This could happen to you!
I know what you are thinking: the movie Terminator is starting to look like a possible outcome for our future. Fortunately, it’s still a ways off because the game ratings in question are actually strictly online games (for now). Who decides what we see when we play our games, and more importantly who decides who can play them? You may have heard of them, they are the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB). Until now, it was quite literally a board of people who decided what letter gets thrown onto the covers of games.
People are a wave of the past though, so in the age of digital everything the ESRB has decided to start integrating computers into this job. Instead of having a person look at a game and use their best judgement, they have instead written a digital survey designed to go in depth into every taboo issue that you don’t want little Jimmy experiencing. This survey will be completed by game developers, and sounds a lot like those annoying surveys you have to take for a job. Basically they will psychologically test the game, and developers who answer falsely will be penalized.
The survey does not sound like a cake walk by any means, because each item of interest is broken down into parts. Offensive language is broken down into six subcategories: minor profanities, epithets (when used in an abusive way), racial obscenities, and a whole category dedicated to the word “ass“. I am assuming the debate there is what context it is meant under. Religious slurs are not in this survey, which is interesting. Apparently they are not often used in games, or if so used rarely.
Other categories are a little shorter and more straight forward. Sexuality, for instance, just wants to know how much sex you can see if it’s there at all. The drug use and gambling portions are similar to sexuality’s briefness. Bodily functions are a whole different matter entirely though. The survey wants to know these things in detail, and included are flatulence sounds, “whimsical depictions of feces” (an example would be in the game Castle Crashers), realistically depicted feces, and the “act of human (or human-like character) defecation visually depicted“. Don’t worry folks, no fart will go uncaught. It seems silly to us, but these are the things that the ESRB wants to know about before selling games to anyone.
Reducing the decision to answers to a quiz, that could quite easily be fooled, seems irresponsible. This is coming from a company that is supposed to define the word responsible. This comes amidst the Supreme Court case involving a California Law that would regulate the sale of video games (even further). Ironically, Justice Potter Stewart was not able to define obscenity in video games to those that are depicted in this “quiz“, but instead said “I know it when I see it“. If this simple quiz is all that is standing in the way of a rating, wouldn’t a falsity not be noticed until it fell into the hands of the children? Although no game developer in their right mind would want penalties like that, it seems like it would be tempting to lie a little bit in order to get a lower rating. On the other hand, kids will often buy an “M” rated game just because it is “M” rated.
It is no secret that these game ratings are important. Gamers will try and rebel against the ESRB, but they actually help in making sure that games are not regulated more than they are. Major retailers, like Best Buy and GameStop will not even carry a game that is not rated. On the same token, the companies that rule the game world (Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony) will not have an un-rated game on their systems. It’s also no surprise that the only regulator of video games would turn to computers in an age where most companies already have.
Don’t go looking for SkyNet billboards yet though, as this new ratings “quiz” is just for online games. Games on Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo systems that are online will be using this new method to rate them. Online games made by companies like Facebook and Apple have not discussed any negotiations to adopt the ESRB ratings system. While this new system is only for online games at the moment, success could see it being possibly brought to consoles. As always, we want to know where you stand on this potentially crazy new idea. Can machines be trusted to do this job?
[Source: The New York Times]
[Images from: Arcade-History, NextGenTech, and ESRB]