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Games Entertainment

Inside the ESRB Ratings System 35

Posted by Zonk
from the throw-a-dart-hit-a-board dept.
Gamasutra has a lengthy piece up today looking at the ins and outs of ESRB ratings. There are a lot of misconceptions about the process, and ESRB president Patricia Vance took some time to set the record straight: "Q: What do raters receive or know about a game before the video arrives? Do raters receive information on the game along with the video? For example, could a publisher send along promotional or explanatory material for the rater? A: Along with the video, the only other information that might be provided to raters is a script or lyric sheet provided by the publisher for the game being evaluated. Capturing language and dialogue on the video submission, particularly in context, can be tricky. So sometimes, instead of having a video with a montage of several instances of foul language (including the most extreme), the raters review the scripts and lyric sheets to gain a better understanding of the dialogue and frequency with which profanity and other potentially offensive language occur."
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Inside the ESRB Ratings System

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  • by cromar (1103585) on Tuesday October 16, 2007 @11:27AM (#20997389)
    but I still don't trust them.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by morari (1080535)
      Trust no one!

      ...except Deep Throat and Mr. X.

    • The ESRB isn't perfect, but I trust them more than Hilary Clinton or Arnold Schwarzenegger.

      Without something like the ESRB, the government will step in and tell you want you can and can't buy. At least with self-rating we can avoid government censorship.

      • I think one of the biggest problems that ESRB has in making good ratings is that they don't get the full version of the game, they get a script, a video, and a short demo. I don't think you can really judge interactive content fairly if you can't interact with the entire thing.

        Besides that, it's the game company that decides what gets sent. Most are probably fairly honest about it, but you can't really check to make sure that you got all the worst content. They might leave a minigame out, or a bit of d

        • I agree that the ESRB may not use the best methods available, but they have to make compromises.

          They can't play the entire game for many reasons, 1) many times the game is sent to be rated before it is finished, 2) most games are way too long to play in a couple of hours, 3) not everybody can finish a game, 4) even if you played the entire game you might miss something.

          So, not perfect, but can you think of a better way to do it? One that doesn't require hiring only QA level gamers, that can play 80-120+ h

  • by tepples (727027) <tepples AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday October 16, 2007 @11:39AM (#20997587) Homepage Journal

    One thing I was expecting to find in this interview but did not find was how much it costs to submit or resubmit a product for rating, especially a simple little budget puzzle game from a smaller publisher that would otherwise have no problem getting an E.

  • Mirrored the MPAA (Score:5, Insightful)

    by A Name Similar to Di (875837) on Tuesday October 16, 2007 @11:41AM (#20997633)
    If anyone hasn't seen This Film is not yet Rated [imdb.com] which the Gamasutra article's title alludes to I would recommend it as an eye opening look into the ratings process.

    Just like the MPAA the ESRB is using an anonymous group of individuals with no clearly defined lines between ratings to effectively censor content (since many consoles will not even play AO content similar to many major studios refusing to release NC-17 content).

    And here's the quote that the summary should have included in my opinion:

    Do raters apply their own moral standards (on subjects like violence, substance abuse, and sexuality) to guide their rating recommendations? Or, are they merely to apply a standard that the ESRB has set out for them?

    PV: It's really a combination of both. Rating games is an inherently subjective practice in the sense that content is always going to be interpreted in different ways by different people. So part of the equation is the raters' own views on content, but as I said, parity and consistency play important roles as well.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      "Rating games is an inherently subjective practice in the sense that content is always going to be interpreted in different ways by different people."

      Yep, and the rules we use to frame the arguments about this crap change very quickly, just as they have with movies. Look at "Barbarella" (1968) - full frontal nudity on a number of occasions with a PG rating; no modern movie could get away with that (I remember there being some brouhaha about one tit shown in "Titanic"). 40 years later and we've gone throug
      • Yep, and the rules we use to frame the arguments about this crap change very quickly, just as they have with movies. Look at "Barbarella" (1968) - full frontal nudity on a number of occasions with a PG rating; no modern movie could get away with that (I remember there being some brouhaha about one tit shown in "Titanic"). 40 years later and we've gone through many iterations of subjectivity in the MPAA ... it's no shock that the relatively young ESRB would have some issues. The real problem here is the leve
      • I am, however, going to enjoy looking back in 39 years and saying "Can you believe they tried to ban Manhunt 2?"

        Or looking back and saying "Jeez, it's amazing that Manhunt 2 was even conceived of, let alone RELEASED! Boy were we a bunch of savages in the early 21st century." Those aren't my current opinions, of course, but, as the Barbarella release has shown, it could swing either way.
      • Look at "Barbarella" (1968) - full frontal nudity on a number of occasions with a PG rating

        not quite true:

        Barbarella was released in the USA before the MPAA introduced the motion picture rating system on November 1, 1968. It was consequently released with a tag "Suggested For Mature Audiences". A re-release in 1977 (to cash in on the success of Star Wars (1977)) was edited to obtain a "PG" rating and was called "Barbarella: Queen Of The Galaxy. The video version is of the original uncut version and not t

    • If anyone hasn't seen This Film is not yet Rated which the Gamasutra article's title alludes to I would recommend it as an eye opening look into the ratings process.

      Just like the MPAA the ESRB is using an anonymous group of individuals with no clearly defined lines between ratings to effectively censor content (since many consoles will not even play AO content similar to many major studios refusing to release NC-17 content).

      And here's the quote that the summary should have included in my opinion:


      The problem
      • by iocat (572367)
        I can say as a game developer that it's extremely rare to be surprised by a rating. That is, you know what will get you a T, and E10, and an M. I have heard terms like "hard T" (meaning close to M, but not quite) tossed around, and we did once have a game get an M when we were expecting a T -- that was a hassle -- but in general Ts, Ms, and E10s are consistant across the board.

        Whether parents know it or not, the ratings system -- despite being subjective -- is extremely consistant, much more so than the m

      • A M rated game is reasonably close to other M rates games while a R rated film varies greatly in it's content.

        This strikes me as about the most damning thing you could say: That instead of drawing on a broad spectrum of ideas and content the M-rated game runs along a very narrow and predictable track.

    • by EtoilePB (1087031)
      Just like the MPAA the ESRB is using an anonymous group of individuals with no clearly defined lines between ratings to effectively censor content (since many consoles will not even play AO content similar to many major studios refusing to release NC-17 content).

      The de facto censoring, however, is on the retail end of the system, and not the ratings end of the system. I believe that the raters do the right thing, in general, rating what they're given. What needs to change, in order to make the system v
      • The de facto censoring, however, is on the retail end of the system, and not the ratings end of the system.

        How exactly do you see that as differing from the MPAA? An NC-17 movie can still be released just as an AO game can be released. Neither de facto censoring is the "ratings end of the system" saying "oh no, this game cannot be released."

        I believe that the raters do the right thing, in general, rating what they're given.

        I can't see how that conclusion was reached on your part. Was it because yo
        • by grumbel (592662)
          ### An NC-17 movie can still be released just as an AO game can be released.

          A AO game can only be released if its for the PC, Mac or Linux. Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony don't allow AO stuff on their consoles. So while the retail chain is a problem, Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony are the bigger problem and need to be overcome first.

          About the anonymity of the raters, I really don't see a problem with that by itself. The problem with the MPAA, as far as I got from the film, isn't that the raters are anonymous, b
  • Page 3..

    "Truth be told, though, I'm just not privy to the conversations that take place when the raters are doing their job. We take the integrity of the process extremely seriously, and nobody else is present in the viewing room when raters are reviewing and discussing content."

    So for all she knows they may be rolling d100, and BS'ing the rest of the session...

    Its the ESRB, not Jury duty.........

    • It would be a different system and I think the ratings would reflect better if they used a Nielsen type sampling from around the country. Take a % based on population, give a loosely defined set of guidelines, pick a random sampling and rate. I think the main problem they have here in the ESRB are not gamers and not privy to the differences say between the violence of Halo/GTA (posted /. yesterday).
      • by steveo777 (183629) on Tuesday October 16, 2007 @12:35PM (#20998533) Homepage Journal

        I think the main problem they have here in the ESRB are not gamers and not privy to the differences say between the violence of Halo/GTA (posted /. yesterday).

        Try reading TFA:

        How diverse is your pool of raters?

        PV: Our group of raters includes a mix of male and female, parents and non-parents, hardcore gamers and more casual gamers, younger and older. We recruit from the New York metropolitan area, which has one of the most culturally and socially diverse populations in the country.
        Sounds to me like they've got their bases covered pretty well.

        And for the record, I think the ESRB does a pretty good job. Even when they re-rated GTA:SA. And Manhunt and Manhunt 2 should probably both be AO, but I'm not rating them.

        The real question you should as is "who would you rather rate the games?" Besides yourself. You have to have a few qualifications to satisfy publishers. The group has to be small enough to ensure confidentiality, non-objective based (no or minimal political or social skews), and private. Draw on a larger pool and the publishers will get upset. They don't want any leaks about their content that they don't release.

        And so, if you don't give it to the ESRB, or something very similar, then the job will fall into the laps of the politicians. Nobody wants that.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          That's bullshit. They've got six raters total; how diverse is that? If you were to divide people based on age (above/below a certain age so there's 2 groups), gender, and whether they're a parent or not, you would need eight different people to get each perspective. Adding more dimensions and more granularity (eg more age categories, age/number of children, race, etc), you're going to need more and more people to represent those groups. For her to say that they've got diversity when there's only six freakin
        • "We recruit from the New York metropolitan area"
          That explains everything. Dadgum yankees.
        • by sqrt(2) (786011)

          And so, if you don't give it to the ESRB, or something very similar, then the job will fall into the laps of the politicians. Nobody wants that.
          Are you forgetting the third, and best option? No body rates the games. Then we can all stop pretending this farcical moral crusade to categorize games into neat little slots with appropriate age groups was anything but wholesale censorship.
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by setien (559766)
          I think they do a ridiculously bad job. I worked for a game company, and while we had no significant trouble getting grizzly, visceral murders through the rating process as below M, ESRB had problems with hints of nipple showing through a female characters shirt, and they had problems with characters smoking certain types of drugs. I think the hypersensitivity to sexual(-ish) content and drugs, but non-sensitivity to ultra violent content is a monumental double standard, which smacks all too much of a rel
          • by Chabo (880571)
            It's not religion, it's the "standard" ethics code of the U.S. as a whole. In Europe, sex and sexuality aren't a big deal, which is why you can get a French movie intended for fairly young audiences that has some nudity in it. Meanwhile in the U.S., you can axe-murder someone in a PG movie, but show a nipple and it's immediately rated R.
    • Maybe the ESRB should be ran like Jury Duty with a random sampling of the population where it is unlikely that the same person will review many games. At least then a liberal person might get to influence something once in a while.

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