Friday, 16 November 2012

Ratings and Rantings

Are the current systems the absolute best? No. Do they need to be replaced? That's a tougher question.

Hello again! I've once again successfully not died whilst out of town, so you can be appreciative (or disappointed, who am I to judge?) of that fact. I couldn't keep the update schedule, something that I figured would happen. Even so, it's nice to recharge the batteries now and then. Plus I've got something that I feel is rather fitting to talk about to end out this short week: game ratings.

I've touched on ratings before, now and then. I think that for the number of flaws that the ESRB has that they've done a fantastic job, especially since the video game industry set it up in North America as a self-regulatory body that people had the choice of submitting games to. Essentially, it was either that or let the government step in, and back in the early 1990's when this threat was coming down the pipe that would have been a rather dire situation indeed.

Like I said the ESRB is not without problems. Some of the content descriptors can be rather lacking even at the best of times. The ESRB also does not sit down and review an entire game to judge the content, mostly due to the magnitude of entries that they receive. Instead they tend to rely on the publisher be up front about what they consider to be the both the most indicative content of the game, as well as the most extreme content. This can lead to games that feature more graphic violence and other mature themes as being underrated depending on the brief initial impression that the ESRB was given. However, as I said, the system does, for the most part, work.

Just because it works though, doesn't mean that people want to leave it alone. Now, I have to admit that I'm not the biggest fan of John Riccitiello or EA, but I can't help but wonder if he might have a point regarding a universal rating system for games. After all, at the moment the ESRB covers console and computer games for North America, but there's different ratings for mobile games. There's PEGI over in Europe, CERO in Japan, and even government regulated bodies over in places like Australia (not sure, but I think that's one of the reasons why Yahtzee gets games later, because of the regulatory body, don't quote me on that though).

There is undoubtedly appeal in a universal ratings system; something that someone from any country can look at and go "Ah, if it's rated Y, then factors 1,2, and 3 are probably there," regardless of where they are. It could help developers from having to submit games to multiple ratings boards which may cut down on costs and help consolidate manpower. However, although there are upsides, I think there are also shortcomings that people aren't really taking into account at the moment.

The biggest hurdle I can think of is something that is going to be persistent regardless of a universal rating system or not. You see you can universalize the rating system but you can't really account for some regional differences. For example in Japan a violent game is likely to be more leniently rated in a lot of cases than over here. You can take a look at the Wikipedia page for Cero for some examples of this. The fact is that if a ratings system is universalized then what happens when cultural differences come into play? How are those issues going to be resolved? It's not going to be as simple as giving the game a different rating in different countries, because that could lead to confusion and poor enforcement in some cases.

I do think that taking the rating system out of government hands in the cases where it is controlled as such would be a good thing, but you don't need to universalize to do that, merely make boards where appropriate. To put it bluntly, I don think that universalizing the system actually solves any of the problems inherent in it. It would honestly be best to focus on those first, then once they've been tackled to the utmost abilities of those in power, maybe you can see about merging into one board.


  1. I thought the Japanese system CERO was also a government ran board, guess not.

    PEGI will also rate pretty different. Like PEGI gave DOA5 a 16 which is like a Teen rating from the ESRB and it got a Mature from the ESRB

  2. "The biggest hurdle I can think of is something that is going to be persistent regardless of a universal rating system or not. You see you can universalize the rating system but you can't really account for some regional differences."

    Huh. That's actually a really good point. I haven't put much stock into the ESRB over the years (not that I disapprove; I just never really thought about it), but I guess it's a much more important matter than I gave it credit for. How WOULD someone make a universal rating system? It'd be as much of a clash of cultures as it would a resistance to change, IMO.

    I'll say this much, though: it seems like a lot of the big releases today are M-rated. Like, I can look at an issue of GameInformer and scratch my head, thinking "When did gaming become so child-unfriendly?" There are plenty of exceptions, but still...just looking at the ESRB's site paints a pretty unflattering picture.

    Just sayin'.

    1. There's no simple solution to the problem of cultural differences. I don't think that's an unfortunate thing, but it remains the single largest hurdle to making an all encompassing rating system that's actually feasible.

      As for why more games are rated M, I think the fact of the matter is that Just about any shooter these days is bound to be given the rating unless they really try and dial it back. Since the depicted violence is realistic thanks to the graphical capabilities it's often enough to push the game into M territory.

      There's admittedly also some odd choices. Zone of the Enders 2, for example, was rated M for Blood and Gore, and Violence. As far as I can remember the blood only occurs in one cutscene, and the violence is completely without bloodshed (it's implied at some points, but still). Why it was rated M is beyond me, but it was.


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