GP's AE Gets AO Form Letter from ESRB

July 30, 2007 -
GamePolitics correspondent Andrew Eisen advises that he sent a protest to the ESRB over the Adults Only (AO) rating the board assigned to Manhunt 2. In his gripe, posted via the ESRB's website, AE wrote:
The AO rating has been bastardized and transformed into something it was never intended to be.

A rating should help me make an informed purchasing decision.  When you give a game an AO, I have no choice.  When you give a game an AO, even if it's not your intent, the end result is a ban.

I recommend retiring the AO rating.  It doesn't work the way it's supposed to.

Sincerely,

An adult who wants to play Manhunt 2 the way the developers originally intended

Andrew reported on Saturday that he received a form letter back from the ESRB (not signed by anyone, just the organization). AE highlights a couple of points from the letter:
ESRB: [The ESRB] rates computer and video games in terms of content and age-appropriateness so that consumers, especially parents, can make educated purchase decisions... We are aware of the fact that the AO rating does pose a challenge to game publishers...

AE: Why would you knowingly use a rating that completely circumvents your mission statement?  An AO rating prevents me from making "educated purchase decisions." I don't fully blame the ESRB for Manhunt 2's "ban" and in fact wrote similar letters to Nintendo, Sony, and several large retailers.  No response from them though.

The full ESRB letter follows: 
It's important to note that the ESRB is an organization that rates computer and video games in terms of content and age-appropriateness so that consumers, especially parents, can make educated purchase decisions.  We do not create, publish, sell or distribute any entertainment software, nor is it our role to censor games that are submitted to be rated.  Our job is to ensure that the product is reliably labeled and appropriately marketed.
 
ESRB raters are trained to consider a wide range of pertinent content and other elements in assigning a rating.  Pertinent content is any content that accurately reflects both the most extreme content of the final product - in terms of relevant rating criteria such as violence, language, sexuality, gambling, and alcohol, tobacco and drug reference or use; and the final product as a whole - demonstrating the game's context (such as setting, storyline and objectives) and relative frequency of extreme content.  Due to the unique interactive characteristics of games, the ESRB rating system goes beyond other entertainment systems by also taking into account elements such as the reward system and the degree of player control.
 
As you are aware, ESRB has assigned an AO (Adults Only 18+) rating to Manhunt 2 for the Nintendo Wii, Sony PlayStation 2 (PS2) and Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP).  The publisher of the game now has a couple of options (e.g., modify the game's content and resubmit it for rating or appeal the rating to an appeals board) to explore.
 
In the meantime, ESRB stands firmly behind the rating assigned to the original submission of the game.  The AO rating is our most restrictive rating, and it was assigned in this case based on the consideration of numerous factors that raters take into account each time they rate a game.  We are aware of the fact that the AO rating does pose a challenge to game publishers, in that most major retailers currently choose not to sell AO-rated games, and the console manufacturers (Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony) have not allowed AO-rated games to be published for their platforms.  These circumstances, which are beyond the ESRB's control and do not factor into our rating assignments, are a significant reason why most games which receive the AO rating from ESRB end up being modified and resubmitted in order to receive a rating that would allow for them to be played on game systems and sold to the public.
 
The ESRB rating system is designed to ensure that all games are evaluated as fairly and reliably as possible. However, in a country as diverse as ours, with its broad spectrum of values and tastes, it is inevitable that some will disagree. That being said, the ESRB regularly commissions independent researchers to measure public awareness, use and agreement with the ratings. Our most recent surveys found that the vast majority of the time (82%), parents agree with the rating assigned by ESRB, while 5% of the time they thought the rating was "too strict." This level of agreement reflects the cultural norm in this diverse country of ours, and we will continue to ensure that our ratings continue to reliably reflect that norm.
 
The interests of gamers, parents, and other consumers are best served by having an effective self-regulatory body, whose actions are objective, judicious and fair.  We regret that you did not find the ESRB rating in this case to be useful or in agreement with your individual tastes, but sincerely appreciate your taking the time to express your opinion on this issue.
 
 Regards,
 
 Entertainment Software Rating Board

Comments

DeathRain-

Thats what the ECA should be for. Giving gamers a voice. Hopefully their hard-launch coming soon will bring thousands upon thousands of new members.

Support the ECA.

@Quinlyn

Very thought provoking. I'd only like to point something out nicely before someone else with less decorum.

I know the boycott situation is at least partially hypothetical, but there are some problems even with the hypothetical.

First, organizing on a large enough scale to matter would be a real feat. Then, getting the participants to adhere long enough is an issue. I know it's obvious. You almost said it yourself, I just thought it beared stating.

The next point is the real tricky one. No matter the numbers of adult gamers, a decent part of the market will always be under 18. Even if you got enough people for the boycott who cared, chances are the under 18 crowd wouldn't care enough to look at the issue. I'd be willing to bet even with whatever noticible dent you put into the industry, they'd still be okay with the consumers that were left. It's still a good sentiment and ideal though.

I do blame the ESRB. If you go to their website and search for games with an AO rating, you'll find that most of them are pornographic. As long as the ESRB doesn't refuse to rate pornographic games, AO = porn. As long as AO = porn, I fully support Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft's decision to refuse to license AO-rated games for their consoles and retailers' decision to refuse to carry them. Call me when the ESRB revises its policy and I'll shift the blame. Until then, it's the ESRB's fault.

New poster here - and reading through this I just wanted to add my $0.02.

Ok - We all have the right to disagree with the rating the game has received. No questions there at all. The rating system of the ESRB is flawed in what it consideres M content versus what is considered AO content. I'm not trying to make statements for or against the ESRB.

What I would like is the following to happen:

Manhunt 2 to be released. If the game receives an AO rating based on the current rating standards of the ESRB - so be it. What it means to me - I cannot go to my local big chain retailler to purchase it as they have chosen not to sell the video game based on their own moral standards - good for them and their beliefs (yet they will still sell me unrated movies which contain much more graphic content is another argument all together). I will order the video game direct from the manufacturer. I have made the concious choice to purchase and play the video game as an adult.
Now here is the problem - My Xbox and Wii and PS3 (sigh I wish I had them all) will not allow me to play the video game. Why? Because the manufacturer of those consoles Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony respectively have chosen to not allow adult only content on their machines. This I strongly disagree with. (Mr Thompson please read and understand why many gamers feel that you are persecuting them and restricting their rights) I am an adult - I am a consumer of their product - it is my choice on how I wish to use their product - it is not their job to tell me what is appropriate content to view or play with on their systems. That would be the equivillent of a DVD player made by Hitachi not working with a porn DVD because Hitachi does not agree with the content on the DVD. Or imagine a manufacturer of LCD/Plasma tv's not allowing violent images to be shown on their brand of TV's because they do not agree with the content. Your massive 55" plasma TV works great - except when the image content on the screen shows someone being shot or sceens of violence - then it goes black or doesn't work. No consumer would stand for this and I'm sure as you are reading this you are laughing as you cannot imagine such a thing happening in the world. Well it is happening in the world - It happens in the world of video games all the time.

Now This is the uproar as I see it - Our rights as adults are being denied - Or choices are being limited by someone else's actions. In this case the fault is on the manufacturer of the video game console. Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft have no right to restrict the ability to use their product any way the end user sees fit. It is not their choice to limit what I can view and what I cannot view on the machine.

So gamers - what do we do about this? Well we are consumers - we are the ones that are purchasing the machines and fueling the corporate machine which is selling us these devices. So now we have the ability and the power - as the people that buy we control the market - so collectively we must act to maintain our market. So we either have to stop buying these devices completely - (stop pulling your hair and screaming at me - I'm simply stating the laws of economics - if no one is buying then they will have to change their product to meet the new market demands accordingly). Now we know that this is not likely to happen - we gamers like our games and as much as we will grumble about how unfair and unjust this is - we keep buying the machines and video games for those machines and keep things as they are. We also have the power as consumers to write into the manufacturer and demand that they allow us to use their machines in whatever way we want. Other alternative - have the companies like Rockstar or Take 2 or whoever it is that designs these hugely popular titles create their own gaming platform that will allow us to play their video games that have the adult only ratings. What if there was a new console on the market that allowed Adult only content without restrictions - how many would buy it - can we then shift the market and force Sony/Nintendo/Microsoft to change their product so that Adult Only titles will be allowed??

Anyway I have ranted now.....

I will put my soap box away - hopefully I have made some think......Some may agree with my point of view - others may not.

Let the discussion continue.

@angry dude

It has been repeatedly explained what the difference is between the M and the AO rating is beyond just "one year".

I'd explain it again, but if you didn't read it the first time...

An M rating and an AO rating is a one year difference. There's no point to it.

The ESRB can't blame the Big 3 when a rating has no purpose other than to censor it.

"It’s important to note that the ESRB is an organization that rates computer and video games in terms of content and age-appropriateness so that consumers, especially parents, can make educated purchase decisions."

"Our most recent surveys found that the vast majority of the time (82%), parents agree with the rating assigned by ESRB, while 5% of the time they thought the rating was “too strict.”

I don't fault the ESRB for doing their job. It's the retailers and console-makers that make AO = Ban, not the ESRB. However, the larger issue here, which is at the heart of the vast majority of gaming controversy is the fact that too many people in positions of authority have the notion that games are for kids. Frankly, I'm almost 25. I don't particularly care what my parents think of my games. If the goal is to protect the kids, then, quite simply, bust the balls of the retailers to make sure they check ID on the people trying to buy M or AO games.

The fact is that games aren't just for kids any more. Console makers and retailers know this, but they are politically motivated to effectively ban AO games because they don't want the negative media coverage which would paint them as purveyors of brutality and smut.

It really is an issue of education more than anything else.

Perhaps one move toward a solution would be to have some concrete specifications that a game would have to have to reach each level. for example, it could be a 100 point scale where anything over 90 points would receive the AO rating. the points are tallied when something objectionable is found. This would also mean clarity around the objectionable material (ie - spelling out exactly crosses those barriers).

AO is a joke though. They took a rating that was meant for pornographic means and have stretched it into how they wanted to fit it.

@ sqlrob

Actually, that's correct. A person under 17 can see a R rated movie if accompanied by an adult. My friend and were 16 when Van Wilder came out. We went with my parents. When we went to the snack stand, the ushers first IDed us, then made us take them to my parents before they'd let us stay in the theater.

@ Terrible Tom

Of course the ESRB caters to parents. In reality, that's why they exist. As a gamer who knows EXACTLY what game you're buying. Do you personally really care what rating a game has when it's in your hands at the checkout line? Parents though, don't always walk into the store knowing what the game content is. Hell, when I was younger, the only time my parents knew what was in a game was when it made the news for some reason. However, they knew ME. They saw the disgust on my face when Columbine happened. They heard my conversations with friends about idiots who don't know the difference between reality and fiction (at age 12). In other words, they saw the effects of their good parenting.

Sadly though, a lot of parents aren't that good. Many haven't properly taught their kids the proper ways. others don't pay attention to what their kids do. The ESRB ratings are mostly for the parents who fall where those two groups overlap. Of course the ratings are a tool that everyone can use, but parents are the most important.

@*

There's one more thing about the de-facto ban. With the console companies and retailers, it's not purely a moral stand. There are a lot of factors there. It's also a marketing image issue. They want their public face to say "This can exist, but we don't want it attached to us."

It's also a "cover your ass" issue. Let's say 14-year-old Johnny gets "Death Gore Killathon 7" from his 21-year-old cousin. Johnny's parents have no idea what he's playing in his room. The reason Johnny wanted the game was because he's actually a kind of twisted kid. Since his dad doesn't lock up his hand gun, Johnny goes on a shooting spree in school one day because he's sick of getting picked on. In the aftermath, they find the game in his room. You better believe in the coming lawsuits that the retailer and the console manufactuer are going to be named as defendants. Anyone remember the protests Michael Moore organized against Wal-Mart after Columbine because they sold hand gun bullets?

In reality, there are so damn many factors at work here, it'd take a team of analysts with various backgrounds to study the entire situation. Even then, it'd take months, if not years, of intensive research to figure out anything usefull. Most valuable lesson in life: simple answers or solutions don't exist.

@boffo97 : "An R rated movie can in fact be legally viewed by a child under the age of 17 if accompanied by an adult."

That statement is misleading. Strike "if accompanied by an adult". It's legal, period.

Of all the strange "crimes" that human beings have legislated of nothing, "blasphemy" is the most amazing - with "obscenity" and "indecent exposure" fighting it out for the second and third place.
Robert A. Heinlein

@sqlrob

Thanks for the clarification. I try not to talk out my ass, but sometimes I can't help it. I fall on too much misinformation sometimes.

Eh, double post.

AO isn't my problem. Publishers can still sell AO games... just not on consoles or at Best Buy. Yeah, it's a sigificant hinderence. So they can cut it or sell it online. If they feel their artistic freedom is more important than their cash, they have plenty of options. As for consoles... games have been cleaned up for consoles for years. Think about SNES wolf3d. I'm pretty sure it had green blood. It's the price you pay for using someone else's hardware for your game.

While they did an alright job with Bully, and are probably not too far off on Manhunt 2 (because the BBFC gave it a similar rating/nonrating)... their ability to objectively rate politically charged games is still highly dubious. And their strongarm tactics toward publishers and developers are just plain inappropriate. As a game developer I don't view the ESRB as my ally... and I look forward to the day when someone decides that they don't need the ESRB to sell their game and the floodgates open.

"The interests of gamers, parents, and other consumers are best served by having an effective self-regulatory body, whose actions are objective, judicious and fair."

And when are we getting one of those?

To: E Zachery Knight and/or anyone who doesn't think the ESRB caters to the parents.

If they weren't catering to parents then all those surveys they pay independent researchers to take would include people other than parents. =) They are doing it to get feedback and the only feedback they want is from parents. Are you honestly trying to tell me the ESRB is not catering to parents? Are you ignoring the fact thats the audience they are researching into to gain insight? If you are I challenge you to logically explain why its a good idea to only research what parents think of the ESRB rather than EVERYONE. Being a parent doesn't magically make you better or more intelligent than everyone else.

@Zippy

The main thing here though is that NC-17 and X were not "split up". NC-17 was re-named X to get it away from the stigmata of being for pornography. The rating of X ceased to exist as an MPAA rating, and exists now only as an expression.

Let's say your idea is taken up. That AO becomes the "porn rating" and M is divided into M16 (which I assume means Mature - Parents must purchase for minors 16 and younger) and M18R (which I assume means Mature - Restricted to sales of above 18 and above).

Here's what you've done.

1. You've given the anti-game crowd another weapon. They can say games are legitimizing porn by giving it an official rating all to itself.

2. Since laws already exist covering the sales of porn to minors anyway, that level becomes ignored, and the "highest level is banned" logic now bans the M18R rating, just as the NC-17 rating was banned when films that got that rating weren't pornographic.

3. You've introduced more confusion into the whole rating system needlessly.

Again, the whole concept of the "de facto ban of the most extreme level" isn't really fair, but it's unavoidable reality, and it's a lot more pleasant of an option than direct government bans.

@ Stephy Wolf

The split in the ratings between M and AO is intended to reflect that parents with mature children may view the material and decide it appropriate, whereas the AO rating is intended solely for an adult audience, no matter how mature a child might be.

In other words, GTA may be appropriate for a really mature 14 year old, and inappropriate for a really immature 17 year old. But such distinctions are irrelevant with an AO game.

...or so the reviewers have decided.

Whoa as a biotech junkie I take exception to the FDA analogy. There are phases with drug studies. Also the FDA is not the end all and numerous other countries have drugs on the market not FDA approved. Also the drug companies can and have terminated studies knowing the FDA wont approve the drug.

Why cant the ESRB let game companies know that the game will be an AO BEFORE they spend the $$$ on the final product? How hard is it in this day and age to have the companies send the ESRB unfinished versions throughout the developing process and get instant feedback?

This is akin to the FDA buring their head in the sand until the phase III results are submitted and then giving a drug a "rating" that prevents any pharmacy from carrying it but the drug can still be legally sold elsewhere (despite some concerns about safety)

In fact I recall the morning after pill was not being carried or filled by certain pharmacists/pharmacies under "moral objections" and that was overturned. Not saying that is the same as Walmart and AO ratings but the cries of moral objections reeks of a double standard.

What the ESRB is doing is banning the game and blaming the "Big 3". Like most have said above why then even have an AO rating for console games? Lets be honest and get rid of the rating and just call AO a non-approval.

It also baffles me that the MPAA gets away with far more than the ESRB can. I guess better lobbyists....

I sent a complaint to the esrb about their ratings just to see if I'll receive a form letter.

"I alway had faith in your board until Manhunt 2.

year's 2002.

Soldier of Fortune 2's released.

features life-like violence with advanced damage engine call GHOUL 2.

the most violent game of its kind.

rating: M for Mature.

shift to year 2004.

Postal 2.

violence and more controversy than an episode of south park stuffed into 1 gigabyte of data.

rating: M for mature.

I am terribly ashamed at a board that only aimed at making rockstar pay for the hot coffee scandal."

Why even split up the AO and M ratings? It's 1 years difference in the age group of users.
It frustrates me to no end that companies will allow an M rated game on their hardware but not AO. Understand this is becoming an adult hobby, accept it, and allow us to play a uncensored game on the system.
They seem to do this all the time with games, yet they can release R rated movies such as Saw 3 which some people found so bad they walked out of theaters? Ridiculous.
-Stephy Wolf

As long as the AO is given for legitimate reasons I fully support its use. In the end it is retailers and platform designers choice if they will allow AO content on their shelves and on their consoles. That is not the ERSB's concern as the AO rating is a perfectly valid rating for a PC game and not a ban.

In the end, from what I hav heard of the reasoning behind manhunt 2 getting a AO rating i support the decision. I also belive it is the right of the developer to make the game as they see fit. The disconnect as it were is with the retailers and policy makers for the platforms in question. If claims of banning are going to be thrown around it would be at them. But even then they certainly have the right to say that they dont want certain things on their platforms or on the shelves.

Essencialy no one is in the wrong but there is not a happy ground that everyone can have what they want. A compromise must be made to move forward. But no direct fault can be laid at anyones feel for this particular decision

Boffo97
Look at X and the troubles with it it had to be forced out and be made NC17 ,AO is having the same is not worse problem because there is no middle ground for gaming its held up on a high pedestal than movies ever have been and even so games and movies are rated diffrently what can make it in a R movie can not make it in a game even more of a reason to re balance the adult tier,AO will have to go they can use M16 and M18R and other bits of the alpha bit soup any way they go they will need a new adult level in any case AO is fine for "porn" I do not think anyone can argue against that however AO dose not work for NC17 and creating a 18+ level for games is needed.

AO is broken and needs to either left to porn or removed altogether,we saw in the late 70s/early 80s X become NC17 it will have to happen again to AO to have it change and not include harder mature content.


MH2 is not he only game to be threaten with the ban hammer Bioshock had to make the lil sisters invernable or get a AO sticker and I am sure they are doing simmluar things with fallout 3 since it cleared its M rated.

the same IF not worse.....bah spelling I suck at it....

@ZippyDSMlee

We're saying the same things (at least very similar), just in different ways. The ratings system needs to be tweeked, at the very least. Put simply: if we're going to make distinctions between "mature" and "very mature," don't make it so vague.

@ Boffo97

I agree with you as well. As has come up before, it's far from a perfect system, whether looking at the individual parts or at the whole. Actually true for both ratings systems. I know they don't mean nearly the same thing, and if I sounded like it before, I apologize. My personal view is that if anyone really needs the levels beyond mature further separated, it's probably time to rethink giving them even an M rated game in the first place. Also, I fear maybe my knowledge isn't quite up to speed. Last I checked, no government body had officially SUCCESSFULLY adopted the ESRB's ratings system yet without contest. The MPAA system was. I'm not arguing, just asking, because I just realized I may be partially speaking using out of date and incorect knowledge. I'd check, but my smart phone can only do so much.

@*

Sorry for my rambeling and numerous clarifications today. I'm having more trouble than usual turning my thoughts into conversation that anyone other than me can understand. Well, without an Idiot to English dictionary that is.

Actually, the core of this argument comes from what the major difference between R and NC-17, and thus what the difference between M and AO should be is.

An R rated movie can in fact be legally viewed by a child under the age of 17 if accompanied by an adult. The idea is that, ideally, parents are supposed to make decisions for their children and if they decide their child is mature enough that this movie is appropriate for them, take responsibility for the decision and let the child have access to the media. If the parent makes this decision lightly and makes the wrong choice then, at best, they're being a negligent parent, and blame lies solely with them.

An NC-17 rated movie takes the parent out of the equation entirely. It says under no circumstances would this movie be appropriate for any child. This is NOT functionally equivalent to the R rating.

Now because the MPAA has copyrighted their ratings, the ESRB had to come up with their own system, but I think we can all agree that M is analogous to R and AO is analogous to NC-17.

The problem with both ratings systems, as stated, is that business entities realize that they could endure very bad PR and loss of business unless they certain things the community as a whole does not support are banned. However, if they are seen as making the decision to ban that item in particular, they can lose support from other tiers of the market. So they make the policy not to carry the worst tier of the ratings system.

Yes, it does render that tier functionally worthless. No, adding further ratings becomes useless because the ratings system becomes a confusing alphabet soup, and if done often enough, multiple tiers would be banned. But it's just the way it is.

DeathRain
heres the problem at 17 a person is still a child in the eyes of the law, my main suggestion was to nip this issue at its core change M to 16 and put in place a a new rating at 18 and leave AO for "mainstream" porn games, its obvious AO has become a laughing stock if all it takes is killable children then Bioshock and Fallout 3 are inches away from being AO titles ,if indigo prophecy had its low detail sex scene in it that would make a PG13 movie R and not even phase a R moive if that is grounds for AO then what good is AO as it is all its doing is preventing a normal reasonable level of mature storying telling into a MATURE GAME.

If you look around at other countries sex is almost a non issue and wont level up a games rating if its teen or higher,at looking at some this is why I think M could be split in half with lite M rated games going to M and other goign 18+,it might hurt in the short run but its better than leaving things where they are.

M16/M18R works for me but I bet the US populace cant count 0_O

Andrew Eisen
I hope you get something other than their automated letter heads...

To everyone telling me to write the console manufacturers and retailers,

I did.

I don’t fully blame the ESRB for Manhunt 2’s “ban” and in fact wrote similar letters to Nintendo, Sony, and several large retailers. No response from them though.


Andrew Eisen

Sorry, I'll be a little more specific again. I understand content differences between R an NC-17 ratings. As I understand it though, a major part of the original intent in having that distinction was for separation of the two when being shown in public movie theaters. With video games, there are no theaters. And before anyone says it, yes, I've considered arcades in this line of thought. Frankly, arcades are going the way of the dinosaurs. The only one I can think of that has games as advanced as this is Dave & Buster's, and they don't let in minors without adult supervision, with a ratio of one adult for every two minors.

So moving back to my point, my arguement is simply that although there are differences in content between the M and AO ratings, if you REALLY have to specify between "mature" and "VERY mature," then really, whoever the game is for should be able to properly handle both levels of "mature" or not have either. Or at the very least, put meaningfully different age restrictions on the different ratings.

Okay, I'm sorry, I just realized I forgot some important points in my post.

First, I should have mentioned that I wasn't trying to show complete links between movie ratings and video game ratings. I was trying to draw kind of an analogy. I know the NC-17 rating hasn't been used in a long time, at least. In fact, I don't remember seeing one in my entire lifetime. I was just stating the technical procedures as I understand them from the last time I looked them up.

Second, my comment about the author still doesn't sound how I want it too. I suck at this today. Something more like:
"Your new book is well-written, intriguing, quality work. However, we're going to have to rate it "Read at Your Own Risk" because the content is too adult oriented."

Then having most publishers say they won't print it and only porn shops carrying it.

Finally, I really don't mean to put all the blame on the ESRB (as much as I sound like it). Everyone involved carries their own part of the responsibility, probably least of all the ESRB. My point is simply that I don't see a practical use for the rating. I don't think the benefits of having a stronger level than "Mature" outweigh the detriments of having one more thing to remember about the ratings system. I know the system is definitely not overly complex. However, in my experience, too many parents don't even know the system exists, let alone what any part of it means. I say this because I did a sociology experiment about youth and media, and it was the subject of some of the questions in the parental survey I made. I just wish I still had the data or the paper I wrote about it so I could post real numbers.

Although, I disagree, I also understand the point being made here.

Obviously there shouldn't be any restrictions on game content, however it's also the same argument as saying that an R rated movie and an NC17 rated movie should have the same rating. In a sense, they SHOULD, because there is little to no age difference in legally seeing them, however the content is different and if anything, that is the most important part of the rating.

Separating the games that are mature and games that are VERY mature is important not because of who plays them, but because of what the difference in the games are

Quote from the ESRB letter

"These circumstances, which are beyond the ESRB’s control and do not factor into our rating assignments, are a significant reason why most games which receive the AO rating from ESRB end up being modified and resubmitted in order to receive a rating that would allow for them to be played on game systems and sold to the public."

Plain and simple, you don't want AO games to be "banned" then write Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft who won't allow them on their consoles. Write all the retailers who won't stock the videogame. It's not the ESRB's fault. The retailers and others took the worst rating the ESRB had and made their own rules around it. According to the ESRB, it would be on the market for people to make educated decisions however, Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony and the retailers are the ones taking away your ability to make these educated decisions not the ESRB.

I will ask this question... simply for the sake of raising the argument:

Is there an effective difference between an AO rating on a game or an NC-17 rating on a movie? When was the last time you saw an NC-17 movie playing at the local theater? When was the last time you saw DVDs of NC-17 rated movies at any major outlets?

If there was that difference in standard between AO rated games and NC-17 rated movies, it'd be something to get upset about, but I don't see it.

Unfortunately, if you think about it, simply banning the most extreme tier of the system from one's business is a sensical policy. Otherwise, one is left with picking and choosing what to ban and what not to ban, and being responsible for "You banned this, but not that." (and banning nothing really isn't that realistic a policy either if you really thought about it. You'd end up with very few customers after a while with people voting with their wallets.)

And Dennis, have you considered just deleting the posts of the troll as they're posted? If he has no right to post here, then his posts have no right to remain.

And troll, you can stop labeling anything Dennis does against you as SLAPP. It isn't, because what you're doing isn't Public Participation. It's repeated trespassing onto Dennis' property when you were repeatedly told that you were not welcome. If it was me, I'd call the cops, and have you arrested as a cyberstalker.

Okay, sorry if I say something that was already said, but I don't have time to read all the comments before me today.

There's one thing I've never really understood about the AO rating. How does it really make a difference. Trying to compare, an M for videogames is roughly the equivalent of an R for movies. Both have an age restriction of 17 (last time I checked). In the case of movies, people under 17 can watch them in the theater if they go with someone 18+. Using a similar comparison, an AO would equate to an NC-17. With the movie reference again, that means absolutely no one under 17 (or is it 18?) can see it in a theater. But videogames can't really be held in the same standards. If a game is 17+, then that's the age limit for buying it. So, what purpose does the AO server other than to say "Well, this is a strnger warning"? If parents have to buy it, they have to buy it, whether M or AO.

I mean, I get that "adult" legally means 18+ (for most things at least), but why not just have M be 18? From a developmental standpoint, that one year doesn't mean much when we're talking about that age range. For that matter, the human brain doesn't stop physically developing (AKA become adult) until 25 anyway. Since affecting thinking is the point, that should technically be the age to consider.

My last thought is about the legalities. This comes down to one private sector entity affecting another's functioning. It's not the developer's fault some companies won't license games for their systems or some won't sell games, just because of the AO rating. They only direct control they have is the content. They shouldn't have to restrict it purely to get a rating. That's something akin to telling, say, an author "Your new book is a well-written, interesting, quality piece of work. However, because the content isn't suitable for some ages, we're going to have only let you sell it in porn shops."

Maybe I'm a little too dramatic with some of that. But I don't think it's entirely too far off the mark.

@Flipfox22:

If gamers could convince the console makers in question that they represent a big enough piece of the pie, then you would see it. It will take a lot more copies of M games sold and even more titles put out by game developers. Which in turn would require more work with ESRB to make sure a game made it to market, and hopefully clearer guidelines. Until then we're not going to get jack. This isn't the Atari days with Texas Chainsaw Massacre grinding away wheelchair-bound victims or any one of the Mystique titles featuring lewd covers and craptastic gameplay where licensing wasn't a must and it was hidden under the counter. These are days when Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft hold all the cards and without licensing you are pretty much SOL.

Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo need to allow all games on their respective platforms. Also retailers need to get the stick out of their ass and sell all kinds of games. In the "Back room" if they must. I just want to be able to buy all the games I want.

Side note: All the systems now a' days have parental controls to keep games that parents find unsuitable from being played. Why can't they just use them...

This is really making me want to submit my email to the ESRB supporting thier cause and the response that I recieved. I will have to wait until tonight though as I am at work now.

I don't know any boards or blogs without trolls. LOL

Ah, poor ignorant JT. He doesn't get it. Andrew Eisen went about this the right way. He recognized that the decision to ban the AO rating was part of the jurisdiction of the retailers and console manufacturers, and went to them specifically to get them to reconsider. Andrew understands that's how the First Amendment is designed to work, which is why he didn't go to any politicians or file any legal lawesuits.

Honestly, I kind of pity the guy. I cannot imagine what it must be like to live wrapped in a bubble of ignorance and hatred, aware that one is a "flawed creature" and yet doing absolutely nothing to change his ways.

I have one question, to everyone here.

Why haven't we had this conversation years ago?

We all knew Ao was just another term for banned, we all knew that games could get Ao just for violence, (punisher, and thrill kill), so why didn't we do anything about it? Why did we have to wait for Manhunt 2 to get an Ao rating before we complaind about the rating's existence? That's like seeing several large boxes teetering on the edge of a building and not complaining about them till one falls and hurts someone. Now look what we have. I'm reminded of when we told everyone that if they wanted to ban violent games they needed to ban violent TV, then the FCC came in and took us on that challenge.

Dennis, we have a troll problem again.

As Pete B. above said, the ESRB did what only the ESRB can do: rate games. They do deserve some criticism however. Their system of rating is very suspect in that there is no real breakdown of their methods for consumers and apparently developers. "Prolonged graphic violence" is all the wording of the descriptor for AO says, besides mentioning sexual content (what it is most known for) also being a potential decider. None of the rating data exclaims that control method or other game play factors weigh in, though Vance has said that control has ALWAYS been a factor. How is Manhunt 2 and its' prolonged violence any worse than other M games? How was it judged?

We the consumers can't say. You can chatter about it having this act or that act, but there is no publicly known blueprint or spec sheet given to developers by the ESRB about ratings showing what various content inclusions will have on ratings. What effect does decapitation have? What about using dead elephants or heads as bowling balls against enemies? Similar acts are in a certain PS3 M-rated game, but that seems to be acceptable. I think the ESRB is long overdue in detailing how ratings will be made, scientifically, digitally. Not some hodge-podge-evaluated analog impression made by a handful of people. If some games are going to have violence that is questionably-rated versus other game decisions, there needs to be a change in the system.

Is that a lot of work for the developer and the ESRB? Not as much as you think. The developer's side already knows what content is in a game even if everyone in the company doesn't. You compile that into a report that lists what actions are possible player choices. The ESRB has to decide where this line is for the ratings, and the public deserves this info just as much as the console makers. The ESRB should devise checklists and other material to show the results of content instead of having a developer have to rely on prior games rated and a prayer. This is not a common sense choice we're talking about.

Fils-Aime of Nintendo thought the control scheme of Manhunt wasn't a problem, but obviously it was according to Vance of the ESRB. Content and control sealed its fate. A fate that is suspect given the system as it now operates. Problems arise, of course they do. Example: animated violence of a severed limb being stuck down the throat of an enemy as a weapon versus more photo realistic depiction. Something has to be done since ratings as of now are suspect. Developers are at the mercy of the ESRB to stick with the same convention when different people are using their judgment in each case. Wonderful way to keep games safer for consumption guys and gals.

Videogames provide challenges in that reviewers cannot play through an entire game AND find every hidden weapon or cut scene in a game. Movie raters can watch the movie and decide, even if they start to fall asleep. Despite that difficulty, a better job needs to be done by the ESRB or the criticisms from the peanut gallery will continue. Some criticisms by researchers prove the point, illuminating how content slips by the ESRB hand over fist. Do more in fixing that problem ESRB and you will have less warranted criticism in the world of academic research even if it doesn't help you with those truly biased and unfairly demonizing you.

If the market of older gamers really cares about games making it to the shelves despite an AO rating in the future, there are things to be done. Writing the companies whose console system they intend to support is a start. Not paying for the system if you truly want other software options is the only way you will hurt their business though, and that will never happen. People don't boycott gas, let alone videogames. Sure the critics do, but they are doing what serves their goal. Gamers don't have a goal now, or so many different goals that no movements stand tall and say "LOOK AT ME HERE!" There are hopeful avenues but nothing that produces enough of a wake to make Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft and others think of anything else other than their profits.

If Nintendo made as much money off of M games as they do with T and E games, then there would be a change in what games made it to the system. Do the math on the releases and tally up the actual $ made by the console maker off the M titles that gamers bought in abundance. It's nice to hope that such a freedom of choice would exist, but until these games come out of developers on a larger scale and sell even more than peanut gallery members preach, we are all at the mercy of capitalism. Wal-Mart and others will stock what sells, they are in the business of making money.

I believe people in Nintendo actually believe that they can restrict violence and sex finding children by keeping the worst of the games from being made for their systems, but it's naive. As the critics of games find a handful of titles to be suspect, a crowd of other games slide by that were due the same consideration and inspection by society. They slide by parents who are out of the loop or just don't care. Some children con the more feeble-minded parents they are stuck with, and sometimes violent or questionable content finds its way into games meant for kids. That doesn't mean the world is over or children are doomed. It means we all need to do more to bring about the changes that will serve society. Can you imagine how far the ESRB's refining could have come if peanut gallery members understood that television, movies, books, and videogames are with us now and we have to deal with how the content is handled, not how the content is eradicated? Fought against bad ratings and supported education of all parents on positive and negative effects on children and unbiased research?

I don't blame Nintendo for Manhunt 2 not coming out as an AO game. I don't blame the ESRB. I don't blame Rockstar. I do however feel that they each played a role in setting up the variables that caused it to fail to hit shelves as it was meant to. Nintendo begged for a popular adult title, knowing Rockstar would be hard-pressed to get the game past the ESRB with the subject material of the franchise selected, let alone the hype from the news media and the rantings of the peanut gallery. Every one of them rolled the dice, protecting themselves from scrutiny and criticisms. Without developer's games that push the limits for some people the ESRB would not exist, and console makers would never sell another system. Victory for some people comes if these companies fail and go bankrupt. I surely hope the players in the circle of videogame life revise their current methods, make more processes publicly observable, and strive to promote education and research to offset the ignorance used as ammo in the current war over content. Videogames deserve effort if they are to be granted the same artistic rights of other media forms.

@ Father Time

Because Manhunt 2 is the only game in a loooong time that has been up for an AO rating and looks playable.

I disagree with the people who think that the ESRB did a good job rating the game. They said themselves that they had their game guy play it for about 30 MINUTES, and then the decision was made. They played with "God Mode" enabled, so the game wasn't played the way it was supposed to be, and not even in its entirety. How can a fair rating be given in this case?

How do we know that at the end the game game, the main character doesn't wake up to find that everything was taking place in a dream he had? The AO rating is complete bullshit, and needs to be changed. Either that, or we need more than one person playing the game and giving an opinion of it. We need an ESRB2 that double checks the ratings given, and checks them for accuracy, fairness, and completeness.

How do we even know that Manhunt 2 falls under the AO category? Without the chance to experience it for ourselves, we have to go by what the ESRB says, and I think for all the good they are trying to do, they have an agenda, and are more concerned with possible back-lash than they are about giving a game a fair rating.

I just hope GTA IV gets an AO rating, because then the gaming community might actually fucking do something about this shit.

whenever Jack says "put down the controller, ... and get a life" he really means "take a life" so he can cash in on it.

This is the same culture war that has been fought against moral conservatives, superstitious Christian morons, and the cult of family values. Games are simply a new battle field. We must work to shove morals back where they belong: back up the asses of those dumb, scared, or superstitous enough to believe them.

And those who stand on the side of freedom, expression, art, and progress are handicapped at the moment by crap like the ESRB.

I think the phrase uttered by "The Truth" from GTA:III best describes my feelings at the moment:

"F**king right-wingers!"

Wait a minute, Jacko wrote:

"Freedom is for everyone."

But wait, if freedom is for everyone then why does he want to prohibit minors from buying certain games? Don't they could as part of "everyone?"

Could it be that Jacko just writes things without thinking through their implications?


(And before Jacko twists that into saying that I think children should be playing M or AO rating games, I don't but I don't think that a law is the answer)

Errr.. Jack, then why are you so vehemently against the Bar trying to do something about your own offensive and insulting content?

I'm going to take for granted that we now understand the ESRB is probably judging the game's content fairly, and should not be the focus of our criticism. The problem is that no console platform is yet willing to acknowledge that it has an active adult player-base.

Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft:
How long until you respect your adult customers by allowing them choice in adult content? Which of you will have the courage to step forward and admit that it's adults who pay the majority of your incredible, record-breaking annual earnings? How many millions of dollars must you be paid before we are given the respect that every other adult consumer-base is given when choosing which products and services to pay you for?

How long do you expect us to stand for it?

Jack Thompson can celebrate this indirect form of censorship as much as he wants, but the tide is changing, sir, and your flimsy little lands will not stem it for long.

As we, the actual consumers of these products, continue to age into our 30s and 40s (I'm 35, actually) Thompson and his ilk will eventually be revealed as the relics they are: censors whose unknowing distrust of new forms of entertainment will be snickered at for generations, for their shallowness and lack of vision.

The market is virtually POISED to ensure your extinction, pal, and everyone but you knows it.

Mr. Thompson's calling card: A huge scrollbar on a new article.

It's a sad state of affairs that ultimately boils down to passing the blame. The ESRB says it's an AO game which is a perfectly acceptable rating. Nintendo says it doesn't want adult games on its system, which is a perfectly acceptable decision to make. Walmart says it won't stock AO-rated goods, which is perfectly acceptable. Nobody can say that they alone banned the game.

@jt...

the esrb ao rating is a defacto ban and a defacto restriction on the freedom of speech... dejure, it's not... but if the outcome of a unique set of circumstances is a restriction on the freedom of speech and censorship, then it's at least worth pointing out and questioning from a constitutional perspective.
 
Forgot your password?
Username :
Password :

Poll

Have you visited a video game arcade in the last year?:

Shout box

You're not permitted to post shouts.
Matthew Wilsonfirst, that crap is wrong. second, isnt this the 3rd time he has quit?08/22/2014 - 12:11pm
Zenhttp://levelsave.com/phil-fish-polytron-doxxed-phil-fish-quits-gaming-sells-fez-polytron/ , https://pbs.twimg.com/media/Bvnhvz5IIAAAVc5.png:large08/22/2014 - 12:03pm
ZenHere are some links to the story and images. http://playeressence.com/polytron-and-phil-fish-hacked-tons-of-personal-info-leaked/ , https://pbs.twimg.com/media/Bvnx8sQCIAAwumB.jpg:large , https://pbs.twimg.com/media/Bvnj_zmCUAAlYWm.jpg:large08/22/2014 - 12:02pm
ZenSo...Phil Fish was apparently hacked on both his Twitter and the Polytron site along with all of his personal information has been given out in a zip file. He has since closed his Twitter and stated that Polytron and the Fez IP are for sale. He wants out.08/22/2014 - 12:01pm
Papa MidnightThe Verge says the sequel to Flappy Bird is nearly impossible. http://www.theverge.com/2014/8/21/6053297/swing-copters-flappy-bird-sequel08/21/2014 - 12:22pm
SleakerPC-Gamer wrote an article on what's going on with the Minecraft stuff: http://www.pcgamer.com/2014/08/21/minecraft-bukkit-team-lead-tries-to-end-development-but-mojang-steps-in/08/21/2014 - 11:55am
SleakerEVE had a high-profile ban today: http://massively.joystiq.com/2014/08/20/eve-online-lottery-site-somer-blink-shutting-down/#continued08/21/2014 - 10:26am
SleakerBut where have all the Ethics gone?08/21/2014 - 9:08am
Sleaker@EZK - one of the bigger things is that since Mojang has owned Bukkit for 2 years now, people contributing to the project have basically been doing work for them pro-bono. On top of never formalizing support. They hid the fact probably to prevent support08/21/2014 - 9:07am
SleakerIf you've played on a server with mods/plugins, you've almost for sure played on a Bukkit-based server.08/21/2014 - 8:56am
SleakerHere's Bukkit's explanation attempt at shutting down due to EULA changes: http://forums.bukkit.org/threads/bukkit-its-time-to-say.305106/08/21/2014 - 8:55am
SleakerEZK - it's the largest server mod for MC, in actuality without it minecraft for sure would not have been as popular (#1 game now).08/21/2014 - 8:54am
SleakerTo the point that it seems they have completely lost what it means to be for-community, and having transparency. Along with dumping restrictive EULA's onto people.08/21/2014 - 8:53am
E. Zachary KnightWhat is Bukkit and why should I care?08/21/2014 - 8:53am
SleakerMinecraft community exploded again today. Apparently Mojang owns all of Bukkit, and never put out a statement saying as such 2 years ago when they acquired them. I have to say, their transition from indie has been rough.08/21/2014 - 8:52am
james_fudgeThere aren't many left in America08/21/2014 - 1:50am
MechaTama31I sure have. Dorky's barcade in Tacoma, WA.08/20/2014 - 5:56pm
Matthew WilsonI have not been to a arcade in years. I know arcades are still big in japan.08/20/2014 - 5:38pm
Sleaker@AE - Ah no it's called GroundKontrol - I was just referring to it as a Bar-Arcade.08/20/2014 - 4:39pm
Andrew EisenStill looking for confirmation that High Moon Studios (dev behind the PS3/360 versions) isn't working on it.08/20/2014 - 4:38pm
 

Be Heard - Contact Your Politician