Note, December 8 2004: This was originally written for diabloii.net in 1998. I was 13. *cough*
for the Entertainment Software Ratings Board
. Rates video games
Who's Rating Our Games?
Have you noticed those omni-present black and white logos stamped
in the corner of computer game boxes? Things like ''E'' for everyone, ''T'' for teen, ''M'' for mature, or ''A'' for adult?
Ever wonder who appoints those ratings?
...definitely not gamers...
The ESRB <http://www.esrb.com>
(or Entertainment Software Ratings Board) is an ''independent board that
has, with the support of the industry, developed a standardized rating system
for interactive entertainment software products.'' This rating system
determines which games are suitable for which age groups, and, in theory,
assists parents in filtering out games they might consider
inappropriate for their children.
Generally, the public pays very little heed to these ratings, and
they usually hold no meaning except to the parent who shops for his or her child
at Comp USA. However, as more and
more mainstream companies begin accepting the ESRB's word as law, gamers are
beginning to ask the question: What authority do these people have?
How do these games receive these ratings? Who designated them?
These are questions I hope to answer. After reading this, you will have a clear
idea of how the ESRB works, how it affects you, and the controversy behind it.
What is the ESRB?
Founded in late 1994, the ESRB has rated literally thousands of
products. It’s not just some organization throwing out ideals and morals, but
a large company, well established in (or, rather, above) the gaming
industry. Headed by a board of advisors from prominent organizations, backed by the
government, educational industries, and supported by various corporations,
the ESRB has a strong base, and will not be going away.
Through a seemingly comprehensive system, they assign entertainment
software ratings based upon offensive material, and despite the fact that their
ratings are only meant to be recommendations for parents and other public responsibles, such as librarians, many stores have started accepting
these ratings as law. Gaming companies are now putting strict rules on free
copies, demos, and betas of their games given out to the public - all based upon ESRB ratings.
Who is rating the games?
Basically, your average Joe. Almost anyone can rate for the ESRB, whether they've ever
played a computer game in their life, or not.
To obtain eligibility to rate a game under the ESRB label, an
individual must undergo extensive training,
involving a wide variety of entertainment software, before becoming certified.
Supposedly, upon passing this game-experience training, the individual is deemed fit to judge what is
acceptable and unacceptable for the designated age groups in America; with this ability, they are queued with 100 other raters.
From this pool of raters, three are randomly chosen to judge each
game. ''Raters include retired school principals, parents, professionals,
and other individuals from all walks of life.'' This is a group
of non-gamers. Outsiders, some might say. Despite this, they are respected by
various government and educational groups, and, because of this, are given
virtually free reign to decide what games thousands of people should or should
How do they rate the games?
Instead of actually playing the game in order to get product
information, rating is done entirely through watching video tapes of gameplay footage. The representatives
assign a rating without ever meeting one another, or playing the game.
Many will argue that this is not the way to judge what is
appropriate for children and youths, but this system has been embraced by
America. It was presented to Congress in 1994 and received enormous support,
especially from right wing suporters. However, in all the appraisals mentioned,
not one came from any specific person or group in the gaming industry.
Who runs the ESRB?
The ESRB is not run by any specific person. However, a board of
advisors, the Academic and Consumer Advisory Board (ACAB), do make the major
decisions, meeting periodically to make sure that the system is working
correctly, and fixing it if it isn’t.
The ACAB is comprised of several individuals with vocations in
education, including professors (with doctorates usually in Psychology), school
principals, and also several directors of various organizations and school
councils, all concerned with the protection of America’s youth. You do not see any gaming industry icons listed here; Disciplinarians
seem to be the preferred type.
This board is responsible for establishing the correct demographic
of a rater, as well maintenance of the rating system. It has the
power of deciding what is right and wrong for thousands of people; choosing
individuals with barely any background involving computer games (aside from
their ''training''), and giving them the ability to govern what games
are appropriate to what age group, without ever playing them.
What authority do these people have?
Some may ask, ''What makes the ESRB so special that companies
allow them to rate their games? Why don't they just ignore them?'' The fact
of the matter is, these ratings are key marketing tools. Entertainment software
go that extra mile, removing gore, sexual references, cursing, and other
offensive material, in order to gain a larger market by getting that lower age-bracket.
The ESRB is in a very good position, as they have support from
numerous, extremely notable organizations. They have a virtual monopoly in their
trade, and are simply thought of as a ''can't-live-without'' company by
many outside parties, unaffiliated with the gaming industry.
How does this affect gamers?
You, as a gamer, are also influenced by the ESRB's ratings. You
will not be getting demos/betas from software companies who enforce the ESRB
scale (a number that is growing) if you do not meet the age requirement. You
will not be able to buy high-rated games (i.e. ''A'' or ''M'') in ESRB-enforced stores - unless you are with a parent. Three people, who have never played the games and have
virtually no background in gaming, have made this decision. It's considered final.
On to part 2: The Controversy