The most disturbing aspect of the ESRB and Parents...

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...is the over and under inclusiveness of ESRB ratings and the indifference of parents to it.

Every once in a while there's an ESRB/Censorship/Parenting thread on here, and I've noticed something: all people talk about are sex and violence. It feels like I'm in the crowd for a show by The Exploited: it's just a repeating refrain of "sex and violence."

What I never hear are words like "horror" or "terror." Yet, if this is supposed to be all about the children, why is the discussion always over _GTA_ and never _Silent Hill_? Why is the discussion always about "murdering hookers to get your money back" and never about "Pyramid Head doing...whatever it is he's doing to those nurses"?

Why when I look on the ESRB site and compare _Halo_, _Resident Evil_, _Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney_, and _Thief: The Dark Project_ this is what I find:

Halo 3 - Blood and Gore, Mild Language, Violence

Resident Evil - Blood and Gore, Violence

Thief: The Dark Project - Blood, Violence*

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Blood, Language, Suggestive Themes, Violence

*(note that I removed the "animated" from both which I think was just the old form of the content descriptor)

Is the ESRB serious? The green blood in _Halo_ gets the same content descriptor as those zombie dogs? _Phoenix Wright_ gets the same content descriptors as _Thief_, and the only thing to alert parents to (even though they are different in Dark Project and Deadly Shadows) THAT level--if you've played Thief, you know what level I'm talking about--is that it is classified as "Mature"?

My theory is that ESRB/Censorship/Parenting threads in no way, shape, or form have the best interests of the children in mind. What they are really about is parental control over what their child gets to see. If this was really about the welfare of the children, why is there no 'horror' or 'terror' content descriptor? The only explanation I can come up with is that this is more about parents wanting to censor the media their children are exposed to than about protecting them.

I realize my ideas on parental rights are out of step with that of most people (that parents are more like the trustees and children like the trust AND the beneficiary while most view them as something...that I would say violates their human rights). However, whatever your ideas on the relationship between children and parents, how can anyone explain the lack of a "terror/horror" content descriptor other than parents and the ESRB operating on their own agendas, with no attention whatsoever to the real needs of children when it comes to harmful exposure to material through video games?

What all these discussions fail to address is the difference between what is *harmful* to children, and what parents may find *objectionable*. It does not necessarily follow from the fact that every parent should find what is harmful to be objectionable that it is harmful to allow a child exposure to something their parent finds objectionable. Too often in these debates we act as if the harmful and the objectionable are coterminous, when in fact the former is only a subset of the latter.

Nothing I think demonstrates this more clearly than the lack of a 'horror/terror' content descriptor. Well, one thing: that going by the ESRB, a parent would think there's less to worry about in _Thief_ than there is in _Halo_.

You know, if I ever have a kid, I'm going to let them play games that have Drug Reference, Sexual Themes, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco, and Alcohol and Tobacco Reference...Yes--I will let them play SingStar!

Now I have to get back to playing _Dead Space_, _Ninja Gaiden II_, and _The Orange Box_, all of which should have a 'dismemberment' content descriptor...

Heads up: Italicizing is [I)... [/I), not, _..._

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milskidasith:
Heads up: Italicizing is [I)... [/I), not, _..._

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Heh--wasn't italicizing. Just using my old school way of doing underlining in computer communications back before rich text/html.

I can kind of see your point, I know Silent Hill could keep a kid awake for weeks! I also think shocks and psycholocially disturbing content should be rated above a few splashes of red and that realistic violence should be seperate from cartoon style.

I also think I've finally realised why people have a real problem with sex in games and movies where violence seems ok.

Think of two kids, running around, pretending to shoot each other and 'die', no problem, right? Completely normal, its what kids do.

Now replace 'playing' violence with 'playing' sex and see how long before they're sat in front of a child psychologist.

Nowe I think children should be taught a certain amount about sex as they grow up, however, I'd prefer them to not learn it all from GTA San Andreas. Of course as they got older, you might be able to explain why the lady gets in the car and your money goes down, although explaining the health gain could be tougher.

However, I guess they have to draw a line on how descriptive they can get, given the limited space on the back of the box, while still keeping the text legible to human eyes.

I also don't want it taken to the frankly nuts level of movies now, where a cartoon movie may contain 'occasional mild peril'. If your child can't handle some mild peril, even occasionally, drop him off at the nearest hospital for spare parts and hand your genitals in for recycling, they obviously don't operate correctly.

SenseOfTumour:

I also think I've finally realised why people have a real problem with sex in games and movies where violence seems ok.

Think of two kids, running around, pretending to shoot each other and 'die', no problem, right? Completely normal, its what kids do.

Now replace 'playing' violence with 'playing' sex and see how long before they're sat in front of a child psychologist.

Interesting--I feel the same way. Thing is, it's been my experience that people think it's somehow 'uptight' or 'belligerent' to think that violence in games/movies/other media is less of an issue than sex. No matter how realistic violence is, if it's pretend, it's pretend. On the other hand, even 'pretend' sex can be stimulating to watch...in fact, it's usually *more* stimulating than watching real sex. I think Susie Bright put it best when she said that the best sex sometimes looks like two whales rolling on each other to an outsider.

Really, I'd say that horror in a video game is more like sex than it is like violence. Getting scared or titillated by a game...is actually scary or titillating! On the other hand, getting shot a bunch of times only seems to cause carpal tunnel syndrome and homophobia.

There's definitely a big problem with games being rated based on some kind of naive checklist rather than for actual, like, tone.

-- Alex

You have nailed my issue with the ESRB. I mean, movies are rated based on tone. Why can't games be? I'm sorry, but adding in an "Animated" prefix does not help describe the tone sufficiently. Hell, I still get freaked out remembering the "Soylent Green" scene from Xenogears, and that's "Animated Blood".

Maybe they changed the system, but I distinctly remember seeing an ESRB symbol on a game a few years ago that represented "terror" or "horror" or something. It was a spider.
...
Okay, just looked at the ESRB site. It does indeed seem it no longer exists. Very strange. However, they added "simulated gambling". WTF? Just how dangerous is it for a child to play a game without betting money? If anything, it teaches that you can have fun and play a game without spending money. Oh noes! Economic ruin imminent!

poleboy:
Maybe they changed the system, but I distinctly remember seeing an ESRB symbol on a game a few years ago that represented "terror" or "horror" or something. It was a spider.
...
Okay, just looked at the ESRB site. It does indeed seem it no longer exists. Very strange.

Actually, you're remembering things quite well: you just must have been looking at a game box for the UK/European market--the spider is an ELSPA/PEGI rating for "Fear". In fact, the ELSPA/PEGI has a "Discrimination" rating, which is something else I've thought of in this context: a realistic game about a slave on the Underground Railroad would get less ESRB content descriptors than a _Viva Pinata_ styled totally racist game about American slavery.

Then again, _Viva Pinata_ and its rating is a whole 'nother issue. Like Eminem rapped about kids getting to see all the sex they want on the Discovery Channel, I could see a kid being in tears the first time a Syrupent eats a Whirlm--even I was kinda unsettled when that thing just ate the cute little Mousemallow! Like one father who brought the old board game _Yellowstone_ home only to have a family crisis on his hands when the wolf ate the deer his kids identified as Bambi.

Yeah, just all reasons why one should be cynical about 'parents' and games and the ESRB.

Humm. Maybe it's just a societal hangup. That is, I'm all for people having the right to get scared, children included. But when it comes to sex...well. The main part to that is, that anyone under maybe 12-13 wouldn't even be partaking in (nor is it healthy to), much less have an interest, therefore it seems perfectly reasonable not to allow minors to veiw sexual content.

But, on the topic of horror movies or games themselves. A lot of them meld sex & horrific imagery to create their horror. That's fine and all, but maybe not suitable for children. On the off though...you don't even really -need- a horror film for children & indeed, such efforts are usually ridiculous. Just having them watch some of the old Disney films is good enough, Snow White, Alice in Wonderland, Fantasia, Pinocchio etc.

Cheeze_Pavilion:

Actually, you're remembering things quite well: you just must have been looking at a gamebox for the UK market--the spider is an ELSPA rating for "Fear".

I see. Didn't realize Europe used a different rating system - doesn't exactly help that the names are similar. I just figured that since 90% of the publishers are based in America, the American ratings defined what you can and cannot release anyway. But it does seem like the ELSPA ratings take a lot of different things into consideration, while ESRB is very focused on sex, violence and drugs and sub-categories of these.

GothmogII:
Humm. Maybe it's just a societal hangup. That is, I'm all for people having the right to get scared, children included. But when it comes to sex...well. The main part to that is, that anyone under maybe 12-13 wouldn't even be partaking in (nor is it healthy to), much less have an interest, therefore it seems perfectly reasonable not to allow minors to veiw sexual content.

Children may not understand sexual intercourse, but they are certainly interested in their bodies and the other gender's as well. I.e. children "playing doctor". I'm not saying that children would necessarily benefit from watching sex and having it explained, but if you don't even touch on the subject before society deems they are old enough to have sex themselves, it will be too late. Because by then it's already happened. And guess what else happened because you neglected to tell them about prevention? :P

But, on the topic of horror movies or games themselves...
... Just having them watch some of the old Disney films is good enough, Snow White, Alice in Wonderland, Fantasia, Pinocchio etc.

I'm not sure if this was your point, but those movies contain plenty of horror. The part where Pinocchio turns into a donkey scared the hell out of me when I was a child. And Alice in Wonderland is a fucking acid trip, no matter how old you are or how little interest you have in drugs.

GothmogII:
Humm. Maybe it's just a societal hangup. That is, I'm all for people having the right to get scared, children included. But when it comes to sex...well. The main part to that is, that anyone under maybe 12-13 wouldn't even be partaking in (nor is it healthy to), much less have an interest, therefore it seems perfectly reasonable not to allow minors to veiw sexual content.

Oh, I'm all for the right of children to get the creeps from scary stuff as I'm for children's rights in general, but I do think parents have a duty not to let kids get actually harmed. There's a big difference between a good cathartic fright and having nightmares.

And ah, there's really nothing wrong or unnatural about 12-13 year olds having an interest in sex. Why do you think that is? I'm not talking about actually having sex with someone else, but, being interested in it, in the bodies of members of the appropriate sex(es), and um, well--masturbation.

poleboy:
I just figured that since 90% of the publishers are based in America, the American ratings defined what you can and cannot release anyway.

The interesting thing is that basically, all that matters is that a game not get tagged with an AO rating--that means stores won't carry it and console manufacturers won't let it on their system. Beyond that there's some interest in getting a game rated Teen to make the big chains that sell the games happy selling it to anyone that wants it, but as for content descriptors there's really no consequence to them.

SingStar is a great example of that: _SingStar: Pop Volume 2_ is the only title with the "Drug Reference" content descriptor, yet no one would look twice at any kid old enough to handle money purchasing it. (EDIT: it isn't--there are actually 92 games with that descriptor, although the point remains; in fact, a good number of those 92 games wouldn't raise an eyebrow if even a young minor went to purchase them)

(I do have to give some props to the ESRB--they have a pretty kick-ass, useful website)

Cheeze_Pavilion:

GothmogII:
Humm. Maybe it's just a societal hangup. That is, I'm all for people having the right to get scared, children included. But when it comes to sex...well. The main part to that is, that anyone under maybe 12-13 wouldn't even be partaking in (nor is it healthy to), much less have an interest, therefore it seems perfectly reasonable not to allow minors to veiw sexual content.

Oh, I'm all for the right of children to get the creeps from scary stuff as I'm for children's rights in general, but I do think parents have a duty not to let kids get actually harmed. There's a big difference between a good cathartic fright and having nightmares.

And ah, there's really nothing wrong or unnatural about 12-13 year olds having an interest in sex. Why do you think that is? I'm not talking about actually having sex with someone else, but, being interested in it, in the bodies of members of the appropriate sex(es), and um, well--masturbation.

Aye, I was referring to the under 11s, should have been specific. But even then...I can still remember my fifth year of primary school filled with that particular kind of er...humor. Example: We were required to call our male teachers Master or 'Máistir' to be specific. So rife was the speculation of a classmate with the surname Bates should he ever become a teacher at out school...

It's all a fad, really. Everybody was all over GTA IV where you have the option to shoot people as opposed to Condemned (have only played part 1, cannot comment on 2) where you have to apply pipes, planks and other such joyous items in order to continue the story. Of course, some will claim GTA IV has the same problem, that you cannot continue if you do not kill anybody, which is not true. You start off in the sandbox mode, which does not MAKE you kill any person whatsoever.

It's all up to the different individual, is what I say. If your tastes are the same as the ESRB or PEGI boards, by all means, go by their advice. If they are not, however, there is no use for you to look at the icons at all. I don't.

"What they are really about is parental control over what their child gets to see"

that is exactly what they should be about.

but I do agree that they should be more descriptive, but I like the ESRB. If a parent is concerned about their children, it gives them a simple place to see at a glance what is in the game. Then they can make an informed decision.

Altorin:

"What they are really about is parental control over what their child gets to see"

that is exactly what they should be about.

Well, no: it should be about protecting children. Like I described, the two are not coterminous.

I get the feeling we have incompatible ideas on the nature of parental authority.

but I do agree that they should be more descriptive, but I like the ESRB. If a parent is concerned about their children, it gives them a simple place to see at a glance what is in the game. Then they can make an informed decision.

Why do you think that? How informed a decision can a parent make when _Halo 3_ and _Thief_ have basically identical information available about them? The ELSPA/PEGI have a horror/terror content descriptor--why doesn't the ESRB? If this was really about protecting children, how can such a huge gap exist in the ratings system?

Well It's possibly because ELSPA/PEGI are mandated by law to be on Games (so I guess certain Guidelines are in place about the descriptiveness and clarity of information about the Game or something like that)

While the ESRB is totally optional, It's the American Gaming Industry's way of Rating itself so I would make the assumption that it's kind of... shall we say "Jury Rigged" Together? (though it is optional a law was recently passed in the state New York (Where I live) that Requires It to be on all Games sold in this State)

Goon165:

While the ESRB is totally optional, It's the American Gaming Industry's way of Rating itself so I would make the assumption that it's kind of... shall we say "Jury Rigged" Together?

I wouldn't make that assumption--they seem to be pretty well organized, and if you check their content descriptors, you'll see that there are quite a lot of them, and that they seem well planned, divided into the categories Violence, Sexuality, Language and Lyrics, Substance, Humor, and Gambling.

The main problem with the ESRB in my opinion is that there isn't a 15 rating. The lack of a 15 rating means that there are quite a few fence games between T and M. These fence games (games that don't fit comfortably in either rating) generally get the M rating which makes the rating unnecessarily vague (look at the difference between Halo 3 and Manhunt 2).

I'm sorry but reading a little white box on the bottom corner of the box doesn't help you understand. It's the roughest of guidelines only.
A parent with an internet connection and a little patience could find a lot more specific information.

Or you could always check with a helpful gamestore clerk (ie, me or.. SenseofTumor right?)

Or at my store, we have three systems set up and handhelds ready to be tried out. You could conceivably ask to play any game your kid wanted for 10 or 15 minutes and get a feel for it.

I can't really comment on the subject because I'm in Britan, so sorry to go off topic, but has anybody tried googling ESRB? Their website is listed as "Entertainment Software Rationg Board".

I think that there shouldn't be vague generic terms like "Tobacco and Alcohol Reference", "Cartoon Mischief", "Blood". Instead, I like the system IMDb (Internet Movie Database) has in their Parental Control section; they have categories like Violence, Swearing, Sex/Nudity, Terror/Scary Images, etc., and under each category is a listing of what is in the movie, such as for Iron Man: A scene of dry humping with moaning.
Isn't that better than "Sex and Nudity" in a tiny box? More people would be more informed (and thusly buy more games) if they saw "Neon blue (In no way real) alien blood" instead of "Blood and Gore" on the back of Halo 3.
I do realize that we're dealing with a small space, so this wouldn't really work, but it should be on the ESRB's website, a listing of all the rated games with descriptions of what happens.

Cheeze_Pavilion:

GothmogII:
Humm. Maybe it's just a societal hangup. That is, I'm all for people having the right to get scared, children included. But when it comes to sex...well. The main part to that is, that anyone under maybe 12-13 wouldn't even be partaking in (nor is it healthy to), much less have an interest, therefore it seems perfectly reasonable not to allow minors to veiw sexual content.

Oh, I'm all for the right of children to get the creeps from scary stuff as I'm for children's rights in general, but I do think parents have a duty not to let kids get actually harmed. There's a big difference between a good cathartic fright and having nightmares.

And ah, there's really nothing wrong or unnatural about 12-13 year olds having an interest in sex. Why do you think that is? I'm not talking about actually having sex with someone else, but, being interested in it, in the bodies of members of the appropriate sex(es), and um, well--masturbation.

Maybe i'm a sick twisted bastard(Okay i'm much more.), I'm 13 I have seen the interwebs horror films, played great deal of games.I have had a few nightmares usually involving killing things, yappy dog attacking things and some serious mindfucks. And I have to say its made me a bit stronger.Horror Films do very little(The only time I will shut my eyes is when people scream, I hate it.) Interwebs have molded me into being a sick bastard and well gaming keeps me entertained.

Cheeze_Pavilion:
What I never hear are words like "horror" or "terror." Yet, if this is supposed to be all about the children, why is the discussion always over _GTA_ and never _Silent Hill_? Why is the discussion always about "murdering hookers to get your money back" and never about "Pyramid Head doing...whatever it is he's doing to those nurses"?

This will make you very happy. My mother was never really the one to nitpick over what I watched/read/played, so I never actually bothered to ask permission on certain things. I mean, when you're mother sits down to watch the movie Alien with you and then gets disappointed that they cut out the "birth scene" so I wasn't able to see it, you kind of figure she'll be ok with most of what I bring home. Horror was one of my big things, and still is. I simply love it. So you bet that when Silent Hill 1 came out, the first thing I did was ride my bike over to the video rental shop! I was making my way through the first part, where we're moving down the alley way and she happens to walk into the room right when we come up on the disemboweled body pinned to the fence.

She went completely apeshit.

From there on out, anything I came home with that had labels on it she had to check out first. Movies, music, games, though she left out books because she probably thought the damage had been done with the amount of Stephen King I had read by then. It wasn't until 4 years later that I actually got to play SH1 again.

Peh...

With the discussion on sex, it's partly societies fault for treating it like the end all and be all of human existence on one hand, then completely ignoring its existence on the other.

With violence, I think that it should be realistic beyond a certain rating, lets say M (18). At that age, you should see what emptying clips into people actually does to them, or what happens when you beat someone to death with a baseball bat. Violence has been somewhat stylized/glorified today. While it IS not real in video games, you get small children *cough*XBOX Live*cough* thinking taking a gun to their problems will solve them, ergo, show what will happen, and the ones that overly enjoy it were just twisted bastards to start with.

PROVE ME WRONG

I'm in the uk so i can't really say much on this but from what experience i have with the ESRB their ratings do seem to be vague and fairly uninformative at best. Granted there really isn't enough space on the box to give any realistic impression of what parents should look out for in a game and the lack of a "15" rating is really screwing with 13-16 year olds. In britain there are two different rating organisations: the BBFC and PEGI. Strangely they have different age tiers for the games. BBFC: U, 12, 15, 18, PEGI: 3, 7, 12, 16 (i can't remember if there's an 18 but there probably is) which likely confuses parents even more about whether a certain game is suitable for their children. Really it is about how mature the kids are and how they respond to certain things like gore, horror and it is up to the parents to research the game before making a judgement. I think that the ratings were originally intended to simply be a guideline to aid concerned parents about which games might and might not be suitable for their children and that's all they have stayed as despite literally becoming law: vague, decision-aiding guidelines.

It's pretty hilarious when the box cover reminds me Sims 2 contains violence. Yes, it has it's fair share of cartoon misdemeanours, but you know what else has those? Cartoons. Aimed bang on at children.

I really must wonder whether ESRB give any consideration for context or detail, thus spawning the evidence shown in the opening post.

the ESRB rating system is generally simplified so that there is no confusion as to what exactly is in the game. however, because it is so simplified it causes a great deal of confusion because it lacks specifics.

for instance Final Fantasy X is rated T for Blood and Violence. On the flip side you have Thief: The Dark Project, which is rated M for Blood and Violence. this overlapping coupled with the fact that there really is no generic 'value' behind any of the descriptors causes the confusion.

they could probably do a much better job like how the MPAA rating system works, Which gives a more clear description even though it too is just simple words. like you have a descriptor of 'Nudity' which can be anything from exposed breast and bare buttocks shots then you have 'Explicit Nudity' which is much more serious which makes the audience able to understand the diffrence between nudity in a PG-13 movie and nudity (naked baby butt) in a Rated R movie nudity(full frontal often erotic)

that little extra descriptor helps clarify the diffrence.

ESRB says "content and not context".

Which is why they suck.

Just had a thought: Tom and Jerry. Discuss that violence compared to Halo's blue blood.

On the disturbing meter silent hill is 5 million cajillion times worse than GTA 4, and why are we so offended by hooker beatings over a disturbing Murder/rape by a giant blood soaked...THING...?

ElArabDeMagnifico:
ESRB says "content and not context".

Which is why they suck.

I wonder if that's any kind of defence -against- media induced violence? I mean...I certainly didn't get the urge to ever hit my siblings with a mallet or set them on fire. And I grew up with all those kind of images burned into my skull. :P But, other people are other people, it affects them in different ways I guess.

Regardless of what the descriptors say, the ESRB ratings are about useless. I've worked in retail before and have had to enforce the ratings by not selling M or T rated games to kids who were too young. However, what is to stop an adult or kid olde enough to buy the game from buying it, taking it home and then letting kids who are too young (according to the ESRB) play the game anyway? It's the same thing that happens with ratings in movies. Theaters don't let kids go to R rated movies without parental supervision (I don't think kids under 18 should go to movie theaters without supervision period regardless of rating. When turned loose in the theater, some kids are real annoying)yet when the same R or even "unrated" movie comes out on DVD, the adults buy it, bring it home and hardly anyone keeps the kids from watching it.

Little kids shouldn't be exposed to graphic violence, sexual content, foul language etc. in any form, especially not in games where they tend to dwell in the world of the game far longer than the two hours or less that a movie or song is on. The problem is, too many parents and legal guardians of whatever other type are either too lazy or too apathetic to care what their kids are exposed to.

My wife teaches kindergarten and she has five year old kids who have seen horror movies, very violent bloody movies and who have played T and M rated games. They get in trouble for cussing, even stuff as bad as calling girls the "b" word. She's even had students who have told girls they want to have sex with them. They fight on the playground. She does her best to keep the fights broke up and punishes the kids for saying bad things but there is only so much she can do when they are exposed to all the garbage at home that is encouraging them to act like this.

I like war movies and games myself, even the realistic ones with blood and gore, but I'm in my 30's and I can handle it. I've played violent video games and watched violent movies since I was 18. My parents didn't let me watch R rated movies when I was younger than that. Ever since I was 8, my dad took me hunting and I hunted and even shot deer, grouse, geese etc. My dad taught me to only kill what you plan to eat and how to use a gun safely so I didn't hurt anyone. I've never hit a person in anger in my life, let alone killed anyone.

But little kids aren't equipped to tell the difference between what's ok to watch and what's ok to do yourself. Especially when their parents, superiors and peers don't try to teach them that.

dukethepcdr:
They fight on the playground. She does her best to keep the fights broke up and punishes the kids for saying bad things but there is only so much she can do when they are exposed to all the garbage at home that is encouraging them to act like this.

Yeah, but kids have been fighting on playgrounds...since there have been playgrounds.

My parents didn't let me watch R rated movies when I was younger than that.

Eh, I watched plenty and grew up just fine. Kids are equipped to deal with a lot more than we give them credit for. You're presenting a false dilemma when you make it seem like the only choices parents have are to either not act as any kind of gatekeeper or to not let anyone under 18 watch an R rated movie.

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