predators"? MySpace doesn't seem to be having much luck there. I am skeptical that this is much of a real threat or that it could be confidently addressed if it were.

2) The ESRB can't/won't weigh in on user generated content.
There are much clearer solutions for moderating user generated content. However, I'm not certain how a rating could be applied to these methods. Assuming that there was a call for this sort of rating, I'm not sure it would be possible to distill an array of screening/moderating methods down to a single rating. The devil will be in the details.

3) The ESRB doesn't rate Content distributed by Media/Platform Specific platforms.
This is your strongest argument. The ESRB has been focused on the old school "go to the store and buy a box of discs" type distribution. However, some online stores like Steam still prominently feature ESRB ratings.

Every online distribution channel that I've heard of requires the use of a Credit Card, which means that an adult will most likely be involved in purchase. I believe many sites have parental controls built in. If anything, digital distribution channels can ensure a perfect compliance rate for parents who set them up properly.

--

The bottom line, for me, is that the ESRB will rise to these challenges when the industry which supports it demands changes. The industry will only demand it when either consumers demand it, or legislators mandate it. Until that time, the ESRB is doing a very respectable job on rating the content of single player and mutiplayer games, at least with regards to gameplay mechanics and artwork.

Until such time as no game contains single player content I doubt that the ESRB will be obsolete.

The ESRB is responsible for developers, not players. The "game experience may change during online play" is a good, all-encompassing warning that basically says, "Look, we can tell you about the game, but we can't tell you anything about the people playing it." And that's perfectly reasonable; there's no good way to predict what kind of demographic shifts can take place in the life of an online game.

I think the idea of the ESRB seeing itself as an educator rather than a regulator is a far better resource for parents. It's like something a spokesman for the MPAA said at a hearing about film ratings, "We can help parents, but we can't BE parents."

Most importantly, the system appears to be connecting with its primary clientele - parents.

Lolwut?

Semi-related story:
When I worked at my local movie theater, there were endless numbers of parents that took their five year old (or similar) in to see movies that obviously are not for kids. I'm assuming this theater is not an anomaly, and that all theaters have to deal with shitty parents.

In the rare case, after seeing some of said movie, parents would barge outside (where the ticket window was) and demand their money back because nobody told them how inappropriate the movie was (even though info about the rating was posted literally everywhere). One time I actually lost my temper with one of the "so called" parents and told them they were stupid. I very nearly lost my job, but because the manager had some common sense, I wasn't. The managers then told us to describe material in the movie to every parent that was trying to see an inappropriate movie with their young children. I eventually got to where I tried to explain things to parents as sarcastically as I possibly could (straining my sarcasm skills to the breaking point I might add).

My point is that most parents, at least the parents I've come across, don't want to be held responsible for making bad decisions for their kids. Thats why they go berserk every time a bare ass is shown on the television. Rating systems are futile for these parents, because they don't care, until the responsibility finger is pointed at them that is.

I am probably repeating what may others have said, but I think you are being a fair bit unrealistic when you adress the problems that the ESRB face. While I agree that they are at a paradigm shift, where games are moving to the digital platform, I can't see how it can ever be the ESRB's duty to rate online experience.

For one thing, almost any game will have talk that is not for kids. Even more interesting, the most uncivil, I find, is usually the kids. I guess you can rate how a company maintains and enforces civility and PG language, but as many games are starting to utilize voicechat instead of written chat(and therefore, lack of proof if any player ever reports another), there's not a lot companies can do. And if that's the scenario, and it IS, as any console FPS'er will be able to tell you(I thank Infinity Ward that I have a mute option in Modern Warfare....), then you'll end up having to give every single online game the same rating of "online interaction not suitable for minors". Wouldn't it be easier to instruct parents instead, how online communication is?

When I play Modern Warfare on the ps3, I find that 70%(yes, I pulled that number out of my arse) of the people with mics are kids. While you might here the more gruff or hard voices of mature players laugh and say teasing and friendly comments. The kids and teens are the ones that will polute the game with their whiny, soft pre-adolescent voices, telling others how they are gonna "fuck them up" and that they are fucking loosers".

I fear I might have sidetracked a bit from what I originally wanted to say, so I'm gonna stop now, butī, in conclusion, online interaction is simply impossible to rate in any useful fashion.

Is it just me in thinking that the ESRB is wasting their collective breath? Every "M" rated game I've played with chat capability seems to have more children under 16 spouting their dominance and how everyone else is a "n00b". For the most part, parents don't seem to care what their children are playing. I however enjoy the ESRB and can use it against my children to keep them from playing games with "mature" content. But I feel like I'm in the minority, especially when I'm buying the latest "M" rated game for myself and I'm behind a mom/dad buying the same game for their 8 year old.

Yeah, I'd have to state that online interactions are going to be almost impossible to moderate, and even if you have mods on every game 24/7, people still have to change their avatar to something obscene, or yell 'fucking asshole faggot' before they'll get kicked, and by then any parent in range is going to decide that it's the game's content and the fault of the game.

I think firstly, all parents need to be aware that being online is unmoderated and not a place for children to have unrestricted access to, I'm guessing you wouldn't leave your kid to browse the horror or adult sections in Blockbuster while you were choosing the dvd for family movie night, so you shouldn't be letting them wander the internet unaccompanied either.

However, short of censoring the internet, heh, lets see that work, it all comes down to parents needing to maintain some control over what types of content their children view and consume.

I would however like a leaflet included in all console and new PC sales, explaining about online gaming, that while it's a fun and generally safe thing to enjoy, there are people out there who can abuse it, and sharing the experience with your child is far more sensible than leaving them alone. It could also back up the current ratings, over here in the UK, I've been fully in favour of 18 ratings on games like Manhunt, GTA, etc, as it means they're able to sell them to adults who wish to play them, while at least showing people with a clue that we're not trying to sell them to kids.

In summary: Parent's, people forget that parenting well can be one of the hardest jobs in the world, but in the end, it DOES come down to you, it's your responsibility to make sure your child isn't watching or playing stuff that is not suitable for them. If it says M or 18 on the box, it's not a suitable babysitter for your 5 year old.

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.

Let me just throw in here that the only reason the ESRB was ever necessary was because during the dark days of MK 1 three things were true:

1. The predominant market for home video games was young children and early teens (the 8-16 year old demographic), so even developing mature content-laden video games in the first place may have been a bit ethically questionable.

2. It was difficult to get information about a new release without subscribing to an (often very expensive) video game magazine.

3. Parents of that day and age had (mostly) never experienced video games for themselves (unless you count Pong, of course), and thus had no idea what they were getting themselves (and their kids) into when they brought home that SNES or Sega Genesis for little Jimmy's Christmas present (packaged with Mortal Kombat, of course).

However, in today's era:

1. The predominant market for video games now goes all the way from under 8 years old to 30 years old and up; a much wider demographic with much a wider range of maturity and tastes in entertainment.

2. Detailed information about any video game is easily had on the internet, for FREE, from a variety of sources (trailers, plot synopses, reviews, previews, etc.)

3. The generation that grew up in the SNES and Genesis era is now approaching their child-rearing age. They know what games are all about, what kind of experiences they offer, and know what to look out for. These people UNDERSTAND video games.

I'm not saying the ESRB isn't useful, and that it shouldn't be making an attempt to address online interactions, but, as I always do in these sorts of situations, I am making the point that the parents of the next few generations should be much better prepared to make responsible decisions about which video games they buy for their children, even without ratings.

Bottom line, it is, and has always been, the parent's responsibility to filter what content they feel their children should have access to, but whereas the parents of my generation were justified in feeling blindsided by mature video games, the parents of the next few generations won't be able to blame this sort of thing on the industry anymore.

Of course, that's not to say that they won't. I guess my other point here is that the ESRB's main job in the future will be protecting the gaming industry from the parents and not the other way around.

Gunner 51:
The ESRB needs to stay, probably now more than ever. The ESRB has been gracing boxes for years and it provides a vague description of what is in the game for any worried parents out there - and because of the longevity of the ESRB - the parents know what to look out for.

Getting rid of the ESRB will only serve to confuse the responsible parents.

However, if there is an alternative form of censorship is to be made. May I suggest an in-game censorship option?

Games like Duke Nukem had the ability to turn off blood and sexual images. With the power of modern consoles and computers - perhaps various levels of parental censorship can be set. Turning off sexual images while leaving the blood and gore to keep the gamer happy.

However, where my suggestion fails is that there are so many parents out there who are too lazy to do spend some time with their kids and actually take control of their children's lives in terms of what they can and cannot see. So I wouldn't expect the parent to spend 5-10 minutes setting censorship options.

Alas, when it comes to online gaming - the parents are once again too absent to listen what their little darlings are saying into their headsets.

I should end this post before I start ranting on about younger gamers. :)

I only read some of the posts so far, but I felt a couple of things needed saying (before I forget them).

Firstly, the article doesn't suggest that the ESRB be abolished, just that it needs to address growing problems before they get out of hand. If and when they do get out of hand, the ESRB will have a hard time staying relevant to actual gaming behavior.

Secondly, a ratings board will not disappear. 'No Blood' filters and the like are good, but who's going to make sure they're there? What impetus would a developer have to write the code that would filter offensive content? The ESRB doesn't regulate the industry, and they shouldn't (hear that MPAA??!); but they do add a level of expectation through the review process. Even if violence filters become all the rage, there would be no way to know if the particular game you're considering buying (physical or digital) complies with the industry standard.

Thirdly, since the ESRB IS in the business of letting people know what to expect, it would be prudent of them to indicate what type of filter/parental control/live moderation (if any) is available in-game.

The ESRB's regulatory authority is non-existent. I'm not sure why the author implies the board has any governmental authority. The gaming industry follows the board out of fear of government intervention (see: Australia) not for fear of legal action.

At the end of the article she mentions that they are setting themselves up as an educational tool not as a regulator. I'm confused by this because I've always assumed the ESRB was an educational tool for parents(and I was old enough to remember the ESRB's beginnning).

Advocating the ESRB becoming a regulatory authority is the same stupidity that leads to a nanny state. Remove the parents from the equation and use government regulation as our new mother and father. It is a sickening trend and poorly thought out contrivance.

Perhaps the ESRB should just push these new online game retailers to publish the ratings before selling the game like they've always done. Then parents can see the rating and make their own decisions for their own kids like they've always done.

As far as the "online content not rated," I think we just need a change in the phraseology and have it say something like, "online interactions cannot be regulated and may contain obscene or graphic content." Done.

Overseer76:

I only read some of the posts so far, but I felt a couple of things needed saying (before I forget them).

Firstly, the article doesn't suggest that the ESRB be abolished, just that it needs to address growing problems before they get out of hand. If and when they do get out of hand, the ESRB will have a hard time staying relevant to actual gaming behavior.

Secondly, a ratings board will not disappear. 'No Blood' filters and the like are good, but who's going to make sure they're there? What impetus would a developer have to write the code that would filter offensive content? The ESRB doesn't regulate the industry, and they shouldn't (hear that MPAA??!); but they do add a level of expectation through the review process. Even if violence filters become all the rage, there would be no way to know if the particular game you're considering buying (physical or digital) complies with the industry standard.

Thirdly, since the ESRB IS in the business of letting people know what to expect, it would be prudent of them to indicate what type of filter/parental control/live moderation (if any) is available in-game.

You raise some pretty good points there...

First Point: Having re-read my post, I do seem to have misinterpreted the article to a degree. Thanks for calling me out on it.

I cannot see the ESRB getting out of hand - they would surely need power to do this.

As far as I know, they have no real say in what goes into a game. Which I guess is the way it should be - because if they have the power to censor things, then they would have too much power. (And like any other organisation with power, they will want more and more as time goes by.)

Second Point: I don't think there would be any real way to make sure that any in-game censorship options comply with an industry standard short of going to a government censor's office or setting up another independent organisation to do this - which adds to dev costs, pushing up the price of the game. (And cue many unhappy gamers.)

I had wondered if the ESRB could do this because they know what goes into the game. While they would keep costs down and make sure the devs include the in-game censorship options - but as my above point mentions, giving them power to do this could prove to be detrimental in the long term. (Could make them want more and more power.)

Third Point: I think the ESRB do very well on single player games in terms of letting the parents know what goes on. However, there is no way to know just who is playing the games online let alone set some kind of censorship thing on it.

If a parent decides to implement a "no swearing" feature of the game - there's no way to stop a human opponent from doing the same during online play. But you can disable microphones from the games console itself if I remember rightly. However, that would then fall into the jurisdiction of the console's creators than the games devs.

Ok well if you want to rate online interactions for XBL than you would have to rate every game with online capabilities M or maybe AO, HAVE YOU HEARD THESE PEOPLE? They are nuts.

with all these games saying "online not rated by ESRB" and online growing ever more popular something has to be done before something bad happens I rather like ESRB they seem fair as a rating system

I don't believe the ESRB was ever meant to do anything except rate the actual game experience, and it does that well. The online aspect of the game is still well represented, what they can't rate is the other players. That is to say, the game still has the same amount of blood, gore, sex and violence as it always had, but now you have other players running around, doing whatever. The ESRB was never designed to rate the players, just the game, and that is just as it should be. Common sense should tell anyone with more brains than a rock, you can't predict people, and they will do stupid things. Especially anonymously, especially online.

As far as the lack of ratings on the (for example) iPhone: Every one of those developers has the option to submit their games to the ESRB and have them rated. They don't because it costs money and they already have to jump through regulatory hoops far more stringent than anything the ESRB has ever had, in the form of Apple's puritanical value system. Admittedly, this is one area that the ESRB could make themselves more relevant to today's games. By allowing a smaller fee for app store or small market games specifically, they could encourage these small developers to submit more of their games to the board. Right now, the fee is way too high for a small game like what the iPhone tends to have.

The ESRB could also try to work with Apple on this subject. Maybe have Apple do the rating, licensing the rights to use the rating system. That would keep the ratings consistent, still give the ESRB control over the use of the logos and possibly even increase the comfort level people could have about the games on the store. Just a thought.

Re: Rating online content
Why not just characterize player interaction? Like:
"This game is rated M for the following reasons..."
and then
"Online: This game is rated M due to how players of this game interact in the following ways: Text, voice, user-generated content, comic violence and mischief. Moderation capability allows the user to prevent all or some of these intereactions."

Nutcase:
And how is the ESRB supposed to confront the problem of pre-emptively reviewing non-static content, if not by declining to review it? Perhaps they ought to use a time machine? The article offers no solutions.

And this is why I hate articles like this. It is complaining about the status quo and the problems which is good to make people think about the problems. However without the lack of potential solutions the article has a greater chance of building unrest and forcing people to find other and potentially worse solutions than what the ESRB provides

Right now history is repeating itself and the only other option being offered to handle video game ratings is forcing video games to be aligned with movies. This is a bad idea because ratings will affect what the mass consumer(those who aren't familiar with the hobby) which is currently the main force that drives the video game industry to be so gigantic. Parents will then decide that games might be rated out of their child's age and the parent might not buy the game.

EDIT: No rating system can control online interactions. The game and the content can be rated but the social interaction cannot be rated because the interaction isn't part of the game it is real life.

Tenmar:

Nutcase:
And how is the ESRB supposed to confront the problem of pre-emptively reviewing non-static content, if not by declining to review it? Perhaps they ought to use a time machine? The article offers no solutions.

And this is why I hate articles like this. It is complaining about the status quo and the problems which is good to make people think about the problems. However without the lack of potential solutions the article has a greater chance of building unrest and forcing people to find other and potentially worse solutions than what the ESRB provides

Right now history is repeating itself and the only other option being offered to handle video game ratings is forcing video games to be aligned with movies. This is a bad idea because ratings will affect what the mass consumer(those who aren't familiar with the hobby) which is currently the main force that drives the video game industry to be so gigantic. Parents will then decide that games might be rated out of their child's age and the parent might not buy the game.

EDIT: No rating system can control online interactions. The game and the content can be rated but the social interaction cannot be rated because the interaction isn't part of the game it is real life.

Yep, but now that I think about it, the article only says the market is expanding into a direction ESRB does not want to go. That in itself is not a problem of any kind, though the tone of the article hints that it is. IMO, the consequences aren't a problem either. If useful ratings can be given on something, and there's sufficient demand for them, the market will come up with them. If ESRB disappeared today, something would take its place.

Sometimes the demand just isn't there. Books and comics, for instance, have no rating board and I don't see either hurting for one.

Online interaction is not completely impossible to rate. There are plenty of games - WoW comes to mind - that have developer-set standards for in-game behavior and conflict resolution, and maintain them through both automated systems and manual moderation. You could statically rate the game based on what these standards are. Naturally this does not guarantee results in a non-static context, but then you could have an auditing organisation (let's call this "MMORB") which would continually test and verify that the standard is being adequately enforced in-game by whatever means.

AvsJoe:
The ESRB has done a great job in the past but unfortunately due to the ever-changing world of gaming it too needs to change. I wish I knew how to help, but I have no solutions to offer these guys. Great article.

I'm going to have to disagree.

Just because After 2+ years of doing nothing (basically) but reading psychology texts and case studies I've found...as have apparently hundreds of separate groups of psychologists and other researchers...that there is no connection between video games and violence.

Even on a larger scale, video games have been getting more and more violent overall every year, yet violent crime amongst teens has dropped in the US every year since at least as far back as the Atari.

What else are we trying to stop? Knowledge of sex? When I was in elementary school I had the hard details down before 5th grade, where did I learn? Most of my friends who learned from their older siblings or various sources. This was before the internet was even a viable tool for folks in my area (income issues). Who is old enough to forget just how young they were when they discovered sex?

Drugs? I don't really understand the drama of drugs in video games. Frankly as I was young there were adds for cigarettes all over the place, my friends were doing pot, all my father had to do was explain the situation clearly to me. Even at a young age it wasn't rocket science. If someone is going to do drugs they'll end up doing them regardless of censorship or laws, all you do with these two tools is delay the inevitable.

Likewise it is a terrible tool for parenting. Because the ESRB is not a rock solid tool, it is not objective, because of this it provides parents with another organizations opinion on what is acceptable for their kids.

The most immediate example is Hot Coffee for Grand Theft Auto, now I realize...theoretically kids shouldn't be playing this anyways. While I disagree I understand that is the expectation. However what was it that was wrong? Slaughtering Civilians? Nope. Murdering Hookers after a quick bang in the back of your car? Nope. Aiding Criminals for hours on end? Nada. That was all kosher. It was consensual sexual relations with your own girlfriend. That was what was the abomination.

What kind of fucked up logic is that? I can run around cutting heads off with a katana but heaven forbid I see two fully clothed sprites making out?

I realize this is a bit of a rant and it doesn't even necessarily relate to the actual discussion of the target article. But for as long as I've been alive the ESRB has been entirely irrelevant to good parenting.

If you don't have the time to be the 'esrb' in your child's life, or theoretically in your future child's life, you might not be in a life situation where having kids is a good idea.

Both my parents were incredibly busy with work, as were most of my friend's parents, however they all still knew for the most part what we were doing (and likely more than we thought they did). We ended up playing everything that piqued our interest from Goldeneye to GTA III and everything in between. The ESRB was entirely irrelevant where I lived because it serves no purpose. (To reiterate we didn't merely play violent video games either, just that they were no more special than any tennis game we picked up)

Like using the disney channel as a nanny, it is a terrible idea that does little more than throw an arbitrary rating onto a game. Lord Critter Crunch has "Tobacco Use" under its rating. I've been playing it for 10 hours or so and haven't seen so much as a Tobacco Plant. It really feels like this is just the early version of the Terrorist Alert Color Code, people get told something that ends up being entirely meaningless in the grand scheme of things.

Violence is not merely violence, drugs are not merely drugs, it all is part of a context that cannot be experienced by a single clutch of letters and a few lines of detail.

I think it's because there is still the notion that a video game is a children's toy, and we have to protect our little snowflakes from the big scary world out there. And hell, I see more violence on the ten o'clock news than in most of the games I own. And that isn't fake violence - it's real violence done by real people in real life.

I don't see anything inhernetly wrong or evil with rating games, it's just, as many have said, ineffectual. And rating online content is simply impossible because there are no real filters. Nothing is stopping you from calling someone a fuckhead on Live, even if you're playing a game with no rating for language. And you can't just put a warning out that says people who play online are dicks, because not all of them are. It's like trying to rate the Internet all at once - it can't be done.

But the debate is going to continue until games get a little more sophisticated and don't use violence as the main medium by which they operate.

I ran out of time to read through the last batch of comments - but want to thank you all again for making this such a heated and informed debate. I also wanted to point those of you who offered up some 'solutions' during our initial exchange to a blog post i wrote about the article and reactions: http://gamineexpedition.blogspot.com/2009/10/new-article-in-escapist.html - in particular because i've quoted several of the posts that I thought might be of use for future work in this area.
cheers!

I just reread my previous post and in case anyone wonders why I mentioned the MPAA, go see "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" or just keep reading.

Gunner 51 is correct. The ESRB has no real power, but neither does the MPAA... unless you count the fact that they can put any rating they want on a movie and do not have to explain anything. Let's say the makers of Movie X want a PG-13 rating, because if they get an R, fewer people will be able to see their movie in theaters (their main revenue stream). But if the MPAA decides that the mind-blowing, action-packed ending is a little TOO mind-blowing and action-packed, they will give it an R unless the filmmakers hollow out their pride and joy in favor of a more tame experience that won't upset the sensibilities of the kiddies. Voila. De facto censorship.

I'm not suggesting this type of thing is rampant in the MPAA, nor even present in the ESRB, but it's something to be aware of.

Stinking Kevin:
The only time a game has ever been pulled off of a store shelf due to its rating was when GTA:SA was re-rated "AO." The ESRB played a major role in that, to be sure, but it's completely backward to blame the board of censorship.

Erm... in order to be a de-facto censor, the censorship can be very subtle. Heck, that's how censorship works best (for the censor). Pulling a game off a shelf is not subtle and it PROVES beyond a doubt that the ESRB is a censor.

Why is it fair to rate a game based on user generated content? It theoretically would be possible to modify a care bears game so that all the characters were replaced by naked people, but that shouldn't be a consideration while rating the game.

That's a bit of an extreme example, but take, for example, Morrowind. It was rated T, and does deserve that rating the way it was released. However, there are a plethora of mods that make in-game characters nude, or add graphically gory depictions of violence. The game itself is fine though, why should it be judged by what some random person with an image editor creates and uploads to tesnexus?

You can find a lot of bad things on the internet. Compared to the other things you can find, nude mods and other inappropriate for children mods for games are relatively mild. Why should games ratings be based on content that can be made by players and found on the internet, when almost anything can be found on the internet? I think it makes more sense just to stick to rating the game itself.

 Pages PREV 1 2 3 NEXT

Reply to Thread

Log in or Register to Comment
Have an account? Login below:
With Facebook:Login With Facebook
or
Username:  
Password:  
  
Not registered? To sign up for an account with The Escapist:
Register With Facebook
Register With Facebook
or
Register for a free account here