Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D) charged today that the ESRB is "under the influence" when it comes to depictions of alcohol use in video games.
His comments were prompted by Beer Pong, from JV Games. As reported by GamePolitics, the title has previously come under fire from education and substance abuse organizations. In response to those concerns, the game has recently been renamed as Pong Toss (although JV's website still lists it under the original title).
Blumenthal, mentioned as a potential gubernatorial candidate, issued a press release calling on the ESRB to change the rating of Beer Pong from T (13+) to what the AG refers to as "adult" (presumably the ESRB's Adults Only rating). The A.G. is quoted in the press release:
The rating T 13+ -- suitable for teens 13 and older -- is absolutely inappropriate. The video game rating board is under the influence -- rating frat party video drinking games suitable for minors. Even as JV Games agrees to alter its Beer Pong video game, both it and the rating board stubbornly deny the damaging influence of alcohol depiction in video games.
The ESRB astonishingly downplays and dismisses alcohol depiction in rating the suitability of video games for minors. Parents have the first and last say over their children’s games -- but they deserve to know all of the facts. The ESRB, claiming to consider age suitability in its ratings, has a moral and ethical responsibility to consider all potentially damaging material in the products it rates.
This issue is urgent because the 'Frat Party Ganes' promoted by JV Games may soon offer others in this planned series.
ESRB spokesman Eliot Mizrachi responded to Blumenthal's criticism of the video game industry rating board in a statement:
Although we respect Attorney General Blumenthal’s right to disagree, the fact is that ESRB’s role is not that of censor. Our job is to impartially and consistently label content about which there may be a diversity of views so consumers can make informed choices for themselves and their families.
‘Pong Toss’ involves nothing more than players tossing virtual ping-pong balls into plastic cups, which hardly qualifies it for our most restrictive rating of AO (Adults Only 18+)...
In addition, GamePolitics has obtained a copy of a June 12th letter from ESRB President Patricia Vance to Attorney General Blumenthal on the Beer Pong issue. It reads in part:
While the assignment of ratings does require that judgments be made about the age-appropriateness of different types of content, it would be improper to assign ratings solely based on the depiction of behavior which may be understandably discouraged by society at large. To illustrate, many car racing games require players to barrel down city streets at high speeds – illegal behavior that certainly should not be encouraged... Still, none of this changes the fact that racing games... tend to be rated E... That actions in a game might, in the real world, be associated with minimum age requirements or be generally discouraged does not, in and of itself, relegate that game to the most restrictive ESRB rating category, Adults Only. Such contextual elements are weighed in the ratings process, however...
This title is being made available solely as WiiWare, which means it will not be available at retail, but may be downloaded, for a fee, directly through the Wii console. WiiWare games, available by the hundreds, rarely have marketing or advertising associated with them, and typically draw scant attention. Given this, our concern is that a greater number of consumers (including the age group about which you are most concerned) will be made aware of this game and resolve to play it as a result of publicized statements of advocacy groups and others. Ironically, this is likely to result in more rather than less consumers being drawn to this game, particularly those very minors all of us seek to protect.