Rating system has its glitches

Owen Sound Sun Times (On)
Thursday, January 17, 2008

The video game rating system is flawed.

If a video game is rated Adults Only, the game equivalent of the “R” rating for films, the game is considered pornography. This leaves only the Mature rating for “mature content” and the definition is too broad for one rating, leaving some games with too high a rating.

With that exception, the system works very well.

I don’t think the ESRB should replace parental discretion, nor do I think the ESRB should police video games, as some critics of video games have said. Video games are an artistic form of expression and when properly enforced the ESRB system is enough and the ratings give parents enough information to control their children’s exposure to video game content.

ESRB ratings are easily identifiable, and, like movie ratings, give a clear outline of the “objectionable” content contained in a game. They are; Early

Childhood, Everyone, Everyone 10+, Teen 13+. Mature 17+ and Adults Only 18+.

Violence, sexual content, substance use/abuse and crude humour are all taken into account to give parents a pretty good idea of what’s in the game. These ratings, in fact, tell more about the content than movie ratings.

Teen rated games may contain violence and some coarse language, much like a PG or PG-13 movie. No blood and gore, no nudity, but some violence. After Teen the only viable rating is Mature.

Adults Only is not a viable rating. Though the rating is 18+, just like the movie rating “R”, the implications are entirely different. Games are generally designated AO because of sexual content, and only in rare cases because of violence. These games are treated as pornography, many major retailers will not carry them, and Nintendo and Sony will not publish them on their consoles. That’s like if Blockbuster didn’t carry any film that was rated “R”.

Because of that, game developers keep their mature games under the Mature umbrella, leaving the range of “mature content” very large.

Jade Empire is rated Mature: It has some blood and gore, but gives you the option to disable it; the violence is typical fighting, not overly sadistic or twisted.

A game like Half-Life 2 is rated mature. It contains quite graphic violence, but the violence is not of a sick or disturbing nature. The game contains no other objectionable content

The Grand Theft Auto series allows you to kill anyone, encourages you to smuggle drugs, solicit prostitutes and contains a lot of coarse language.

Manhunt has coarse language. You play a man who must commit murders with household objects or be killed by the game’s villain.

All the aforementioned games are good, or even great games (Half-Life 2 is my favourite PC game) and should be able to be enjoyed by the appropriate audience, which may not necessarily be anyone who is 17 or older.

With the AO rating essentially classifying games as pornography, the Mature range is too broad to give an accurate picture of a game’s content, leading some games that could be played by younger audiences out of their reach and vice versa.

Furthermore, Jade Empire is an example of a game where the blood and gore can be disabled. The ESRB rating does not mention if a game features this option. I think this should be part of the rating label.

There needs to be a rating under Teen, say “Teen 15+”, and the Mature rating should be 18+ and treated like the “R” Movie rating, while still keeping AO for overtly pornographic games. This is exactly the system Japan has introduced, 12+, 15+ and 18+, the latter of which being the one that is strictly enforced.

As always I’d be glad to hear your thoughts on this issue.

Calen Henry is a fourth year student of Japanese Studies and Multimedia at McMaster University. He grew up in Owen Sound, has been a gamer since childhood and is also interested in music and film.

© 2008 Osprey Media Group Inc. All rights reserved.

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