The ESRB needs to fix their ratings procedure

ESRB badAttorney Mark Methenitis isn’t very satisfied with the process by which games are judged and rated by the ESRB. On the Law of the Game blog, he criticizes the fact that those responsible for rating games never actually play the games, and therefore do not absorb the content as any normal player would.

To summarize the interview, game publishers send in a DVD of selected scenes and a lot of paperwork to get the game rated. In fact, the process is outlined in detail on the ESRB website. The point being that the ratings board never plays the games. Yes, you read that right. The people who rate video games do not play the game they are rating. It would be the equivalent of basing movie ratings on a form and a trailer. Context would be wholly absent.

While the reasoning behind the process is understandible, Methenitis also offers a solution to the specific problems that might arise if the games were actually played through in order to receive ratings.

I can see the logic the ESRB is using. First, playing the games would require a release candidate, which could delay the process. Second, it would take their "trained reviewers" much longer to play through the games in full than it would to review some paperwork and a DVD. Third, and finally, it’s entirely possible that some, if not a large section, of the reviewers may not be able to complete the games at all. Moreover, the system they have going has rarely been faulted (see Hot Coffee).

On the other hand, I get the impression that ratings for media content are more accurate when the reviewer takes the content in context and on the whole, rather than seeing mere snippets. Perhaps the better approach is to have the ESRB hire "designated gamers," and have the reviewers watch the game being played for some period of time in addition to the forms and DVDs in order to contextualize the game.



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Author: Eddie Inzauto View all posts by
Eddie has been writing about games on the interwebz for over ten years. You can find him Editor-in-Chiefing around these parts, or talking nonsense on Twitter @eddieinzauto.

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