Surprise! The ESRB is not psychic and we don’t expect them to be

Posted by | October 15, 2009

Right now, the ESRB is the best rating authority that we have for the video game experience but the tools that they present us do have a major flaw when it comes to rating the people’s behavior in video games…

Wait a sec. Did we actually write that? Did we actually read an article written about how the ESRB may become obsolete because they cannot rate something that their mandate can never cover? Why yes we did, in fact, The Escapist is running an article, “Obsolescence Pending: Rating the ESRB”, on precisely this subject.

“To date, this has meant that the rating given to the designed game content doesn’t cover chat and other forms of player-to-player communication.” This is unsurprising because it’s literally impossible to rate future events based on their content. It is irresponsible and silly to require the ESRB rate a game for the future interactions of players who may or may not be playing it. Do we actually expect our game rating systems to be psychic?

Of course, player interactions are no longer limited to chat. With the spread of user-generated content tools in games come all sorts of possibilities for sharing different kinds of content among players. But the ESRB has been cagey about its plans for user-generated content, and appears content to leave the bulk of the work to the game companies themselves. ESRB spokesperson Eliot Mizrachi has stated, "Just as with online-enabled games that allow features like chat, ESRB ratings cannot anticipate and therefore consider user-generated content in the ratings we assign." As with online interactions, whatever doesn’t fit within the ESRB’s established framework is left for others to worry about.

This is the crux of the point. The ESRB is not in any way becoming obsolete because of this because they do something extremely important that nobody else does and they’re certainly not going to go obsolete because of a role that nobody at all can do in the first place.

Online games which permit player interaction, chat, and player-created content are all labeled with a perfectly appropriate caveat: “Experience May Change During Game Play.” Under the sort of onus being criticized onto the ESRB one might wonder how a baseball game might get rated by visitors due to the fact that someone a few seats away might say something lewd.

No. The ESRB does an excellent job of rating the content as presented in video games. The portion of the video game which happen to be objective and available for rating. The portions that nobody will ever be able to rate—sans an outbreak of psychic rating boards—can be handled by commissions that examine the efficacy of in-game efforts to keep the behavior of the people on the level. Something that should never fall under the prevue of the ESRB.

From one video game review site to the video game industry. Keep up the good work.

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