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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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  • Something silly and/or weird just came to my mind.

    How about a complaint automating plug-in for your e-mail program which presents you with the latest bills proposed (sorted by importance) And helps you submit a complaint by helping you with the text (like, "copy / paste text into your e-mail program"), and with the responsible people's email addresses in the "To:".

    Or perhaps it could be much easier. A democracy mailing list or something, but the point is that the greatest obstacle for people to complaining is to find out WHO to write to. Definitely a program with a database of politicians' emails and what bills they proposed / approved, would be a great help for our democracy in the 21st century.
  • not enough (Score:5, Interesting)

    by delirium of disorder ( 701392 ) on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @02:23PM (#15481718) Homepage Journal
    Ultimately, the best way to prevent the demise of gaming is to make use of the democratic process. ... posted letters to representatives (written on actual paper) are the best way to let politicians know your opinion

    Civil disobedience and other forms of direct action are better ways of getting what we want then begging some old ignorant politicians to be nice to us. We should be defying the law and using all means necessary to demonstrate that information cannot be controlled. If stores won't sell a game to you, then you should pirate it. If law enforcement tries to track down online game distribution, we must devise and implement anonymity networks. If you are an independent game developer, you should not submit your game to the ESRB for rating. You can distribute it as shareware to bypass corporate big box store censorship. This would probably generate enough controversy that if the game was decent at all, it would be quite profitable. Consumers should boycott ESRB rated games, Tipper sticker music, and MPAA rated film. There already is a great independent music and movie industry that often does not rate its content, why not extend this to video games?
  • Shift the focus (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Todd Knarr ( 15451 ) on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @02:26PM (#15481746) Homepage

    Every time I hear one of the incidents of a kid getting an inappropriately-rated game, I notice that the kid didn't just go buy the game on his own. Almost always, a parent or some other adult authorized under all these proposed laws bought the game for the kid. I think the defense needed isn't more ratings. When a politician brings up the issue, someone stand up and name names and point out that the parent bought the game, then ask the politician flat-out what they're going to do about parents who buy their children these games and when are they going to start doing it. Cite their own example case back at them, and make them answer how their proposals are going to address the problem of parents doing the buying. If they try to weasel out, bring them back on point by noting that it was their example that involved the parent doing the buying, so why can't they address their own example?

  • Re:I'm a parent... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ChicagoDave ( 644806 ) on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @03:03PM (#15482065) Homepage
    I disagree with this assessment. I purchased Shrek II for my girls because it had the "E" rating. The game is _entirely_ based on the concept of bashing men in the head. This is violent behavoir I wish not to teach my kids. I would have expected the rating to be T at least or have a synopsys of what the game play is like. "Shek bashes his enemies while..." would have properly sent me away from the game. But of course ratings are about sales and there's no way a Shrek II game was going to get anything but an "E" rating.
  • by jank1887 ( 815982 ) on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @03:41PM (#15482391)
    "Its not like games like GTA won't be produced anymore because Walmart won't carry it."

    Actually it is. Big game producers need to have the biggest market for their goods. If a content author from a big game producer goes to management and says: "we can add this mature content, but it will severely restrict where we can sell the game", will that affect management's decision on what should be included in the contenc? Of course it will, and of course it should.

    That said, the ESRB system is currently working as it should. Whether it is used properly in the purchase decision is up to the buyer (aka parent if applicable) and the retailer. Walmart chooses not to carry AO games. Good, it's exercising its right as a private entity to make decisions about what demographic it wants to appeal to. It chooses 'family friendly', it gets 'family friendly', and game producers have to take this into account. Those things are called 'business decisions'. If Walmart's clout means that producers take a big hit by going AO, that is also a business decision. Deal with it. Take your dollars elsewhere if that's what it means, 'cause that's the only language Walmart understands.

    Now, regarding a previous comment mentioning that Hot Coffee and Oblivion represent a broken ESRB system, I beg to differ. The ESRB is supposed to represent the content in the game. If the content is on the disk, it is accessible. Difficulty in access does not render it inaccessible, and outside the scope of the ESRB. Hot coffee was a developer blunder (removing access to the content but not the content itself), and Take Two got appropriately burned on that blunder. Failure to disclose to the ESRB review full information about your content leaves you open to getting burned. If graphic user controlled sexual content bumps from M to AO, then there you go. Discovery = bump. If Oblivion has boob baring models, and nudity bumps from T to M, then it should be bumped, and it was. The content is what is rated, not the 'default game storyline'. All content is assumed to be accessible to the only moderatly tech-savvy individual.

    The rating process is working, to the best of it's ability. Those two games represent the added difficulty in rating games vs movies. A movie can be completely screened (as in each and every frame on the DVD) in a reasonable amount of time, and a firm rating determined accordingly. (has a movie rating ever been changed after the fact?) Games have so much content, this same level of vigilence becomes difficult. From the ESRB on Oblivion: "The board cross-examined the tape Bethesda submitted with video taken from the final release of the game...determined that the developer understated the detail and intensity of the blood and gore... the ESRB said publishers are required 'to disclose locked-out content during the rating process if it is pertinent to a rating,' and that Bethesda failed to do so. ". Bethesda did a poor job disclosing everything in the game, and now they're getting burned. Publishers will get more careful about the ESRB review, and this should stop happening.

    The rating system does what it's supposed to do. Now, I think the ratings are stupid (17 vz 18 for M vs AO), but that's semantics. If a PG DVD had a graphic sex scene that couldn't be accessed from the menu, but anyone with a DVD-ROM or the right DVD player could get to it, that publisher should get burned and the DVD re-rated. No different with games. And publishers need to keep the market in mind when it comes to content.

  • by AlgorithMan ( 937244 ) on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @03:58PM (#15482531) Homepage
    yes, do it! censor all the violent games... soon you'll see that the only effects will be:
    - the same games will be produced in foreign countries
    - that'll cost jobs in america
    - less taxes from game-studios (moving abroad or going bankrupt)
    - less taxes through sales in stores
    - people still get the games illegally

    that's the only effect the game-censorship in germany had... less jobs, less money for the country, no effect on society
    it wouldn't even have an effect IF people couldn't get violent games anymore, because games are not the problem, only a symptom!
  • by Chazmyrr ( 145612 ) on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @05:20PM (#15483130)
    I can be reasonably confident that my 14 year old son is going to have put in some effort to see an R rated film that I haven't approved. I have no such confidence regarding MA rated games. Theaters consistently check ID or refuse entry to those that appear underage. Parental controls on video devices are not easy to bypass. Proper network configuration and logging restrict or at least monitor access via Internet.

    My son does chores for his allowance. He mows lawns and does odd jobs in the neighborhood for more money. He can save up enough money in relatively short amount of time to purchase video games on his own. There are a number of stores within easy biking distance where video games can be purchased. Most of the stores are quite willing to sell any video game to anyone with cash in hand.

    I encourage a certain amount of independence. I think it's counter-productive to follow a teenager around attempting to control every aspect of their lives. I want my son to be able to think and act for himself. That means that there is opportunity for him to purchase games on his own that I would not purchase for him. He will not be able to hide the fact that he has the game forever, but he doesn't have to. He just has to hide it long enough to beat the game and sell it back for store credit.

    I'm not asking the government to parent my kids for me. I'm not asking the retailers to babysit for me. I do recognize that rearing children is everyone's responsibility because no parent, no matter how good a parent they are, can control everything their kids do without destroying whatever spark of initiative and independence the kids may have been born with. This principle is recognized in other areas. It's illegal to sell alcohol to minors. It's illegal to sell pornography to minors. The only reason it isn't illegal for minors to attend R rated films is because the theaters do a decent job policing themselves.

    Retailers don't have the same incentive to self-police that theaters do. It may be that legislation is the only way to provide that incentive. If retailers won't step up and voluntarily enforce the ESRB ratings, I fully support enforcement through legislation. Kids will still get mature games, but they'll have to work a lot harder to do it which gives me a lot more opportunity to catch them.
  • by TheGreek ( 2403 ) on Tuesday June 06, 2006 @08:16PM (#15484238)
    Three weeks for a letter? Really? Have you ever actually used the Post Office? Are you mailing from overseas? It doesn't take three weeks.
    From a Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME)'s website:

    The Path a Letter Must Currently Follow To Reach Senator Snowe In Washington:

    1. Sent from a constituent to Senator Snowe
    2. Arrives at processing unit in Bridgeport, New Jersey (2-4 days)
    3. Mail goes through irradiation procedures (4 days)
    4. Mail is forwarded via Postal Service to the U.S. Senate Post Office for additional security procedures, such as thinning and clipping, Hepa-Vac testing, and examination for bio-contaminants. (3 days)
    5. If mail clears the bio-contaminant testing procedure, it is then forwarded to individual Senate offices (additional 3 days).

    2+4+3+3 = 12. 12 business days is two postal weeks. This is the best case scenario.

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