PDA

View Full Version : ESRB Reform


TRIFORCE89
November 29th, 2008, 07:17 PM
As you know, Senator Barack Obama became President-Elect of the United States of America on November 4th and will take office on January 20th. I know he has some much larger issues on his plate to be concerned with than video games but here's a comment he made last December:

--
We need to give parents the tools and information they need to make choices about what programs their children are watching or what video games they are playing. As we move towards a digital environment, there is a golden opportunity for the industry to do this on their own—to use the latest in technology to give parents more information and more choice. For example, this technology could make it possible for parents to create their own family tier just by programming their television to block certain channels, block certain genres of programming like dramas, or block television at certain times of the day. The same can be said of video games, especially as we're moving into an era when they can be downloaded as easily as today's movies and television shows.

I would call upon the video game industry to give parents better information about programs and video games by improving the voluntary rating system we currently have. Broadcasters and video game producers should take it upon themselves to improve this system to include easier to find and easier to understand descriptions of exactly what kind of content is included. But if the industry fails to act, then my administration would.

And even if the industry does do some responsible self-policing, there's still a role for the federal government to play. We need to understand the impact of these new media better. That's why I supported federal funding to study the impact of video games on children's cognitive development.
--

That's a long statement, but the important part for me is that second paragraph about improving the rating system for video games. What do you think about the ESRB? Should it be changed? How would you changed it? Should we get rid of it all together?

Just in case you're unaware, below are the current ratings used by the Entertainment Software Rating Board and a very brief description of each:

Early Childhood (eC) = Suitable for children under the age of 6
Everyone (E) = Unsuitable for children under the age of 6
Everyone 10+ (E10+) = Unsuitable for children under the age of 10
Teen (T) = Unsuitable for children under the age of 13
Mature 17+ (M) = Suitable for teenagers over the age of 17
Adults Only 18+ (AO) = Unsuitable for those under age 18

In addition to these ratings, the ESRB provides what they call "content descriptors" of the content present within each game. These content descriptors currently consist of:
Alcohol Reference, Drug Reference, Tobacco Reference, Use of Alcohol
Animated Blood, Blood, Blood and Gore
Cartoon Violence, Fantasy Violence, Intense Violence, Violence, Violent References
Comic Mischief, Crude Humour
Edutainment
Language, Lyrics, Strong Language, Strong Lyrics
Real Gambling, Simulated Gambling
Suggestive Themes

They also have an online rating notice worded as "Online Interactions Not Rated by the ESRB"

Now, here's what I would change...

I live in Canada and here the film classification system is headed by a government agency and the television classification system is headed by an independent organization.

Our films receive one of the following ratings:
G = Suitable for all ages
PG = Parental guidance advised
14A = Children under the age of 14 must be accompanied by a person over the age of 14
18A = Children under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult
R = Restricted to people 18 years of age or older
A = Purpose of the film is the portrayal of explicit sexual activity and/or violence

Our television shows receive one of the following ratings:
C = Suitable for children under the age of 8
C8 = Suitable for children over the age of 8
G = Suitable for all ages
PG = Parental guidance advised
14+ = Intended for children ages 14 and over
18+ = Intended for children ages 18 and over
In addition to these ratings, should a program contain potentially unsuitable content for some viewers a disclaimer is shown at the beginning and end of each commercial break. Think of these as being similar to the content descriptors used by the ESRB.

Now, if you combine the Canadian film and television rating systems and you come up with something pretty thorough:
C = Suitable for children under the age of 8
C8 = Suitable for children over the age of 8
G = Suitable for all ages
PG = Parental guidance advised
14A = Children under the age of 14 must be accompanied by a person over the age of 14
18A = Children under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult
R = Restricted to people 18 years of age or older
A = Purpose of the film is the portrayal of explicit sexual activity and/or violence

How does the ESRB compare to this? Nothing matches the C8 rating or 18A. The M and AO ratings are silly. AO is generally given to pornographic games. Publishers don't want to publish those games and retailers don't want to sell them, so save for a few exceptions no game ever gets this rating. Then there's M which is supposedly restricted to gamers aged 17 and over (but retailers don't really enforce that). The wide spectrum of games that make up the M rating is bizarre and I think the M rating should be split in two. Here's what I would propose:

Early Childhood (eC) = Suitable for players under the age of 6
Childhood (C) = Suitable for players ages 6 and over
Everyone (E) = Suitable for players of all ages
Everyone 10+ (E10+) = Suitable for players ages 10 and over
Teen (T) = Suitable for players ages 13 and over
Teen 16+ (T16+) = Suitable for players ages 16 and over
Mature (M) = Suitable for players ages 18 and over
Restricted (R) = Restricted to players ages 18 and over. Game experience features explicit sexual activity and/or violence

Right now M is restricted to 17 and older. What I did was split it so that the more mild M games receive a T16+ rating and the others end up being for players aged 18 and older. 18 and older is an adult and the "Adults Only" rating would no longer be confined to pornographic games instead the adult rating would be just as the name implies - "mature" games. Restricted would take the place of the current "Adults Only". I've also changed the language. No more "adults", "teenagers" or "children" (except for the rating letters), all the descriptions read "players". Nothing is "unsuitable" either. Nice, positive language.

A few years back, the ESRB removed a few content descriptors. I would bring them back (either in addition to or replacing what initially replaced them):
Animated Blood and Gore, Realistic Blood, Realistic Blood and Gore
Animated Violence, Mild Animated Violence, Mild Realistic Violence, Realistic Violence

And, I like the old online rating notice. So, I would combine the old one and the current one to read, "Online Interactions Not Rated by the ESRB. Game experience may change during online play"

Fixing the ratings themselves don't fix the system however. Currently, to obtain a rating for their game, the publisher sends the ESRB video footage of what they feel is the most offensive content in the game. I believe that the ESRB should play through every game and see what the players will see, not just what the publisher wants them to see.

Not sure it should become a government agency, but at the least the government should make it mandatory for retailers to enforce the ratings.

Arcanine
December 1st, 2008, 01:04 PM
Personally, I think the rating system is good as is. What's wrong with ESRB? Really... think about it... what is wrong with ESRB (aside from maybe redoing the levels a little, sort of like how Triffy did up there)?
Because the way it is now kids can get their hands on M rated games and I do think retailers should have to card each person that buys an M rated game (unless they look like they're 80 years old XD). But in the end it falls on the parents. I am sick of the Gov saying "We got to do this, we got to do that". Yes there are a lot of stupid parents out there. But it's their job to look after their kids... not the job of ESRB, not the job of the retailers, not the job of the Gov.

But if all the Gov is going to do is make retailers card every person that buys an M game then I'm fine by that. I do wish ESRB would redo their system a little. But like I said, right now there's no probs with the ESRB system.

Aurafire
December 1st, 2008, 01:16 PM
Lol...What a coincidence. I just wrote a research paper on violent video games. =P

I think the ratings aren't going to change much in terms of better informing parents on the content of video games. The ESRB ratings aren't flawed, and clearly show what type of potentially inappropriate content is in them. I agree with Arcanine...This isn't an issue that the government needs to get involved with. The parents are the ones who should be monitoring what types of games their kids are playing. They should know enough to check what games their kids are playing. A reform of the rating system is just taking the power out of the parents hands. Honestly...The government shouldn't be able to make those decisions.

TRIFORCE89
December 1st, 2008, 02:48 PM
I'm fine with the ESRB staying as an independent body. Works rather well for Canadian television. XD Better than the government film ratings even - those lack content descriptors like video games and TV shows.

I would like retailers to question stupid parents though. Can't tell you how many times I've been somewhere and see a parent with a three-year-old in hand buying something for the kid that he clearly shouldn't be playing. Because M is not an "accompaniment" rating. You can take your kid to see an 18A movie (you're stupid if you do so, but whatever), but you can't do that for an R movie. If you try to, the person at the ticket booth will question you. Why can't it be the same for video games? M is supposed to be restricted to gamers 17 and above. Of course that's up the judgement of the parent and the child as well, but...rules are useless if they aren't enforced.

M i n a t o //
December 1st, 2008, 05:30 PM
I would like retailers to question stupid parents though. Can't tell you how many times I've been somewhere and see a parent with a three-year-old in hand buying something for the kid that he clearly shouldn't be playing. Because M is not an "accompaniment" rating. You can take your kid to see an 18A movie (you're stupid if you do so, but whatever), but you can't do that for an R movie. If you try to, the person at the ticket booth will question you. Why can't it be the same for video games? M is supposed to be restricted to gamers 17 and above. Of course that's up the judgement of the parent and the child as well, but...rules are useless if they aren't enforced.

That would be a good solution instead of completely changing the ESRB Rating System. I remember while I was browsing when a kid with his dad went up to buy Call of Duty 4. The retailer noticed the rating and asked the parent about it. The dad said that they already talked about it so there were no problems. But yeah, rules are usually broken unless enforced.

Cherrim
December 2nd, 2008, 04:39 AM
Then there's M which is supposedly restricted to gamers aged 17 and over (but retailers don't really enforce that).
How would you know? :P In my experience, ANY time I've gone to buy an M-rated game, be it at Best Buy or EB Games, they've ID'd me. (Except that one crazy guy who was convinced he knew me already.) They weren't going to sell... Halo 3 to me (I think that was the one) until I grabbed my dad from another area of the store. I'd forgotten my ID and had to have him there with me to buy it. I've been carded more for buying video games than I have for alcohol. :| So stores, I think, are doing fairly well in that regard.

I do wish they were required to TELL the parent exactly what the rating is and why it's rated like that. I've seen so many parents buying M-rated games for the kids standing next to them, most of which are usually around 12 or 13. I honestly feel that the responsibility lies on the parents to understand this stuff better. I bet most of these parents wouldn't take their kids to an R-rated movie without looking into the movie and seeing exactly what it is that garners that rating. The same should be true for video games. The fact that the blame is always on the industry when it's stupid parents to blame (mostly) is one of my huge pet peeves. (Not to mention I believe every main console on the market has parental controls--if parents really care, they should be putting that to good use.)

To be honest, I feel nothing is wrong with the ESRB system. I'd be supportive of changing the descriptions around and maybe dropping AO since it's useless, but aside from that? No, it's fine. If you add more age groupings to it, it'll only confuse parents more. I don't think ANYONE pays attention to movie/TV ratings aside from G. If you added in C or C8 to the ratings system, I think it would confuse more people than it would benefit. I think the same thing would happen with the VG industry. The more you add, the more confused people will be. Clearly they already have major problems understanding the simple ESRB system now. :| Maybe if the ESRB switched to the letters that the movie system uses, it might make more parents familiar with the ratings--so I think I'd support that too. But otherwise, it's fine as-is.

Furthermore, I'm against government involvement. They can go as far as enforcing a law where retailers are required to see ID (and hopefully, confirm the purchase/rating with the buyer), but aside from that I don't really want them in the industry. :| I am glad Obama's plans do include video games, though. It kind of shows he's with the times--and this really is an issue that needs to be looked into. Maybe people will pay more attention if government findings show that, oh hey, buying your kids M-rated games and letting them play said games isn't good for them!

TRIFORCE89
December 2nd, 2008, 05:07 AM
Kay, but no one thinks that the ESRB doesn't even play the games it rates to be kinda goofy?

Cherrim
December 2nd, 2008, 05:25 AM
Considering they have to rate so many games every week... not really. :/ When you get a lot of games clocking in at at least 40-50 hours, not to mention extras that may be more violent, suggestive, etc., that's a lot of work. You could argue that most game reviewers do play the games but they don't have to rate for major content--they mostly rate for the feel of the game and you can usually get that from just ten hours, if that.

Not to mention I think most games go into partial production before they're fully complete. :/ Since the ESRB rating has to go on every box and disc, it'd delay the release, I think, to send over the complete game, have someone play through it to rate it, and THEN start mass-producing with the rating thrown in.

Mooshykris
December 2nd, 2008, 08:14 AM
Actually, if you want my personal opinion...I miss unrated games :P

Yeah, I actually remember when all games weren't rated :P

I remember in the early and mid-90s, there were ratings appearing on games, but many, especially on computer games, were still unrated :P

~Mooshykris

Mitchman
December 2nd, 2008, 08:55 AM
The esrb system is fine. And the way the games are rated is fine. Hell everything is fine with the system. The only fault is the parents. I mean a lot of parents out there are smart enough to say gee i dunno john this game has blood and gore lets not buy that for little tim lets buy him that game called pogeymans but then you got the down right stupid ones who say fine our spoiled little waste of a soul you can get this game if you get the hell out of our hair. So why affect anything when the stupid parents are still going to do it anyway.

TRIFORCE89
December 2nd, 2008, 09:02 AM
The esrb system is fine. And the way the games are rated is fine. Hell everything is fine with the system. The only fault is the parents. I mean a lot of parents out there are smart enough to say gee i dunno john this game has blood and gore lets not buy that for little tim lets buy him that game called pogeymans but then you got the down right stupid ones who say fine our spoiled little waste of a soul you can get this game if you get the hell out of our hair. So why affect anything when the stupid parents are still going to do it anyway.
Because...splitting the M rating (as I suggested) would actually put more gamers in the hands of younger gamers, not less. And it should be enforced or as effective as the other rating systems. Many retailers do enforce it, but legally they have no obligation to unlike with the other rating systems.

I like the ESRB. It's not like I suggested anything major. XD