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   PlanetDreamcast | Features | Editorials | Rating the Raters
    Rating the Raters
This editorial contains "Reading Skills" and "Informational." - Editorial By Mr. Domino

Remember kids! Gotta be over 13-years-old to drink alcohol!

Game Developer: "So, have you finished reviewing our game?"
ESRB: "Yes. It doesn't take long for a panel of housewives to find the time to play through a video game. We're sorry to say that Spyro IV: More Dragon Crap must carry our 'mature' label."
Game Developer: "What!?"
ESRB: "Well, for one, the main character is nude throughout the entire game. I know I still feel dirty."
Game Developer: "But...!"
ESRB: "Second of all, this Spago creature kills other living beings in the game. The chip in my brain tells me that this could turn my kids into vicious killers... even pro atheletes." (shudder)
Game Developer: "..."
ESRB: "The third strike is that the game appears on a Sony system. Sony puts out rap, and rap leads to cursing and cocaine use. Thus, the 'Strong Language' and 'Use of Drugs' advisories on the game."
Game Developer: (explodes)

Just to clue the software pirates in since they never get the chance to see game packaging, the ESRB stands for the Entertainment Software Rating Board, a group formed by the Interactive Digital Software Association in 1994 to help parents identify the content in their kids' games. The board was spurred when several parents accidentally bought their children Mortal Kombat thinking it was a game devoid of combating mortals only to find that, in fact, their children were exposed to real violence within the game. These baby boomers remembered the outbreak of kids dressing as cowboys and Indians and slaughtering whole towns of innocents in their day and believe video games to be the next Marc Lupine, assuming he could overcome his fear of women and breed, and assuming that this breeding woman was a special, holy female could give birth to a disc or cartridge.

Metal Gear Solid and Mortal Kombat have the same rating, but which can really be considered mature?

Thus, it was the ESRB's job to slap labels on every @#%&ing piece of software released to notify potential consumers what lay in store. Ideally, it would prevent parents from picking up The Misadventures of Johnny Rapist and giving it to their kids only to see them eight months later on Jerry Springer whining about how their momma won't let them accept Johns in their mother's bedroom.

Unfortunately, the ratings just don't work.

For starters, the ESRB is hit or miss with its content descriptions. Despite the clear and obvious gambling games present in the Nintendo 64 Zelda game, you will not find the "Gambling" label on the back of the box. On the other side of the coin (let's pretend the prior sentence was a coin), a completely innocent game such as Championship Surfer is raped with a "Mild Animated Violence" banner on the back of the jewel case.

What's wrong with these people? Well, the answer is easy -- they're stupid. While a content acknowledgement is fine as far as I'm concerned, it has to be done right to make it work. Right now and for the past six or so years, the descriptions have been hit or miss. On top of that, many ratings are just plain off the mark such as the ESRB's giving Night Trap (a Sega CD FMV game starring Dana Plato of convienence store robbery fame) a "mature" rating even though there's hardly anything in the game which would warrant a PG rating if it were a movie.

Exaggerated buckets of blood make Mortal Kombat sillier than the "mature" rating would indicate.

I'd love to see the content descriptions continue but the ratings need to be axed, hacked with a rusty blade and severed at the head, which I guess would be the letter "R" in this case. Ratings are just stupid. It's stupid to have the ESRB give both Metal Gear Solid and Mortal Kombat the same rating. Metal Gear Solid is a great adventure with a serious, adult story line with less violence, vulgarity, and sex than any NBC sitcom or afternoon talk show, yet it gets the video game equivalent of an "R" rating. Meanwhile, Mortal Kombat does nothing to stimulate the mind with its mindless over-the-top violence yet gets a "mature" rating, which appears more of an oxymoron here.

Notice how you've probably never seen an "Adults Only" game rating outside of the graphic at the ESRB web site? Just think -- you have to be at least 17 to play Night Trap, a game with a handful of girls in nightgowns during a single short scene, but wait just a year and you will be enjoying the finest hardcore porn games money can buy since you most likely don't work for GameSpy. Well... you could if the "Ao" rating didn't scare every developer from creating such a game. When the "Strong Sexual Content" description refers to simple frontal nudity, what else is there to indicate something truly deserving of a "mature" or "adults only" label?

I think most people reading PlanetDreamcast would agree that there is a problem with the ESRB's ratings, but should they be eliminated? What do you think of video game ratings? Send your comments on this piece here. Mail Feedback.


  • Blood
  • Animated Blood
  • Realistic Blood and Gore
  • Strong Sexual Content
  • Some Adult Assistance May Be Needed

Essential Links

  • Electronic Software Rating Board
  • Microsoft Xbox gets family friendly

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