Imagine That: Alphabetic Videogame Ratings Aren't Very Informative

from the no,-a-number-system-won't-work-either dept

While the corrosive effects of videogame violence are often overstated, the idea of informing parents about game content so that they can make decisions about what their children are playing isn’t a bad idea. That’s what the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) is supposed to do. Unfortunately, in its strategy of placing a movie-like rating on each game, the group fails in its objective to provide meaningful information. And although the board tries hard to identify the subtleties between different kinds of violence (even different kinds of blood) it offers little to go on in terms of knowing the content of a game. But isn’t a group like the ESRB destined to fail from its outset? Its sister organization, the MPAA, doesn’t have a great track record with its system. Why not leave the job up to consumer publications to inform parents? Some will say that this is unsatisfactory, since parents won’t find the information. But if a parent won’t put in the effort to seek it out, then they probably won’t care too much about a game’s ESRB rating. Or here’s a better idea. Why doesn’t the parent just watch their child play the game for a few minutes. If they don’t like it, they can return it or sell it on eBay. And if you’re not convinced that ratings systems and measures of violence are no substitute for actually seeing the game, remember that in one study, even Pac-Man was deemed to be a violent game.

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Comments on “Imagine That: Alphabetic Videogame Ratings Aren't Very Informative”

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James says:

Gee here's an idea...

…since the parents are ponying up the $$ to buy the games why don’t we just let them DO THEIR JOB and parent.

Find out what it is you are about to pay for before you buy it. Its very annoying for those of us without children to put up with all of the crap from those with because you chose not to use a rubber and now you want the gov’t (or others) to babysit.

Shannon says:

Re: Gee here's an idea...

The ratings system is completely voluntary. If you disagree with the way your game or movie is rated you can release it unrated. Chances are it won’t be seen as most theatres and stores won’t carry unrated material. While I agree that the ratings system is flawed and needs serious reform, at least SOMETHING is being done. If parents pay attention to the ratings they at least know that this game “might not be something I want my kids to play, maybe I should check it out first.” Now if there were just some way to punish parents for using videogames and television as a distraction method so they can avoid raising and talking to their kids.

Anonymous Coward says:

here’s the problem.. return to store? Piracy issues. Sell on ebay? won’t get as much for a “used” game, period.

plus, who would fork out over 50 bucks for a game they know nothing about? and who’s to say that the kids don’t “hide” the blood and sex (some games have maturity control, or gore or whatever control) until the parent leaves? the parent either stays the hwole time, or better yet, makes random checkups. maybe spy on the kid. sure, that’s good for them.

now, my mother runs a daycare (she has for over 15 years) and she’s seen a dramatid decline in the parenting of her kids over those years. To keep this in persepctive, this isn’t some nanny service, she’s registered through the state, and must take a certain number of youth training every year. on top of that, she’s part of a program for the “best of the best” daycares. thus, she has to go above and beyond what the state minimum requirements, and she’s one of 3 in our area that is qualified. so with that being said, and with living in the home daycare for all that time, i can attest that parents want to blame others for their faults. so, the only real way to “monitor” game ratings is the letters by the esrb. they look, oh..good, bad..whatev. but yes they are limited. maybe try the TV system instead? VG-M:VSL??? things of that nature? a step?

Searcher619 (profile) says:

Here! Here!

James, exactly! But you do know you are making WAY too much sense right? Parents kill themselves making sure little Johnny’s food doesn’t whatever they deem bad for them. They waste money buying bottled tap water so little johnny doesn’t drink the yucky free tap water at home. After pretending to care so much about the kid they go out and buy whatever game the kid wants to shut’em up. Then they get upset about the game content. Then they blame to most logical entity at fault. The game maker or the store that let them actually BUY the game. And when election day is near the politicians join the fun and feed the BS fuled flames.

NSMike says:

Ah, the classic problem...

“Mommy, buy me this game!”
“No. Not now.”
“Okay, honey. Calm down.” *tosses it in the cart without a second glance, takes it home, and catches the kid in the middle of a violent, blood-spewing rampage in the game*
“*Gasp* Where did you get that?”
“You bought it for me mommy.”
“Well this is unacceptable!”
*Yells and whines*
“The game designers made an awful, violent game!”
Response 1 – Save-the-children-style Politician “We must supress these violent games, they have fallen into the hands of our children!”
Response 2 – ESRB – “We rated the game appropriately.”
Response 3 – Self-righteous Lawyer – “I propose a ban on selling violent video games!”
Response 4 – Judicial System – “Such a Ban is unconstitutional.”
Response 5 – STCS Politician, angry mother, and Self-righteous Lawyer – “See how the liberals ruin everything!”
Response 6 – The common sense of the Masses – “This government granted freedom of speech and expression. These special interest groups are promoting a message antithetical to the constitution. If the mother had been a parent, and been informed, and learned how to say “No” in the first place, the kid wouldn’t have been exposed to any content the parent might disapprove of.”

Response 7 – STCS Politician, angry mother, and Self-righteous Lawyer – “…But… But… Violence in games… Derp…” *Heads Explode*

The End.

PhysicsGuy says:


how is that game NOT violent and, well, just downright corrupting? seriously, you eat every part of the ghosts except their eyeballs… you move by, well, whatever mechanism pac-man uses to move and eat pills whilst techno music blairs in the background. i guess it’s good the game endorses the consumption of fruit, but then again there’s the fructose, such a quick burning carbohydrate…

Gamer says:

Plus, the original Xbox and all “next-gen” systems (including Vista) have a built-in game blocker that blocks out certain game ratings unless a password is entered. And I beleive that the 360 (not sure about PS3 since getting any relevent info out of Sony is like getting Bush to pull out of Iraq) will let you block based on the little blurbs from the back of the package.

It is true that Parents have gotten lazy (not all, but a lot!). If anything makes them put in a little effort, they want nothing to do with it and some agency should be taking care of it.

Please parents, realize there there is a lot more to that new multi-hundred dollar (or pound or euro or yenX100) video game system than just buying it and giving it to your kid…research! You wouldn’t buy a car without researching it first right?

some gamer says:

is it really that complicated?

It seems to me that every game has a letter on the front for the rating… E T M etc… well aside from that it gets more in-depth it tells you what kind of “bad” things are in the game if it says blood the game has blood in it if it says violence theres violence… THIS IS SOME SUPER-COMPLEX SYSTEM there are no hidden messages to decode there arent any secret phrases to learn its all right there on the box is it that hard that parents just look at the game for a moment instead of trying to get violent games banned?

Pykedout says:

Books need Ratings too!

If we are going to go as far as rating video games, why not books as well? I mean I wouldn’t want my child reading such deviate books such as huckleberry finn and the great gatsby. They both should be rated B for banned school books. I mean one describes suicide of all things and *gasp* some books describe murder!

What the fuck is wrong with people who can’t give their kids enough time to take interest in what they are doing. You as a parent have failed if you do not.

Anonymous Coward says:

gay parenting kills kids

these parents these days are horrible, back many years ago, kids went out, and made their own money, and chopped down their trees to build themselves houses, and learned how to do life the old fashoned way

today children are little wimps, shielded from every semi-bad thing on the planet, and once those parents die, those kids have no idea how to do anything

just remember science class, if you help a baby chicken out of its egg, it doesnt have the strength to live the rest of its life.

hint for stupid people: baby chicken=kids today

tek'a says:

rising dead

alrighty.. just got a copy here of a new 360 game..

with zombies.. lets call it rising dead? anywho..
lets use a quick simulated moron in a hurry glace at it to see what this game is about..

I see zombies, blood, hunger for flesh, dangerous looking tv wielding.. and ah, an M rating. hmm.. maybe this game isnt for kids..
Im sure there is an explaination on the back.. lets see.. hmm.. chop till you drop.. anything is a weapon.. mention of a swarm of zombies.. Im almost certain this isnt a game for kids.. and there is the M sign again.. with a nice breakdown about Mature, and 17+ and all the blood and gore and intense violence..

so we have a product clearly marked, both in design and content. (and amention that it supports Family Setting, very important)

seems like not only is the information there in the ESRB ratings, its there in the packaging too.
When taken to the counter, the clerk recognized and commented about “that game with you smashin all them zombies an blood.. coooll..”. The Industry is more or less doing its part. the Ratings Board is doing pretty well. the failed link is, in this case, the parents who could fail to notice it.

Bradley says:

Bad system?

I work at a Wal-Mart in the Electronics dept, where we sell games. Lots of games. Lots and lots and lots of games. And, from my perspective, and from what I’ve read about it, the ESRB is much more accurate than the MPAA is about content ratings, with two exceptions – the ESRB doesn’t usually play through a game entirely, so there may be content towards the end that they are unaware of. Two, hidden content that isn’t really supposed to be a part of the game (“Hot Coffee” from San Andreas, anyone?). And, for the first exception, I was under the impression that most developers told ESRB about it – because, if they don’t, when the ESRB gets complaints about this “T” game that needs to be rated “M”, they’ll send out recall messages so that the ratings can be changed.

I can say from first-hand experience that 90% of the average parents (even worse, try Grandparents) don’t realize, or even care to realize, what game ratings are, even when we try to tell them.

The game ratings are 100% effective – but not idiot-proof, which is sad, cause most parents are idiots these days.

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