Muslims create the Entertainment Software Rating Association to judge how well videogames portray Islamic values.
During the Dubai World Game Expo today, the Iran National Foundation of Computer Games and Index Holding, a Dubai mega-corporation, announced the formation of the Entertainment Software Rating Association (ESRA). The purpose of the ESRA in rating games based on Islamic values of truth and virtue is to educate parents on what their children are playing. Like the U.S. organization, the ESRB, participation with the ESRA is voluntary and publishers of videogames would need to send their games to be rated. The founders of the ESRA hope that publishers comply so that they become aware of what will resonate or possibly offend the Islamic audience.
"The approach of Islam is based on human being innateness 'Al Fitra,' and the most important innate trends are truth, virtue, benevolence, excellence tendency, innovation and creativity," said Dr. Behrouz Minaei, managing director at the Iran National Foundation of Computer Games. "That's why we made sure that ESRA team are proficient in these areas: Religion, psychopathology, educational psychology, social psychology, sociology of the family, family sociology, emotional psychology, family therapy and educational technology."
"We as organizers endorse this initiative which aims at evolving the Islamic values and maintain the conservative aspect within the children and the society in general," said Anas Al Madani from Index Holding. "We are keen on encouraging game developers and publishers to use the ESRA system, as it enables publishers to understand the nature of the Islamic society and the different aspects that it emphasizes." Al Madani continued:
We would like to announce that there will be a communication approach between the developers of the ESRA system and game developers to use this system while promoting their games.
ESRA will work as an indicator for game companies in order to know whether the games approve with the Islamic values, and do not violate any of the Islamic traditions in Islamic countries.
It's not clear what the ratings will look like exactly. We don't know whether it will be a sliding scale of upholding Islamic values or a binary "Approved" or "Not-Approved," for example.
I'm honestly not sure how I feel about a new Islamic ratings system. I recognize that the sensibilities of different cultures and religions differ greatly, and that the ESRB might encapsulate Western values but doesn't adequately cover how a Buddhist or Muslim might react to a videogame. I also like that Al Madani is trying to open up communication between the makers of videogames and the Islamic world.
But I'm worried that the ESRA could be the start of a worrisome trend. While the U.S has a tradition of respecting free speech, there is no equivalent to the First Amendment in many Islamic nations. Laws could be enacted in Middle Eastern countries which forbid the sale of games which are rated poorly by the ESRA. I'm also not sure that it's a good idea to have a videogame rating system based on each and every race or creed in the known world as it could quickly become confusing and needlessly complicated. "Well, the ESRB gave Mass Effect 3 an M for Mature, the ESRA gave it a WP for Western Propaganda, and the Communist Ratings Board gave it a CaP for Capitalist Pigdogs! What's a parent to do?"
So while the intentions of the ESRA may be good, I will watch how this all plays out from my armored bunker in the Mojave desert with a fair amount of trepidation.