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ESRB Our Last Defense Against Game Censorship? 246

1up is running a piece looking at the ESRB, and its role in politics. They assert the organization may be gaming's last defense against politicians seeking to censor games to increase their own political capital. The article discusses the Hays Code governing movies, and the limits on speech the comic book industry placed on itself as the result of similar pressures. From the article: "Ultimately, the best way to prevent the demise of gaming is to make use of the democratic process. Despite what the Internet would like to believe, mere emails and forum posts don't have much clout. Rather, posted letters to representatives (written on actual paper) are the best way to let politicians know your opinion -- the beliefs that they've been elected to represent."
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ESRB Our Last Defense Against Game Censorship?

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  • by gasmonso ( 929871 ) on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @02:13PM (#15481638) Homepage

    You can pass all the laws and restrictions you desire, but kids will find a way to purchase/play violent games. You can try cleaning up the games by passing laws, but if there is a demand, someone will fill it. It comes down to parents knowing what their kids are doing and educating them appropriately. My friends and I grew up in a time when Rambo and Arny were all the rage... violence was commonplace in the entertainment industry. We all grew up to be rather well adjusted... and thats because we were raised properly. Laws won't help... education will. []
  • by IAmSwiftness ( 980193 ) on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @02:13PM (#15481639)
    Sometimes it seems to me to be just the opposite -- that the ESRB is a tool for politicians to censor games and make them out to be evil. Have there been any laws on the state or federal level enforced that regulate ESRB ratings, such as laws that say that you MUST be 17 to buy an M-rated game, or are those things all voluntary compliance?
  • by Eric Damron ( 553630 ) on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @02:14PM (#15481645)
    Perhaps the best thing we can do is to send a clear message that we do not approve of trivial issues being used as political tools when there are real serious issues that haven't been addressed.

    The best way to do that is to identify the politicians that use these tactics and then vote the bums out of office.
  • by Duodecimal ( 938540 ) on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @02:16PM (#15481662)
    The entire these laws get passed in the first place is because of politicians looking for votes.
  • on the contrary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @02:17PM (#15481679)
    "...posted letters to representatives (written on actual paper) are the best way to let politicians know your opinion -- the beliefs that they've been elected to represent."

    Actually, the best method to get their attention is to throw money and free trips [] at them.
  • by TrekCycling ( 468080 ) on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @02:18PM (#15481680) Homepage
    Here here. When are parents going to be held accountable? I propose a law that makes it mandatory for you to pass a competency exam before you can have children. If you fail, they might someday grow up, get drunk and drive in to the side of my wife's car. I guarantee you that scenario is 1000 times more likely than someone shooting me because they played GTA. Either way, WHERE ARE THE PARENTS in this equation? Don't they have some responsibility?
  • I'm a parent... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by QuaintRealist ( 905302 ) * <> on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @02:24PM (#15481721) Homepage Journal
    of a 10 year old and a 7 year old. And you know, the rating system really does help to some degree. If a game is rated "M" I can turn it down. If it's rated "T" I know to look carefully before purchasing. If it's rated "E" I know that my 7 year old won't be shocked/disturbed, and so on. What I hate to see is putting restrictions on games based on the rating - give me (the parent) a heads up as to content, then let me decide, thanks.
  • ESRB v. MPAA (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Rob T Firefly ( 844560 ) on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @02:26PM (#15481745) Homepage Journal
    The MPAA film ratings bureau is made up of representatives of the actual film industry to decide what is okay for films aimed at whom, in order to avoid government-regulated censorship. In that respect (minus all the other political lobbying and bullshit it's into) it's not that far off from the ESRB.

    So, what are the laws on the books regarding adult-rated movies? If indeed it's illegal to let an unescorted child into an R film (and not just voluntary industry policy) why not adopt something similar and legally enforce the ESRB ratings on games? The alternative is for the ESRB to give way to a government censorship system of some kind, and if that happens games will have taken a huge step backward that films took forward generations ago.
  • by stubear ( 130454 ) on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @02:28PM (#15481766)
    No, they're sure to ignore them that much faster. If you're faced with thousands of e-mails all seemingly complaining about the same things, knowing that it took little effort to write them, would read them?
  • Great plan (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Silent sound ( 960334 ) on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @02:29PM (#15481772)
    "Listen! We can keep them from taking away our freedoms if we just give them up willingly!"

    Like "voluntary" film and comics codes of the past, the ESRB isn't a defense against game censorship. It's an instrument of game censorship. As the article says, it isn't nearly as bad an instrument of censorship as the film and comics codes of old. It remains an instrument of censorship nonetheless. Twice now perfectly normal and worthwhile games have gotten effectively banned from sale in the U.S. not because the games were particularly obscene-- they weren't, both paled before something like BMX XXX or God of War-- but because the games manaaged to inspire pressure groups to complain, and the ESRB caved like a house of cards and rerated them as AO after they had already been available some time. In theory the difference between M and AO is the difference between "sell to 17 year olds" and "sell to 18 year olds", but in practice the difference is the difference between "For sale" and "Not for sale".

    And unlike attempts by legislators to ban video games they disapprove of-- attempts which all have so far eventually gotten overturned in the courts, because this nation has constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression-- when the ESRB gets something banned by rating it AO, it stays banned, because industry associations are allowed to censor expression as much as they want. As a legal, adult paying customer it is far, far more difficult to get around the ESRB's "voluntary" censorship than it is to get around the legal censorship of runaway legislators.

    The defense against game censorship should be through the democratic process. This country is ours just as much as anyone elses; the democratic process belongs to gamers as much as it belongs to parents who think Wal-Mart should be responsible for parenting instead of them. One of the functions of a healthy democracy is to protect the minority from a tyranny of the majority. We need to start ensuring our democracy functions in a healthy manner.

    In the meantime, if the ESRB is going to be any kind of defense against game censorship, it needs to start acting like it. So far it is serving as an instrument of the pressure groups working for game censorship far more than it is serving as a deterrent from governmental censorship. In fact, not only is the ESRB failing to serve as a check on runaway legislators-- by now it is actually providing a stepping-stone for those same legislators. Hillary Clinton's latest attempt at a video games law [] actually uses the ESRB ratings, in mandating ESRB enforcement by law. I can't help but wonder how all those people will feel who touted the ESRB as an "alternative" to censorship law, once [if] the ESRB becomes the censorship law?
  • Re:Shift the focus (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TrekCycling ( 468080 ) on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @02:43PM (#15481908) Homepage
    I've literally been at stores and watched parents debate with the store employee about the game being okay for their kids. And not in the way you might think. The employee was 100% of the time saying "that's not a very good idea, that's not for kids, try this instead" and the parent wouldn't listen. So what good does the label do when you even have a store employee warning the parent. Clearly some parents are too stupid to do their job.



  • by RexRhino ( 769423 ) on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @02:58PM (#15482029)
    Duh... Freedom of Speech and free expression trumps any sort of democratic process, because democracy cannot exist in the absence of free speech. Our basic human rights are not negotable with a mob.

    The only way to fight censorship is civil disobedience to censorship laws. The only way to fight censorship is to blatently violate laws that are created to regulate speech. We need to recognize that any government that controls speech is not democratic, and has no moral authority over us.

    We don't have to convince anyone, not Congress, not "The People", not anyone, of our right to absolute free expression. We simply need to learn how to resist forms of control that the government will try to put on expression.
  • by SeaFox ( 739806 ) on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @03:04PM (#15482082)
    WHERE ARE THE PARENTS in this equation? Don't they have some responsibility?

    Isn't it obvious? They were too frazzled by having to work such long hours to keep the family above water financially. Thanks to the slow rollback of workers rights and a landscape of low-paying jobs created by the governnment's sellout to big business and handling of the economy. They didn't have much choice that allowed them more time to be with their children.
  • by QuaintRealist ( 905302 ) * <> on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @03:06PM (#15482100) Homepage Journal
    I've had a similar problem myself. Still, I don't think that this means that a rating system isn't useful or valid, just that we both would like the games to be rated accurately. After all, with no rating system, you'd probably have bought the Shrek II game, with the same result.
  • Time... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by 16K Ram Pack ( 690082 ) <[tim.almond] [at] []> on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @03:11PM (#15482159) Homepage
    The thing is that Hilary Clinton will be a member of the last group that were not exposed to video games in their youth.

    To her and her elders, video games are like Rock and Roll was to her parents generation. Likely to corrupt and bring down society. The UK now has a prime minister who is open and proud about the fact that he played in a band in his youth. Thirty years ago, that would counted against him.

    The balance of those who are OK with video games will tip slowly away from those who are against. Give it 10 or 15 years and the issue will no longer be an issue.

  • by TrekCycling ( 468080 ) on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @03:12PM (#15482165) Homepage
    #1 - I agree totally that PEOPLE (remember, us non-parents are people too) have supressed wages and are busier than we should be.

    #2 - I have seen many many many many parents very fixated on having all the trappings of being wealthy, while neglecting their children. We're talking about video games after all here. If parents are too busy to spend time with their kids and monitor what they're doing, then I would posit that they should work less and not worry about making sure the family has a plasma TV, multiple computers and all the latest video game systems. Try some books and tossing the football around maybe.
  • by GundamFan ( 848341 ) on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @03:16PM (#15482206)
    I think the GPs point was (IANAMR) is that there are plenty of games (BMXXX for example) that exist only to cash in on the sex and violence market (this was especaly bad IMO on the xbox) and if the MA rating was not a badge of honor (like the Expicit Lyrics lable) then perhaps more time would be spent providing quality entertanment and not "breast jiggle".

    On the other hand there are games that are inovative dispite (or because the commit fully to) violent or mature content... just like a good action or horror movie.

    Senators and Fundimentalist will never openly like videogames (at least not for another 25 years) but that should not be an excuse to pass laws restricting there sale to adults.
  • by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @05:35PM (#15483251)
    More to the point, there are places with better workers right. The french work 35 hours a week, and get (a legally enforced) 5 weeks of paid vacation a year or something like that. The price they pay is unemployment problems and very slow economic growth.

    It all comes down to: do you want to live so you can work, or do you want to work so you can live? People in other countries would rather enjoy life instead of spending it all at work.

    Unemployment is one thing, but economic "growth" is another. If you're an employee, unemployment is definitely a real problem to be avoided. However, what do you care about economic growth? Unless you have a lot of money in investments, this isn't a problem. Employees really only care about 1) being employed, 2) how much money they make (relative to cost-of-living). Growth rate of the economy is only interesting to investors and people running the corporations. In America, with the corporate executives making thousands of times as much money as the lower-level employees, economic growth is a big concern to the people in power. Someone looking after the employees wouldn't be too worried about that, unless it affects employment and wage levels directly. So yeah, in America the corporations are growing more than in Europe, but they're also outsourcing all their work to 3rd-world countries, so this isn't really very helpful to regular Americans.

    Incidentally, the French (and other western European countries) are having all sorts of problems with all their Muslim immigrants, even worse than our problems with our Mexican immigrants. At least we don't have any Mexicans running around murdering people for saying something about their religion.
  • by SEAL ( 88488 ) on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @07:52PM (#15484126)
    The problem is that the retail market for games has turned into a handful of brick&mortar outlets. Those would be the main one: Wal-Mart, and a few "minor" ones: Best Buy, etc.

    Rather than letting parents observe the ratings and decide what to buy, these retailers *won't carry* games with AO ratings, and sometimes won't carry certain games with M ratings. But as a game developer in such a homogenized retail market, you can't hope to turn a profit if your game doesn't get shelf space in Wal-Mart.

    So developers and publishers target the Teen-rating, rather than risk losing shelf space. This places an artificial limit on creative content (whether you agree with violence or not, the limit is there). Is it censorship in First Amendment terms? No. Does it still chill an entire market segment? Yes. Blame the stupid American public, or the politicians, or the ESRB, but a conservative minority is getting its way in the U.S. once again.

Air is water with holes in it.