Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The ESRB: When Did All The Smart People Take Over?

The ESRB introduced a new information system today (thanks Kotaku).

Here's the old system, using Call of Duty 4 as an example.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Publisher: Activision
Rating: Mature
Content: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language
Windows PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3

That's right: seven words to describe the game's content. While this level of description is strongly similar to the MPAA system for rating movies (Saw is "Rated R for strong grisly violence and language"), it's clearly inadequate in terms of providing parents with information before making a game purchase for their kids.

So, incredibly, they fixed it.

Look at the new system, using Call of Duty: World at War.
Call of Duty: World at War
Platform: Windows PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Rating: Mature
Content descriptors: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language
Rating summary: Call of Duty: World at War is a first-person shooter in which players assume the role of Allied soldiers in both the European and Pacific Fronts during World War II. Combat can be intense with extensive use of camera effects (e.g., slow-motion, blurring, and screen shakes) and realistic sound effects to highlight the tense and frenetic nature of each battle. Fighting is fast-paced with players using a large array of military weapons (guns, grenades, and flamethrowers). Collateral damage includes sprays of red blood when enemies are shot; maimed appendages from explosions; and flailing and screaming when enemies are set on fire. Cutscenes and historical footage can contain graphic depictions of prisoner/POW executions. Strong profanity can be heard during gameplay (e.g., "f*ck" and "sh*t").

That's just absolutely brilliant.

Stopping the "gaming is Satan" lobby requires two steps: one, greatly increasing the amount of information that's available to parents, and two, increasing the publicity given to the ratings system so that parents know it exists. It's not really any more complicated than that, and it's also (even better) the right thing to do.

Plus, this is yet another example of the gaming industry becoming more responsible than the film industry. A few months ago, the government released a study that showed (conclusively) that it was much harder for a kid to buy a game he shouldn't (based on his age and the game's rating) than it was for him to buy a DVD (based on the MPAA rating). Now, the ESRB rating system provides far more information than the MPAA system.

We're entering a new era in terms of the political climate for games. Gaming used to be the easiest whipping boy around, primarily because the ESRB used the First Amendment as a shield without accepting any responsibility of their own. That's no longer true--if anything, the ESRB comes off as a model citizen compared to the film and music industries.

I can't believe I just typed that, but it's true.

Voter demographics are also changing the political climate. After many elections where the "youth vote" was supposed to come out in force, they finally did this time, and that's a prime gaming demographic. The electorate is continually reshaping itself, and there will come a day (within the next two decades, certainly, and probably sooner) where a majority of voters will be gamers.

So while a politician may still get all red-faced about games in the future, the tactics will be different. No longer will it be an attempt to gather recognition at a national level, because it won't be a viable issue. Instead, it will be an attempt to appeal to constituents in his/her home district.

In other words, preserving power instead of consolidating it.

Site Meter