Why The ESRB Is Out Of Touch - VolcanicSilver@hotmail.com Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Why The ESRB Is Out Of Touch

 

Platformers, shooters; simulators, fighters; educational, not-so-educational. Each game has its own feel, its own pull, its own audience. Some are meant purely for the young, while others are meant exclusively for the adult. However, the in-between is the crucial point where there often seems to be a disparity in our industry's very own "trusted" ratings system.

 

For starters, let me get things out of the way: I am sixteen years old, meaning I fall one year short of the pre-requisite for purchasing Mature-rated video games. However, this is not a plea of disdain by the fact that I am under age. My family has since decided three years ago, that I am of mature-enough mind to play games with extended themes within them (with certain cut-offs, of course). Instead, this is a simple thought that has come up every time I purchase a new game from Gamestop: "What I'm purchasing isn't as bad as the ratings make it sound. Why is this game rated the way it is?"


As it goes, most genres have already plugged themselves into an area of content "safety" simply by their design. It normally goes without saying that a platformer will be rated 'E for Everyone'. Same for racing games, which garner an E or a 'T for Teen'. Games with shooting mechanics, by our standards, will naturally brand themselves with an 'M for Mature' rating on the box art. And for a lot of these games, the ESRB ratings system holds true. A platformer will normally have you jump around in a fantastical world, filled with imaginary creatures and unique interactions. A shooter, or action game, will more-than-likely feature the main character killing things.

 

 

But is the industry as black-and-white as the ESRB makes it seem?A rated-M game will normally attract for its use of "Blood and Gore", "Strong Language", "Sexual Content", and "Intense Violence". A T game, is not that far off, with "Violence", "Infrequent Strong Language", and "Blood", E for Everyone, contains "Minimal Use of Fantasy Violence" and the such. These ratings seem pretty sound and reasonable, but the way that content in games are scrutinized, sometimes breaks the trust.

 

One example is Ratchet & Clank. For the PSP iteration of the franchise, It generated an E10, for the sole reason that it featured "Use of Alcohol". What was this use of alcohol? A half-filled martini sitting on a table as Ratchet sun-bathes. Ratchet & Clank: Deadlocked was handed a T rating, for having a "darker" tone than previous installments. However, Europe's PEGI system gave both games a 3+ rating, meaning it was okay for any person at least 3 years old to watch or play.

 

 

A classic example, for better voicing, is Halo. The franchise is nothing short of arcade-y, and features mild cursing and current violence throughout. Blood spatter is infrequent, although it does happen, and the killing of enemies is frequent. Those two factors are the main force driving ESRB's decision to rate all Halo games 17 and up: The fact that they feature killing, and dynamic blood. By PEGI's standards, it was rated 16+, allowing sixteen-year-olds to play its content.

 

A huge contender to this point is the inconsistency in rating, as the recent Batman: Arkham City has a calming T rating. However, I recall a lot of the circumstances to be much darker, graphic, and disturbing in that game, as compared to Halo. Yet, a parent will buy Arkham City without breaking much of a sweat, while the moment Halo or The Elder Scrolls IV are described, every thought process starts second guessing itself. Batman features psychotic criminality, a sexy Catwoman being called "B****" , pummeling people to near-death, hostages die, criminals have lines that speak openly of pornography, and also gunfire. These circumstances are all brought together in an atmosphere that is much grimmer than even some M games. Yet, it's rated T because the protagonist does not outright kill people, and there is not dynamic blood. Forget the sexual themes, suggestive substances, and tone. PEGI, on the other hand, rated this game an 18+, making this the M-game out of the bunch.

 

For the most part, our own ratings system works, and works fine. Only problem, is that little things need to be tweaked so that this kind of confusion and justification don't need to happen on both ends. What could help adjust these problems?

 

 

For one, a more realistic approach to content scrutiny would be nice. Rather than pain all video games in a bad light, look at the actions in larger context, in terms of atmosphere, purpose, motivation, and intensity. Granted, intensity is already looked at for violence, but how the violence is implemented and other themes such as sexuality and language can be looked at without placing hands over their eyes. It seems like many games are little worse than the content we see in PG-13 movies. It's a pretty large jump, for the same content in a Mature-rated game to be found in a PG-13 movie. Heck, PG-13 films are allowed to feature one F-bomb per movie, which is something that would never fly in T ratings.

 

Second point is to have more encompassing ratings, rather than such large jumps. This wouldn't be a problem, if not for the fact that any game with the first sight of violence immediately jumps to an M. When you look at it, the ages of 3, 7, 10, 13, and last 17 seem fairly reasonable. However, in the four years from 13 to 17, teenagers will have seen and heard more graphic language, sexual content, and violence than most video games even dare to push.

 

 

Why not try out something similar to PEGI's system? Have more breaks during the teen years. 3, 7, 12, 16, and 18 seems more reasonable, and their scrutiny more logical, than our own. I'll know without a doubt that Heavy Rain or Grand Theft Auto are both M and 18+, but what about Arkham City, Halo, The Elder Scrolls, or even The Sims gives them their rating? The line is gray, and most decisions are obvious, but many others are not.

 

 

In closing, what do you guys think? Is the ratings system justified, or could it use an update in today's ecosystem of media? Are there other games that don't deserve their rating, either two low or too high? Am I complaining unjustly and should get over myself?

 

I'm open to all comments, so feel free to sound off below. As always,

 

 

GoldvsSilver

 

 

 

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