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The ESRB Don't Get No Respect 61

Posted by Zonk
from the bad-english-theirs-not-mine dept.
Via the ffwd linklog, a story on the Hollywood Reporter site discussing the public image of the ESRB, from "pain in the butt" on the developer's side to lax child perverter on the lawmaker's side. From the article: "The issue Greenberg describes is one involving dollars and cents: Almost every single retail chain chooses not to sell 'AO' rated games, period. In just the same way that many movie theaters will not show films branded with an 'NC-17' rating, the 'AO' severely limits a game's distribution, to put it mildly."
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The ESRB Don't Get No Respect

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  • Horrible! (Score:1, Flamebait)

    by keyne9 (567528)
    "Don't get no"? I know it's supposed to appeal to some lower common denominator, but that really doesn't make any sense given the context of the article when you parse out the negatives. Truly terrible.
  • by the_skywise (189793) on Thursday April 14, 2005 @12:46PM (#12235057)
    No I'm not... I said this when they first implemented this monstrosity back when I was working in the game industry.

    "Oh.. we only want to help parents to make an educated CHOICE... we don't want to censor anything."

    Look it up, those were the "pro" arguments for such a system.

    And now we have attempts at laws to ban shops from even displaying M rated games (unless you go into that back room) and AO is right out.

    Meanwhile the game industry is playing the same game as the movie industry is. R rated movies (M games) sell better than the PG stuff.
    (Of course that's been changing since the crackdown of theaters to actually ID people for R rated movies... My friend laments that the Ring 2 was PG-13. How scary can it be in PG-13?!)

    Not that I'm disparaging parents from making an educated decision. It's a double edged sword.
    • by Botia (855350)

      As a game developer and as a parent I have to say I'm very pleased with the rating system. It informs the parent's of the content as well as rewards developers for limiting the amount of graphic violence, sex, etc. by informing the public and letting them decide what they want to play.

      An interesting side-note: G rated movies sell better than all other movies.

      • Not true... (Score:3, Informative)

        by the_skywise (189793)
        According to Box Office Mojo [boxofficemojo.com] there are NO G rated movies in the top 10 all time grossing movies.

        In the top 20, there are 2.

        Finding Nemo and Lion King.

        (and on an intersting side note, both movies involved show the horrific and traumatic death of a parent!)

        • both movies involved show the horrific and traumatic death of a parent!

          Tell me about it. When I show the movie to my three-year-old, I skip past that part. Rated G my ass!

        • And issues about parental abondonment are very common in young children. Literature helps us to address our fears, hopes and dreams. It makes sense that G rated movies should deal with the fears, hopes and dreams of young children.
      • As a game developer and as a parent I have to say I'm very pleased with the rating system. It informs the parent's of the content as well as rewards developers for limiting the amount of graphic violence, sex, etc. by informing the public and letting them decide what they want to play.

        That's all true, but the AO (Adult Only) rating is ridiculous. I totally understand the difference between E (Everyone) and T (Teen), as a 13 years old is slighly more mature than an 8 years old. Same goes for the difference

    • R-rated movies do not sell better than PG stuff. Check the top grossing films of all time. in the top twenty, I saw one R-rated film.
    • by badasscat (563442) <basscadet75@yahoo.STRAWcom minus berry> on Thursday April 14, 2005 @01:42PM (#12235844)
      No I'm not... I said this when they first implemented this monstrosity back when I was working in the game industry.

      "Oh.. we only want to help parents to make an educated CHOICE... we don't want to censor anything."


      One fact that gets lost in comments like these - and really, you should know better - is that the ESRB is part of the game industry. Literally. It is comprised of all of the game developers and publishers who choose to participate in it. A publisher is perfectly free not to pay the membership fees, not to have ESRB representatives and not to have their games rated. It is a voluntary system that is funded by the publishers themselves. Most publishers choose to be a part of it for several reasons, including the fact that certain large chain stores will not accept unrated games for sale.

      As a former member of the industry myself, I know a bit about how the ESRB works. Rating games is an almost shockingly simple yet seemingly arbitrary process. Publishers are told to send samples of the most prurient and violent content of their games, and then a panel of three average people rate what they see. This panel constantly rotates. They do not play the games. They may make their ratings based on the ten minutes of video the publisher sends.

      You would think this process would be open to all sorts of abuse on both sides (especially given that it's an industry-funded organization), but in reality there are all sorts of checks and balances that prevent that from happening. There is an appeals process if a publisher believes their game was rated too harshly, and all ratings are subject to review. Conversely, a publisher faces heavy fines (and paying the fines is not voluntary, if you want to keep getting your games rated), not to mention a potential embarassing recall, if they are found to have withheld content that would result in a harsher rating or additional content descriptors.

      Most publishers are pretty good about this stuff. It is rarely a surprise to a publisher when a game gets a particular rating or particular content descriptors - I mean most publishers were not born yesterday, they go through this many, many times a year and they pretty much know what to expect. Some of the descriptors themselves can be pretty goofy - I remember one of the games I worked on got a T rating with a descriptor of "Mild Lyrics", whatever the hell that means. "We just want to warn you... these lyrics, are really not that bad!" (The ESRB does provide specific definitions of all descriptors to publishers, but some of them are still a little wacky.) Most of the goofy ones, though, are not really worth worrying about. The one thing that trips some publishers up sometimes are distinctions between things like "cartoon violence" and plain old "violence", which can mean the difference between a T and an M rating. But even that's pretty rare, because the ESRB is pretty specific about what defines each of those descriptors, and again, publishers usually have plenty of past experience to go on.

      I think the point I'm trying to make is that this is a more symbiotic relationship than most people think. Yes, publishers can groan every once in a while about the process or their ratings or whatever. But it's not the way a dissident groans about his government; it's more like the way a kid groans about his parents. The ESRB is literally related to the game publishers, and everybody is part of the same industry.

      It may surprise many of you to know also that few, if anybody, in the industry want to get rid of the ESRB. Because they know the alternative is government action. The ESRB, as the game industry's self-regulating body, is obviously far preferable to getting congress and law enforcement involved. It's in the industry's best interests for the ESRB to be as effective as possible, and unfortunately the retailers have been letting the industry down in terms of ratings enforcement. At all the ESRB meetings I had to attend (and yes, I groaned at these along with everybody else) the complaints were always centered around retailers screwing everything up for the rest of the industry, not about the ESRB itself.
      • There's one basic incontrovertible fact. If you do not expose your child to something, the child is incapable of learning anything from it.

        And that's why we want to censor things and protect children: we are afraid they will learn the wrong thing. We trade the possibility of learning the wrong thing for the certainty of learning nothing at all.

        But we also have a very broad definition of "the wrong thing". The wrong thing is "anything I don't want you to learn yet". And what we don't want our children to l
        • If you do not expose your child to something, the child is incapable of learning anything from it.

          So, I'm an uneducated simpleton because I've never played GTA? What important life lesson have I missed?

          And what we don't want our children to learn is primarily the things that we would be uncomfortable explaining.

          Or anything we would be uncomfortable with them emulating.

          You know what we really need? Parents who give a shit about their children.

          That seems to be exactly what you are opposed to. Seri

          • > I'm an uneducated simpleton because
            > I've never played GTA?

            No, but I propose that you *might* learn something useful and positive from GTA. There *might* be a baby in that bathwater. Perhaps you should check before throwing it out.

            > Seriously, why shouldn't parents know and
            > control what their kids are buying?

            They should, and in that order. If you have never played GTA, you do not know enough about it to control your children's access to it appropriately, so you shouldn't try to control it
        • I think you should probably wait until you are a parent or at least have some exposure to younger children to comment on how parents should raise their kids. Most parents are not worried about stuff "I don't want you to learn yet" but rather "this is simply too complicated to be absorbed at all so random misinformation is going to be absorbed if it is taught at this point".

          I play board games with my daughter all the time. The age ratings are very useful. Its hard to know in advance: does the game involv
    • R rated movies actually do incredibly poorly compared to PG-13 rated movies.
  • Not a replacement (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 9mm Censor (705379) on Thursday April 14, 2005 @12:50PM (#12235120) Homepage
    A rating system no matter how good it is, is not an excuse for poor parenting.
    • Right, which is the saddest part of the ratings problem. Excuses for poor parenting are exactly what most people want...

    • by Anonymous Coward
      The point of ratings is to enable good parenting.
      • Parent post should be +5 Insightful

        Parents that care + Information = Good Parenting!

        The ratings are a great idea, and I think they did a wonderful job creating the system, but just like the poison warning symbol on that container of anti-freeze they only work if the parents take the time to teach their kids.

    • A rating system no matter how good it is, is not an excuse for poor parenting.

      Not an escuse for NOT having a rating system.

    • Re:Not a replacement (Score:3, Interesting)

      by macrom (537566)
      A rating system no matter how good it is, is not an excuse for poor parenting.

      True, but parents need a guide. We can't possibly know everything about every game out there, so we need to make quick decision for our children when we're renting and purchasing games. Cartoonish games like Jak 2 and 3, Ratchet & Clank, etc. all carry "T" ratings, but otherwise how would we know about all of the violence in those games? The covers look innocent enough. Some are obvious, like GTA, Halo, war simulations. Ot
  • by frikazoyd (845667) on Thursday April 14, 2005 @12:54PM (#12235200)
    First of all, the ESRB is doing its job. They take a game, and I'm sure they have a tally sheet marking whether games have certain degrees of violence type 1,2, and 3, or whether it has certain degrees of nudity. That's not the issue.

    The article paints a picture of "lawmakers vs. ESRB", but it mentions one Republican who is accusing the ESRB of being too light on handing out AOs, and another (Clinton) of launching an investigation into the effects of M games.

    Now, read that again. Clinton (and, for that matter, almost every other lawmaker "fighting the good fight") doesn't have a problem with the rating system, they have a problem with the games. The article only has one quote from one senator that thinks the ESRB is not tough enough. Then the article goes on to point out how tough the ESRB is. And the insight they give there is pretty spot-on, espeically the comparisons between the MPAA and the ESRB.

    However, the majority of the article is a defense against the first politician's quote, and doesn't really hold water against the other attacks (which are against videogames that have been rated M, not the rating system itself). Besides, it isn't the ESRB's job to ensure that games rated M aren't sold to 17 year olds, it is the retailer's job. And video game (only) retail stores are pretty scuzzy to begin with, especially the chain ones.
    • On most of those points I agree. It's not the ESRB's job to regulate what gets sold to who, but with the job of rating games comes quite a responsibility, which I personally believe the ESRB is slipping on. Anyone who has played Rockstar's Manhunt will tell you that the game "include[s] graphic depictions of sex and/or violence [pulled from the AO rating definition on esrb.org]" yet why the game is not rated AO is completely beyond me. There are a handful of other top selling games whose ratings are quite
  • Censor is BS (Score:3, Insightful)

    by superpulpsicle (533373) on Thursday April 14, 2005 @12:57PM (#12235236)
    How come every other country has managed to launch movies/games with virtually no censor labels. Yet we Americans are the ones with super high crime rates, blaming video games.

    The parent is the one responsible for communicating to the kids what's appropriate or not. Not the fucking paper label.

    • Re:Censor is BS (Score:4, Informative)

      by frikazoyd (845667) on Thursday April 14, 2005 @01:05PM (#12235350)
      I don't know what world you live in, but in this world countries have banned several video games, and that fact was used as a selling point here in America. The only thing we really censor is nudity, we just try to control the amount of violence that a child observes here in America.

      Example, Carmageddon was banned in Australia I believe, as well as Postal 2 and more that I can't remember off hand.

      Also, it may be the parent's job to do so, but you have to admit that children can be pretty convincing/conniving if they want a game that is "Adult" enough. And, the industry is pretty guilty of trying to sell on that type of appeal, whether they want to admit it or not.
    • The parent is the one responsible for communicating to the kids what's appropriate or not. Not the fucking paper label.

      Nah. The belief is it takes a village to raise a child. So it doesn't matter what you screw up as a parent, because you always get to blame the village. You've only gotta look at some of the headlines nowadays to see that's the way people (politicians, media, whatever) spin it. The era of personal responsibilty seems to be gone.
  • by ronfar (52216) on Thursday April 14, 2005 @01:06PM (#12235378) Journal
    People have gotten used to the movie rating system. They know what G, PG, and R mean. (I know PG-13 and NC-17 are in there too, but I think those are both more ambiguous.).

    G - Kid's cartoon
    PG - Action movie without much violence
    R - Movie with enough violence and/or sex to be a concern for children

    Do people know what E, T, M mean? Well, I was reading a review of The Incredibles for Gamecube on Amazon. The angry dad reviewer said he wanted to get the game for his kid, but he was upset that it was "Teen" rated. He thought it was inappropriate for a game based on a G Rated movie (of course, The Incredibles was PG, but never mind.).

    It's clear that T, in this case, was meant to indicate a PG rated game. Instead, T means an age group. It is more like the "reccomended for kids 8 and up" notes on toys than a movie rating.

    Some parents see the system as:

    E = games for kids
    T = games for thuggy teenagers
    M = X-Rated games that should be banned.

    So, of course the ERSB gets no respect. They've failed to create a coherent rating system.

    • There's also a huge difference between 13 and 18, both being in the "Teen" rating group.
      • There's also a huge difference between 13 and 18, both being in the "Teen" rating group.
        No, the "Teen" rating group is from 13 to 16 inclusive. The "Mature" rating group targets the one-year window of 17, while Adults-Only starts at 18+.

        The ratings are listed here [esrb.org], complete with both general descriptions and the minimal age.

    • As digital content means more things to more people a universal rating system should be implemented. A PG movie, or a PG album or a PG game or a PG TV show should be on same plain of existance, and should have a rating to reflect that. But today we have PG movies, E games, TV-14 (or something) TV shows, and EXPLICIT LYRIC albums. Come on ... that's a mess.

      As more content comes out on more formats, a simple consistant rating system will be needed for everyone's sake and for everyone's friggin piece of
    • Do people know what E, T, M mean? Well, I was reading a review of The Incredibles for Gamecube on Amazon. The angry dad reviewer said he wanted to get the game for his kid, but he was upset that it was "Teen" rated. He thought it was inappropriate for a game based on a G Rated movie (of course, The Incredibles was PG, but never mind.).

      The ESRB has recently released an additional rating "E-10", which is designed to handle this sort of situation. It's basically compatable with PG, whereas T is now associat

      • That's always been a sticking point for me. *ANY* red pixels = automatic "M", where as in a game like Splinter Cell, you can draw a bead on two guys having a conversation about the wife and kids of one of them, then take aim, and calmly shoot him in the head. But because there's no red, it gets away with a "T".

        To me, the "gallons" of blood portrayed in Mortal Kombat are simply comical by comparison. Where Splinter Cell's violence is cold blooded and calculated execution of a human life.

        I realize that t
      • The worms in Worms Armageddon bleed, and that still received an E rating. (They don't bleed by default, but one of the single player missions gives you an option to turn on blood, if I remember correctly.)
  • To come up with a digital download system, especially for PC games.
  • by FidelCatsro (861135) <fidelcatsro AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday April 14, 2005 @01:12PM (#12235455) Journal
    We had a raitings and do you know what they ment to me when i was 12 , 13 or 14
    (UK ratings)
    U-(univeraly safe) Boring no chance of nudity of cool fights
    UC(universal for children) yawn even less chance of nakidness or violence
    pg-(parental guidance)possibly someone will say sh*t , or someone will bleed , yawn still no nudity

    12:(age min) hm this could be ok , perhaps some blood and explosions , still no nakedness though

    15:(age min)could be some really cool gore , not much chance of nakedness but we may see a nipple WOOO

    18:(Age min) wow must see this , this film is for 18 year olds so it must have some great naked women in it and /or some cool violance with exploding heads ...
    You see this is why raitings don't work , you slap an 18 or mature on it and kids are going to go out of there way to play it or whatch it . you ban it and you make it a cult .
    Gouverment sanctioned censorship just does not work.
    I say slap a PG on everything , as honestly it is up to parents to raise their children .
    When i have children i will decide what they whatch not some rating designed by a bored that does not know my child , Children mature at difrent rates, alot of children will be fine playing a game like GTA 3 when they are 11 or , but some may be disturbed by a film like Ghostbusters when they are 17.
  • So I buy the collectors edition right? it has all the marketing hype on the back on a peice of shiny paper that is tacked on with glue. The rest of the box is all themed out except the stupid little ESRB rating on the front.
  • Well, they tell people what they're allowed to see. If you find that justifiable, feel free to move to China, Ethiopia, Iran or any other location ruled by mindless people such as yourself. I'd have recommended Germany but you guys pulled out of there in 1949.
    • If you want to complain about ratings you should have left Germany in there which has one of the most problematic ratings systems available. When PEGI was introduced this country was the only one not to care. Well, at least the USK has their examination regulations available online, unlike the ESRB and actually plays the games (they demand cheats in case the game gets too hard...).

      But still, it deprived us of Doom3: RoE and God of War. Meh, at least Resident Evil 4 made it to the stores albeit with two gam
      • Considering that Germany is in the same region for console games as the UK, France etc. how much of a market is there for importing these banned games? Or is it mostly limited by language barriers? Or do people like Amazon.co.uk (etc.) just refuse to ship the games to Germany?
  • That all of the examples of "what is in these horrible horrible games all come from one specific game? Namely GTA, everyone's favourite whipping boy.

    They should really pass a law that forces politicians to actually have a clue about things before they shoot there mouths off. Of course, that will never happen, as it would put them all out of work.

  • I've never actually spent too much time thinking about the ESRB, although I find the two letters "AO" to be extremely exciting. Though I've often thought about "TD" and GH", and as a freshman in college, I always tried to use "IE" and "EG" as much as possible, I've been thinking that interspersing my conversation with random two and three, sometimes four letter random strings, will make me look so much more educated. Did I mention that I actually have a PHD in addition to my CSBS?
  • I don't understand why a video game store can't keep an "adult" section, just like a bookstore has the adult porn section. Tastefully closed off from the general public.

    If Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was rated AO - which it probably should be considering it has rampant violence and Vice City at least had cartoon nudity (I have not yet played San Andreas, waiting for the XBOX version)... I would still buy it. And a lot of adults would still buy it. It would be stupid for stores not to sell it.

    I think par
    • You want to know the answer to that question?

      Ask Jesus Castillo... [cbldf.org]

      The details of the case:

      1. Jesus Castillo managed a comic book store which had an "Adults Only" section.

      2. Some concerned citizens in the area decided to make an example out of him. They sent a Vice Squad cop in to buy a copy of the Legend of the Overfiend manga.

      3. Jesus Castillo was arrested for obscenity. His case wended it's way through the courts. The Supreme Court denied his last appeal.

      4. As of August 5th, 2003 Castillo

    • Most of the stores that don't carry AO games are part of the Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association (IEMA). If you look at there membership [iema.org] it is mostly large retail stores that don't have room for or want a backroom. Small (physical size, not company size) chain stores usually keep the AO games in the open with the other games. The boxes themselves don't show anything unlike pr0n so it doesn't need to be closed off to the gerneral public. Just have the clerks use common sense and not sell an AO ga
  • ESRB could probably double their credibility instantly by simply changing the rating symbols.

    Announce a "brand new" ratings system and make a straight 1:1 switch to MPAA ratings.

    E -> G
    Y? -> PG (can't remember letter)
    T -> PG-13
    M -> R
    AO -> X

    In spite of all their efforts, parents just aren't getting it. Perhaps it's time to switch to something they already understand.
  • Fairly interesting (Score:3, Insightful)

    by brkello (642429) on Thursday April 14, 2005 @03:03PM (#12237006)
    I guess what struck me as amusing was the difference between a game rated M (Mature) and a game rated AO (adult only). For M games, the age range is 17 and up. For AO games, it's 18 and up. It's amazing how in one year we can change from being unable to handle graphic acts of violence and sexual content and then bam, we hit 18 and everything is cool. They do make an interesting point that the content in a movie is not held up to the standards of games because a movie isn't interactive. Which makes sense...sort of. They talk about how AO is sort of a kiss of death for a game title. A lot of stores won't carry them..despite that there is only a +1 to age when compared to M. So game companies have to change a lot of their content to get that M rating. Too bad...I wish they would just sell it AO...adults should be able to make their own choices on how they are entertained. But think of the children...right? I don't know about other people, but I don't want children to dictate my life. Parents and retailers need to be responsible in selling games...it's as simple as that. The whole Clinton study is BS unless they are only doing testing on people 17+. I think the current administration has taken shoving THIER morals down other's throats way too far. It makes me sad to see that the Democrats are jumping on this band wagon too. Agressive and screwed up chidren or going to gravitate to watching violence and playing violent games. It's not the games that make them agressive and screwed up. Does it have some effect? Sure, after playing a racing game, I tend to drive a little faster. After watching power rangers, some kids may play a little more rough. But it's really the parents and community that have a lasting effect on a kid's choices. But in certain cases...the kids are just screwed up. Place the blame on the kids that commit the crimes. There is too much of this "it's X fault" they went astray. Ok...off my soap box...but it drives me nuts. Why aren't the people we put in power intelligent enough to know these simple things? Or do they know this and are they just trying to get re-elected?
    • not the violent content but becouse they are to put it bluntly porn games. every AO game out there that 99.9% of the time is a Porn game.
      • Hmm, while I am not an expert on the ESRB...the article sure made it sound like graphic violence was enough to bump it up to AO. If it was just pornography...I guess I would understand...but I think violent content goes in there as well (more so than just an M...I think the example used Manhunt and how it got an AO at first...not sure if it had porn, but it made it sound like really graphic violence was the problem.

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