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New ESRB Legislation in the Works 56

Gamasutra is reporting on new Senate legislation intended to place additional requirements on the ESRB. Backed by R-Kansas Sam Brownback, the 'Truth in Video Game Rating Act' aims to mandate specific amounts of time with each title, and places the organization under the auspices of the Government Accountability Office. From the article: "Were the Truth in Video Game Rating Act to pass, it would require the ESRB to have access to the full content of and hands-on time with the games it was to rate, rather than simply relying on the video demonstrations submitted by developers and publishers as it currently. The hands-on system might be more akin to the UK's BBFC ratings board's approach, which requires a team of testers to spend at least a day playing through a game."
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New ESRB Legislation in the Works

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  • having a stronger examination on the games rated is a good idea IMO. The ratings can help the purchasers not only decide what games they want (or in the case of parents, what they want their kdis to have), and the more accurate the ratings are, the mor reliable the decisions can be.

    Not to mention I'd love to have the job of one of those testers...

    "What do you do?"
    "I sit around and play video games all day."
    • Re:nice (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Dr. Eggman ( 932300 ) on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @02:09PM (#16217593)
      All I see here is voter bait. From the ESRB site:

      "Additionally, ESRB's in-house game experts randomly play the final games to verify that all the information provided during the rating process was accurate and complete."

      So they already test the games, just not all of them. Kind of like taxes; does the IRS audit all US tax returns? No, they have to let the majority go by with a skin deep look and use random fine-tooth comb audits to try and keep everyone honest. Could they audit all the tax returns? Yes, but it would be very time consuming and costly. If the ESRB had to take an in-depth approach, they'd have to find some way to cover these costs. Whether they get that from the game developers or the government, it'll cost gamers in the end.

      I think it's ok to trust the game developers to be honest. Past instances where the rating has failed have been delt with appropriatly and I think this bill is unnecessary buracracy.

      btw, here's [] where you signup for employment. Its only 1-4 times a month.
      • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @02:25PM (#16217931)
        A rating on a game should be a guideline only. As a parent it is your duty to check the game out yourself and see if it's ok for your kid. The rating will give you an idea of the ballpark it's in and why it's there (they specify what the game contains that earned it a rating) but only you know your kids and what is ok and not ok for them to see.

        And let's please not forget the stupidity that caused all this: GTA: SA. The game features graphic violence of all kinds, you can kill people with weapons, your fists, running them over, etc. In fact you are required to and rewarded for it. You can have sex in the game, just drive up to a prostitute when damaged, she'll get in your car and you can do your business. You can even kill her and take your money back afterwards (or simply become a pimp and she'll pay you). All that is in the main, M-rated version of the game. What got everyone worked up was you could mod the game to allow access to a removed mini game where you could bang your girlfriend. She is naked, though not in any sort of high detail.

        That's what people got worked up over. All the rest of that was ok for their kids, but god forbid they see a 10-polygon TLO (tit like object)! We clearly need stronger ratings control.

        The ESRB does a good job rating games as it is, it's just retards getting all worked up over nothing. They scream about how inappropriate GTA: SA is but it's clear they never bothered to read the rating that's there in the first place. I highly doubt there's many people who'd think all the shit that's in the game is ok, but not the one removed mini-game you have to mod it to activate. They were mostly just pissed that they'd been a bad parent and bought their kids a game they shouldn't have.
        • Im Sorry but this is just another pice of broken legislation to make a small group of people that do not want to take the time to be REAL PARENTS thay rather let their children be raised by TV, Video Bames and the School System.

          "A day with a game" what is a day to them, 9 hours or 24 hours of play time what is a day?

          The bigger point it unless thay hire gamers to play them, There is no way thay are going to get any hidden-content out in that time... Or in game like Elder Scroll: Oblivian it takes better the
  • Pointless (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Hope Thelps ( 322083 ) on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @01:49PM (#16217229)
    The courts will uphold the right of the ESRB to give an opinion on any game they choose to, without having to jump through government mandated hoops. This is their right under the first amendment. The courts will uphold the right of game publishers to display the ESRB's opinions on their games if they choose to. This is their right under the first amendment.

    Any attempt to interfere with these rights will be struck down. This is a waste of time and money.
    • If the ESRB ignores the Government's "suggestion", then you'll see another push to implement a Government-controlled rating board.

      Or you'll start to see ESRB members hauled off to jail for kiddie porn or drug use. Their replacements will play along nicely. [/conspiracy_theory]
  • After all, a small, independant game has a better shot at online distribution anyway. The only reason most games are rated is to get them into stores (or not), but if it's available as a download, there's no reason for it.

    Now to actually make a game in the first place...
  • by nsmike ( 920396 ) on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @01:58PM (#16217389)
    At this point, the ESRB, as well as the video games industry in general, are both aware of what could happen should another ratings scandal take place. No one would be foolish enough to hide the violence from the ESRB to obtain a disingenuous rating. Plus, requiring longer periods of review for the ratings board, I think, is a good thing, but also, somewhat pointless. If you play 10 hours or 24 hours, it's not likely that a violent game is going to be all happy and peachy at the beginning, and then suddenly halfway through reveal tremendous amounts of gory violence.

    This is a knee-jerk reaction to a non-existant problem. Longer reviews of both GTA: SA and Oblivion would not have revealed either situation in normal gameplay. Both were exploited by third parties after the fact. Their ratings would not have changed. Admittedly, it was foolish for Rockstar not to remove the hot coffee features completely, and for Bethesda to leave that topless texture on the disc, but unless the ESRB starts employing hackers and programmers to digg through the game's content as a whole aside from playing it, these things will continue to go unnoticed until found by third parties should they ever occur again.

    Legislating this is a stab at "Save the Children" for an election boost. The Do-Nothing congress of the 21st century will probably fail at doing anything here as well.
    • Admittedly, it was foolish for ... Bethesda to leave that topless texture on the disc
      As I understand, the topless texture was for male charactors, modders just decided to put it on female charactors. If that is correct, then I don't believe it was Bethesda's fault at all.
    • by jandrese ( 485 )
      Yeah, it seems like the only way this would work would be some horrible legislation requring game makers to make their games impossible to mod (encrypted somehow?) without some sort of key from the ESRB, and the ESRB only gives out the key after rating the mod. Obviously mod authors aren't going to go through normal channels most of the time, so you need to force them to have their stuff rated.

      Or you could just pass a law banning all third party mods entirely. It's basically the same thing as above. Ne
    • by Grimrod ( 901886 )
      You're wrong. Oblivion was re-rated for the content that was freely available in the game. Disembowled corpses hanging by their feet. Murder as a game mechanic. DOOM-like imagery any time you enter Oblivion itself.

      The nude texture found on the discs was only a tiny part of the re-rating. The actual content of the game was the real catalyst for the M.
  • Most parents largely do ignore ESRB ratings as it is now, and complain when the games they buy for their kids contain what the box says. Perhaps making the ESRB do more than watch a video and apply a label will drive them to be more than a sticker that publishers can point to saying "THE RATING WAS ON THE BOX!!!". If the MPAA can have their rating system known by parents, then so can the ESRB.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Thansal ( 999464 )
      Parents know about the movie ratings because they go and watch movies as well. Most (not all) parents to not play video games, or stoped playing video games by the time the ESRB was really around.

      I doubt that when the movie system was first started up that there was a large push/campaign/whatever to make sure parents understood what the raitings were about. They just learned aobut them as they went to movies. Combine that with the fact that the movie industry caters to a much larger selection of the popu
    • by eln ( 21727 ) * on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @02:38PM (#16218203)
      The MPAA ratings board is even more opaque than the ESRB. The members of the board are not publically identified, and the board will not give specific reasons behind their ratings, only generalities. Also, their appeals process involves a board made up entirely of major studio and major distributor insiders.

      In addition, the MPAA suffers from the same problem the ESRB seems to have by rating sexual content (even if it's only implied) far more harshly than violent content.

      To say the ESRB has shortcomings and then invoke the MPAA's ratings board as an example of the right way to do things is silly. Check out This Film is Not Yet Rated [] for more details on how the MPAA Ratings Board (doesn't) work.

      • the board will not give specific reasons behind their ratings, only generalities.

        That's crazy talk. Movies are always rated with little blurbs like "Strong Thematic Elements." I'm sorry, but it's just not possible to get anymore specific than that without giving out the actual script. Generalities!?! Whatever man.
      • In addition, the MPAA suffers from the same problem the ESRB seems to have by rating sexual content (even if it's only implied) far more harshly than violent content.

        Homosexuality is rated far more harshly than heterosexuality. Female orgasms are rated far more harshly than male orgasms.

    • should i be paying taxes to pay for games to be rated? that's ludicrous. the problem is that the federal government is trying to deal with something that it should not be dealing with.
  • TheVede (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by jasonmicron ( 807603 )
    Just let TheVede rate them all. At least the PC games any way. Coconut monkey would be pleased.
  • I'd love to see them even attempt this at games that support modding. Look towards MMORPGs for an excellent example of the mainstay "content may change over time" to see that this ideal is clearly unenforceable. Further, the ESRB uses generic parents, not superparents, capable of thwarting games their more gamingly-adept children can't surmount.

    Difficulty, "easter eggs" and games such as the MMO genre offer make this a sure-fire loss.
  • Not Realistic (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Bones3D_mac ( 324952 ) on Wednesday September 27, 2006 @02:45PM (#16218363)
    The problem with this is that it assumes all games have competely defined experiences right out of the box. This can't account for online gaming, sandbox titles using the GTA/Oblivion approach or third party mods. The mod thing is particularly troubling because it means developers have to design their games around the possibility it could eventually be modded, forcing them to sacrifice otherwise useful and innovative features. (One example is clothing... it would have to be "welded" to all character models, requiring developers to include multiple versions of the same character, just to change the outfit.) Another troubling issue, is that such legislation would require the ESRB to be aware of any and all possible exploitable parts of a game (including weird ones, like unintended mid-game disc swaps used to open holes). Also, does this mean the ESRB would be require to hire dozens of skilled hackers to pound on a game from every possible angle, in order to determine where alterations *might* be inserted into a game?

    This could prove to be such a costly measure, that a civilian run ESRB could eventually become impossible to maintain. If you think this is bad, I can only guess as to what a federally run version of the ESRB would be like.
    • by brkello ( 642429 )
      Your concept that there is something the developers can or will do to stop modders is what comes of as "not realistic" to me.
  • The deciding issue between Gore vs Bush in the first election for me was that Lieberman was for strong video game ratings/censorship in the name of it's for the children. Or let's ban all those somewhat violent games because it leads folks to think Republican thoughts of upgrading the military or bigger boom toys.

    There just wasn't enough negatives between the 2 to force me to pick one or the other. They were both "middle of the road" for their respective parties at the the time. The only thing worse though
  • by Anonymous Coward
    All this is going to do is allow the government to take more money from the businesses at gunpoint. If they're going after the violent video games, why not go after all games except for the Ungame as they could have a negative effect on children. Just another example of government abuse of power.

    A vote against a Libertarian candidate is
    a vote to abolish the Constitution itself.
    • Ah, false dichotomy. Where would we be without you?
  • If they are going to spend a full day playing each game -- they are going to need more testers. Which means more jobs for the American video gamer! ;P

    Imagine the office drama at a job like that.
    "She always gets the good games to rate -- I hear she's playing with the bosses joystick!"
  • So it isn't feasible to analyze the executable binary to find all the content included on the disk, but how about analyzing how the binary is executed and what data is actually accessed, mapping out the data determining what got executed, what didn't, and what data was accessed? Then go to the game maker and ask what is in the areas that weren't accessed or executed and how to trigger their execution. Instead of analyzing the code, you analyze what the code does and track disk accesses to memory storage a
    • by LocalH ( 28506 )
      You're joking, right?
    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      This actually makes a lot of sense: game developers know what is on the disc, what media has been compressed, etc etc etc. Why not require a table of contents of all the models and such on the disc be given to the ESRB? It isn't quite as easy and practical at the beginning of the cycle when the media isn't being filled as often, but when you get into handhelds and later in the cycle, the developers have to be economical with space usage, and therefore should have a really good idea of what's on the disc a
  • Since I haven't seen anyone else mention it yet, I just thought I'd point out that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) exists to ensure the GOVERNMENT'S accountability, not some public group like the ESRB. Methinks some senator hasn't been paying attention in class.

    From the GAO's site [] (emphasis mine):

    Under recently passed legislation, we have changed our name from the General Accounting Office to the Government Accountability Office. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is an agency that works

Syntactic sugar causes cancer of the semicolon. -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982