Frankly, when I come home after a long day of school/work/modeling/loitering around back allies peddling the smut I write, all I want to do is sit down in front of the TV, turn on my Wii, and get lost in living vicariously through my character in Harvest Moon: Animal Parade, all the while mentally contemplating packing up all my stuff and moving into the country to marry a wizard or a carpenter.
The very. last. thing. on my mind is politics. Especially after the election. Now, don’t get me wrong; I have an opinion on politics, and if you get me alone, and come at me disagreeing with my particular views, I will literally give you a verbal beatdown.
But of course, this isn’t about my particular views on politics. Nay, this issue presses a bit more further than that. I see politics everywhere: the news, the newspaper, any and all media, in the sky, magazines, everywhere. That’s just the country we live in.
However, the last place I expected to see politicians was in my favorite video games. (And I don’t mean as characters you can knock off in L.A. Noire, either.)
Very recently, there seems to have been an uprising in gun-related violence and, if you pay attention to the news, you’ll hear about unfortunate school shootings, gang violence, and other horrible atrocities that have people calling for better gun control. The interesting part is that this inevitably extends to video games as well, and politicians are calling for stricter, more clear ESRB ratings.
Now, for those of you familiar with the ESRB system, then you know it stands for the Entertainment Software Rating Board. If you’re a gamer, then of course you know that this is the system created in 1994 by the United States, and is also used in Canada, that mandates, by law, that every game have a rating before it hits the shelves. It was originally founded because, once upon a time, video games that had content such as gore, excessive violence, strong sexual content, or foul language could easily find their way into the innocent hands of a ten-year-old.
Believe it or not, the game to spark enough outcry for the rating systems was none other than Mortal Kombat, and clearly I don’t need to explain why parents were on the warpath about said ten-year-old son playing a game where a man thrusts a long, chained spear through his opponent’s chest and eviscerates him, or how a sexually-portrayed young woman’s finishing move is acting as if she is going to passionately kiss her opponent and then rips his head clean off of his shoulders.
And don’t even get me started on Kitana and those fans of hers:
Stomach-churning. isn’t it? Well, it’s simply because games like this at one point could be bought without parental supervision, and with technology and design upping the ante each year, games such as this get more and more violent and graphic, than those for which the ESRB was created. For a complete list of all of the ratings and their meanings, please visit the ESRB website.
But here’s a brief rundown of the category known as Unrestricted Ratings:
Early Childhood (EC): via Wikipedia: Games with this rating contain no material that adults would find offensive. This rating is for children ages three and over. Games that fall under this rating are specifically intended for young children, are usually educational, and contain no violence, sexuality, nudity, blood/gore, or use of severe language.
Everyone (E): Games in this category may contain mild, cartoon, or fantasy violence. The content is mild in impact. Might also contain mild language. This rating replaced the older K-A at the beginning of 1998.
Everyone 10+ (E10+): These games contain content that may be considered unsuitable for children under ten years of age. The content is moderate in impact. Titles in this category may contain more of mild, cartoon, or fantasy violence; crude humor; mild language/lyrics; animated/mild blood; and/or suggestive themes. The ESRB distributed this rating on October 1, 2004; the first game to receive the rating was Donkey Kong Jungle Beat.
Teen (T): These games contain content that may be inappropriate for children under thirteen years of age. The content is moderate to fairly strong in impact. However, they are not strictly age-restricted, and children twelve and under may purchase them. Titles in this category may contain more violence, blood, gambling, suggestive/sexual themes/content, and/or frequent use of vulgar language.
In contrast to those are the more mature Restricted Ratings:
Mature (M): Games with this rating contain content that is considered unsuitable for people under seventeen years of age who may not purchase, rent, exhibit, or view these games unless they have a parent/guardian’s permission. The content is strong in impact. Titles in this category may contain more blood and gore than the Teen rating would accommodate, intense violence, mature humor, and/or stronger sexual themes or content, more nudity, (which could often be censored) and/or more use of strong language. (This M rating may be part Restricted, and part Unrestricted, depending on store policy).
And lastly, the one that very few games have received – due to over-the-top sexual content, violence, or what-have-you:
Adults Only (AO): Games in this category contain content that is unsuitable for people under eighteen years of age, and persons under said age may not buy, rent, exhibit or view these games. The content is extreme in impact. These may include adult video games that show sexuality or graphic nudity; more use of strong language; more references/use of drugs/alcohol/tobacco; more mature humor; and/or more intense violence, blood, and gore than the M rating can accommodate. As of 2012, there have been twenty-one products that have received and kept the rating. The AO rating is the subject of ongoing controversy due to the extreme restrictions it places on game sales. Games from major publishers that receive an AO rating are often “toned down” in order to gain the lesser rating of M. Companies like Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo all have policies against allowing AO-rated games to be licensed on their consoles. Additionally, most major retailers, even those who carry M-rated games, do not sell AO-rated titles in their stores or through some websites! Consequently, AO-rated games are more restricted than M-rated games (only to the PC and Mac) and are sold in limited fashion. Most of the AO games have the “strong sexual content” descriptor.
So far, the ESRB has done a great job of rating which games are suitable for whichever age range. Moreover, as a former GameStop employee and a frequenter of the store, the company’s computers are automatically set for a disclaimer to pop up whenever a mature or adult-only game is scanned. It reads something to this effect:
The ESRB has placed a restricted rating of AO (or M) on this game. Is the buyer over eighteen years of age?
And that’s when the associate is absolutely required by law to have the buyer show that he or she is over the age of eighteen by way of checking their ID. Or, if the person is under eighteen, but still accompanied by the parent, then the parent must be absolutely aware of what the rating stands for and what the contents of the game include. Some GameStop employees (and I have seen this happen both behind the register working and in front of it buying a game) just hit the “Okay” button on an M-rated game that that a minor is trying to buy and sell it to them anyway, just to make a sale.
However, politicians are wanting the ESRB to provide more strict and clear definitions of the rating system. Now, I know you’re sitting there, scratching your head, wondering, “How can it be any clearer than that?” Well, let’s take a gander at how the European rating system, known as PEGI (Pan European Game Information), handles their game rating system.
PEGI has five age catagories (which, interestingly enough, are color-coded as Green (Safe), Yellow (Yield), and Red (Stop – i.e., mature) :
3: Suitable for ages three and older. May contain mild violence in an appropriate context for younger children, but no bad language is allowed. Similar to BBFC’s U rating and ESRB’s Early Childhood and Everyone (low end) ratings.
7: Suitable for ages seven and older. May contain mild, cartoon violence, sports, or elements that can be frightening to younger children. Similar to BBFC’s PG rating and ESRB’s Everyone (high end) and Everyone 10+ rating (low end) ratings.
12: Suitable for ages twelve and older. May contain violence in a fantasy setting, coarse language, mild sexual references or innuendo, or gambling. Similar to BBFC’s 12 rating and ESRB’s Everyone 10+ (high end) and Teen (low end) ratings.
16: Suitable for ages sixteen and older. May contain explicit violence, strong language, sexual references or content, gambling, or drug use (encouragement). Similar to BBFC’s 15 rating and ESRB’s Teen (high end) and the Mature (low end) ratings.
18: Suitable for ages eighteen and older. May contain graphic violence, including “violence towards defenseless people” and “multiple, motiveless killing,” strong language, strong sexual content, gambling, drug use (glamorization), or discrimination. Similar to BBFC’s 18 rating and the ESRB’s Mature (high end) and Adults Only ratings.
PEGI also has eight content descriptions with pictures, which include:
For more information on PEGI, please visit their website.
Now, compared to ESRB, which only provides the abbreviation of the rating on the cover of the game (which some kids use to their advantage when wanting to buy a more mature game, because parents often either overlook the rating or just don’t know what that little ol’ M in the corner means), I’d have to say that PEGI has it down to its simplest and most basic form. It really can’t be better explained than that, and that is why politicians want the ESRB to read more closely to the way PEGI does, in that it describes the game rating, what the game contains, and the proper age that the game is aimed at. That way, parents aren’t being played for suckers.
So, I suppose it’s time to throw my own two cents into all of this. Frankly, I say, HURRAY ESRB, but at the same time, I can also see where the politicians are coming from in wanting to make the ESRB imitate PEGI’s more in-depth explanation of the rating system. I’m not a parent, but I do have younger cousins, and I’m pretty sure that I would shit a brick if I saw my six-year-old cousin playing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. So, in that context, I’m glad that the ESRB exists, along with their website, so that more concerned parents can take the time to access from their phones, computers, and whatnot, or even ask the sales representative what the game consists of before they buy it.
On the other hand, I think implementing the more PEGI-like structure into the ESRB would actually be more helpful. Let’s not sugarcoat it: there are a lot of people who believe that video game violence is the reason that people go out and commit violent crimes. (Anyone remember the GTA: San Andreas-inspired car theft (along with other aspects in the game that pushed it up to an AO rating)?)
Now, while I personally believe that video games don’t inspire people to go out and beat prostitutes, steal cars, or shoot up their neighborhoods, the politicians trying to push this law believe that those elements are always the first to blame when someone says they saw it in a video game and wanted to try it, which as you gamers know, can ruin a great game for everyone because some moron is either mentally unstable or just lacks basic common sense.
Moreover, as if the ESRB coming into question wasn’t enough, a state representative for Connecticut by the name of Debralee Hovey has proposed a 10% increase on all video games that fall under the ESRB rating of Mature. This bill is the result of the incredibly unfortunate and tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school, and would include popular titles such as Call Of Duty (which was Adam Lanza (the shooter)’s favorite video game).
I honestly am not sure where I stand on the tax increase, but it’s angering gamers everywhere. Again, it goes back to the “one bad apple spoils the bunch” sort of logic. Frankly, I would hate to see a tax increase on video games, only because it would reinforce the negative stereotype that video games inspire dangerous and violent behavior in their players.
Some people are calling this new ratings law unconstitutional and, from a legal standpoint, it actually is, but the bigger questions still remain: will this law actually go into effect? I personally don’t think (in my own, humble opinion) that this law is too terrible.
Especially given that indie games manage to actually get away with not having a rating on their cover, when some obviously need to have those M-for-mature ratings on them. I say, in this instance, I agree with what the politicians are trying to do. It isn’t as if they are saying, “BAN ALL VIOLENT VIDEO GAMES”, right?
…Oh. Wait. Yes, it is. (Sorta)
For those of us familiar with Brown v. Entertainment Merchant’s Association, a law was pushed to ban sales of any sort of violent video games to minors here in California. Clearly, that law has since been thrown out of the window, as it was deemed unconstitutional.
So, really, all we can do is wait and see what happens. Frankly, I’m fine with the new law being passed, as one day, I will want to be a mother, and want to be able to sleep easy knowing that the kid I raised to be a gamer is playing games that are appropriate for their own age range, and that I have a full and clear understanding of what the game elements detail. (Again, would you really want to walk in and see your ten-year-old watching Kratos shag eight concubines in an orgy?)
Just something to think about.