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Modern Games and Technology Challenging ESRB's Effectiveness

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the rated-t-for-terrible dept.

Games 136

The Entertainment Software Rating Board has been around for 15 years now, overcoming an ineffective start and a host of controversial events to become a fairly well-respected ratings agency. However, as this article at The Escapist points out, the world of video games is changing, and the ESRB does not seem to be adapting along with it. "The most pressing problem is the ESRB's reluctance to address online interactions. Seeing as we're moving more and more toward online and internet-enabled games, this inevitably limits the ESRB's authority as a ratings board. Although the ESRB rates the submitted developer content within online games, these ratings are always qualified by an important disclaimer: 'Online Interactions Not Rated by the ESRB.' 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. That's unfortunate, because the ESRB's intimate relationship with the game industry could provide it with a unique vantage point from which to evaluate aspects of online games that are beyond the purview of other would-be raters, including the quality of the game's moderation system, programmed restrictions on chat and known player demographics."

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136 comments

Didn't read the article (1, Offtopic)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 4 years ago | (#29741961)

The only good thing about Escapist Magazine is Zero Punctuation:

http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/zero-punctuation/916-Wolfenstein [escapistmagazine.com]

Yeah, he's that good.

Re:Didn't read the article (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29742145)

I can't tell if you are being sarcastic. I hope you are, cause whatever video you linked was fucking trash.

Re:Didn't read the article (0, Offtopic)

malkir (1031750) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742335)

This video is fucking godly. AC is twat.

Re:Didn't read the article (0, Offtopic)

sopssa (1498795) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742499)

Unskippable [escapistmagazine.com] is also quite good; not so fast-paced, but theres some fun moments. One good one is Alone in the Dark [escapistmagazine.com]

Re:Didn't read the article (1)

cromar (1103585) | more than 4 years ago | (#29745685)

Wow... the Escapist must really suck then! *ducks*

I don't see why this is a problem (5, Insightful)

Shadow of Eternity (795165) | more than 4 years ago | (#29741971)

Every time someone takes their kids outside they run the risk of those kids being exposed to god knows what, I don't see how online experiences are any different.

Re:I don't see why this is a problem (2, Interesting)

nacturation (646836) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742185)

The last sentence is the one to focus on:

... from which to evaluate aspects of online games that are beyond the purview of other would-be raters, including the quality of the game's moderation system, programmed restrictions on chat and known player demographics.

It's like saying "Hey parents, we can't control what other people write on Slashdot, but they have a really decent moderation system." If (for those poor at comprehension, we call this a hypothetical statement) Slashdot offered parental controls to set the minimum threshold on your kids' accounts, they could conclude "While there is some nasty stuff when browsing at -1 which we have no control over, fortunately Slashdot offers you the ability to restrict your kids viewing to a much higher threshold and mitigate the risk of them reading material inappropriate for their age."

Re:I don't see why this is a problem (4, Insightful)

Shadow of Eternity (795165) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742391)

Except that adds a whole new level of complication and liability onto things as people will always be trying (and successfully finding) ways to get around such a moderation system and all it takes is one frosty piss getting through to render the whole thing pointless.

it's much better imho to simple leave it at "Multiplayer involves interacting with other humans you don't know anything about and have no control over, do so at your own risk." rather than giving some false sense of security.

Re:I don't see why this is a problem (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29746271)

How about we require people to have some minimum level of awareness about the world around them. If they cannot DEDUCE that ONLINE MULTIPLAYER involves OTHER people and that they will have NO CONTROL over those individuals, they should be deemed too stupid to be citizens of any nation, breed, file a lawsuit, or (really) draw a breath.

Re:I don't see why this is a problem (1)

Idiomatick (976696) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742395)

That'd be like a site blocker for kids that advertised that kids will only run into hardcore porn a few times a day but the purveyors are quickly shut down. Yeahhhhhh...

Re:I don't see why this is a problem (4, Insightful)

AmiMoJo (196126) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742505)

Moderation in online games does not work anyway. Even if you put a bad word filter in you can't stop people doing things like standing together in the shape of a swastika (Anonymous in Habbo did that) or taking most of their clothes off (the Million Gnome March in WoW).

Online games are exactly like the real world. You have to look after your young children like you would when outdoors with them. Unfortunately many parents see video games like they see TV - a low cost babysitter.

Re:I don't see why this is a problem (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742917)

You mean I'm supposed to look after that little boy in my house? The TV and PC don't magically care for him? Gaaarsh. Shucks I didn't know that - I guess my money on the TV and PC was wasted.

Re:I don't see why this is a problem (1)

MrSmith0011000100110 (1344879) | more than 4 years ago | (#29743071)

As much as that's a joke, it's so true. Take a trip to your local game retailer and watch how many ignorant parents will buy pretty much anything for kids that aren't even 10 years old.

person behind counter: "You know this game carries an 'M' rating for violence and adult themes"

Parent: "Yup"

person behind counter: "That'll be $59.99"

Re:I don't see why this is a problem (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 4 years ago | (#29744993)

Well if the parent doesn't think there's anything wrong with it, that IS the parents decision. Just as many nudists take their children to clothes-free beaches or campgrounds where little girls see adult men nude, or little boys see adult women nude. I know a lot of Americans who would like to see those parents arrested, but fortunately saner heads prevail.

The rating is a suggestion, not a mandate.

When "fuck" gets score 5 (4, Insightful)

tepples (727027) | more than 4 years ago | (#29743041)

It's like saying "Hey parents, we can't control what other people write on Slashdot, but they have a really decent moderation system." If (for those poor at comprehension, we call this a hypothetical statement) Slashdot offered parental controls to set the minimum threshold on your kids' accounts, they could conclude "While there is some nasty stuff when browsing at -1 which we have no control over, fortunately Slashdot offers you the ability to restrict your kids viewing to a much higher threshold and mitigate the risk of them reading material inappropriate for their age."

Slashdot's policy would still be found deficient, as posts containing the word "fucking" still get moderated to (Score:+5, Funny) or (Score:+5, Insightful).

Re:When "fuck" gets score 5 (2, Funny)

EvilIdler (21087) | more than 4 years ago | (#29744359)

Slashdot's policy would still be found deficient, as posts containing the word "fucking" still get moderated to (Score:+5, Funny) or (Score:+5, Insightful).

I'm fucking relieved the system works like that - my excellent karma is mostly built on posting variations of the word "fuck".

Re:I don't see why this is a problem (1)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742407)

I have a friend who listens to death metal music, and frequently wears t-shirts with some truly profane slogans. Worst one I've seen is "Jesus is a c*nt."

The issue isn't about children being exposed to objectionable material, it's teaching them why it's objectionable and that they should learn to ignore it, but accept that everyone has an opinion to express. They don't need to agree, and they're free to walk away, not socialise, and ignore that person.

Is it really so fucking hard?

Re:I don't see why this is a problem (1)

Proteus Child (535173) | more than 4 years ago | (#29743611)

Yes, it is. It requires accepting responsibility for one's actions and a little critical thinking.

Re:I don't see why this is a problem (1)

PitaBred (632671) | more than 4 years ago | (#29746177)

I don't think so. But then again, I'm not a WASP, and I don't want to control what everyone else does and thinks.

Re:I don't see why this is a problem (1)

ravenshrike (808508) | more than 4 years ago | (#29746453)

? Many cultures attempt to control what one thinks and feels, or do you think that kid in Chicago was killed because he agreed with the mindset of the people that killed him?

Re:I don't see why this is a problem (1)

MozzleyOne (1431919) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742465)

Because, when they're outside the kids are under direct supervision of said parent. Not necessarily the same for online experiences.

Re:I don't see why this is a problem (1)

Shadow of Eternity (795165) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742547)

But online it takes one mouse click to leave a bad situation, in the real world it's a lot more difficult sometimes.

Re:I don't see why this is a problem (1)

peragrin (659227) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742637)

REally? Since when? The kids who play MMO's tend to be 14 and above and routinely walk around malls, and their neighborhoods without parents even in the same square mile let alone with supervision.

Parents stop keeping an eye on the travels of their kids as they reach 10-12 years old. Yet they make sure they don't watch scary movies, or play games with the wrong stuff in them, yet they are free to go do that stuff on their own.

Remember parents and kids love double standards that only apply in certain situations.

Re:I don't see why this is a problem (2, Insightful)

Grimbleton (1034446) | more than 4 years ago | (#29744989)

At our local library, we have a 14 year old who's constantly in there with his friends. We call him Swearing Kid. Guess why! Non-stop expletives, but nobody says anything to him (Well, I have, and my fiancee has, but everyone else seems to just sigh and shake their heads. They all probably tried and gave up, likely)

Never with parents, nor any other adult supervision. He talks about the parties he's gone to, the drugs he's done, the girls he's fooled around with... At outdoor voice levels.

Then there are a group of five (sometimes six) kids ranging from eight years old to eleven in our neighborhood who are constantly together, always outside, and seem to have no supervision aside from the occasional adult popping out from nowhere to scream obscenities at them when they do something mildly annoying (And then come out screaming again when they hear one of the kids swearing..) They have the run of the neighborhood, and absolutely mob my fiancee and I when we take the puppy out for walks, and they don't take "No, we're out for a potty break." as a deterrent most of the time.

Parental supervision? Heh.

Re:I don't see why this is a problem (4, Informative)

BikeHelmet (1437881) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742591)

Right, but some games are like walking into a strip bar, rather than going outside.

Left 4 Dead.
-Odds of encountering at least 1 hacker per day: 100%
-Odds of someone calling you a homo cheating faggot fuckhead: 50%
-Odds of people ragequitting if you beat them just one round: 25%
-Odds of someone joining mid-game and unloading bullets into you until you kick them: 12.5%

Okay, I made those percentages up, but it's still a pretty hostile environment. :P Quite different from say... an MMO like Champions Online.

Re:I don't see why this is a problem (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742953)

No wonder I don't play online. Sounds like Usenet flamewars but much, much worse. I'd rather play alone, me versus the computer.

Re:I don't see why this is a problem (1)

PitaBred (632671) | more than 4 years ago | (#29746233)

Seconded. I used to play the original UT for hours in college. It stopped being fun when everyone started having bots and shit. Hell, people are even hacking Mario Kart for the Wii any more... online play just isn't any fun. And the games that do control it are the war simulation games like CoD and such, which bore me to tears. Any game that has a "crawl" option for the character is single-player only, if that.

Re:I don't see why this is a problem (1)

AmberBlackCat (829689) | more than 4 years ago | (#29746227)

That almost perfectly described my relationship with my husband...

Re:I don't see why this is a problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29747265)

+1 Funny, -2 Sad?

Re:I don't see why this is a problem (4, Funny)

Inda (580031) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742693)

Looking at this from the side on console games. TAKE THE FRAGGIN' MICROPHONES OFF YOUR KIDS!

90% of the time I get abuse it is from the high-pitched young. I don't even know how to respond to some of the things they say. I cannot be witty, agression doesn't work and swearing is pointless because they know more than I do, even if I'm more streetwise than the average 30-something.

What is the teabagging thing too? I'm a man, they're young boys. What the hell are they doing to me after a frag? They're the quick ones to shout fag and gay. The mind boggles.

The other 10% are drunk adults or meth-heads and I enjoy the banter with them. This should be promoted.

Re:I don't see why this is a problem (1)

The Archon V2.0 (782634) | more than 4 years ago | (#29745845)

What is the teabagging thing too? I'm a man, they're young boys. What the hell are they doing to me after a frag? They're the quick ones to shout fag and gay. The mind boggles.

Standard doublethink. "Fag" and "gay" are insults with no meaning, just like "retarded" doesn't mean "This is the 1940s and I declare you have a severe learning disability."

Teabagging, though, I just don't understand. The dominance and humilation aspect I get, that's standard enough for juveniles, it's the chosen gesture I don't get. I guess someone cycled through all the standard FPS motions and found the crouch motion incredibly lewd and hilarious. As hackerdom has smart cow problems, I guess gaming memes have a stupid cow problem.

Though if it makes it any easier to tolerate, the alternative is that there's a lot of self-loathing homosexuals out there. I suppose this is possible - every time I see something about a "Hazing gone wrong!" it involves someone anally violating someone. So either the news media has deliberately fostered the connection, or we've reached the point as a society where having your girlfriend do anything to your ass is incredibly gay, but wanting to sodomize your guy friends with a broomstick is just boys being boys.

Re:I don't see why this is a problem (1)

BakaHoushi (786009) | more than 4 years ago | (#29745867)

I'm in total agreement. If anything, we need more warnings about kids playing the game for the adults. I play Team-Fortress 2 (PC version) regularly and rarely hear swearing or cursing from other players. But sometimes, a little kid gets on and is worse than every other chatter combined. It's annoying.

Re:I don't see why this is a problem (2, Interesting)

V50 (248015) | more than 4 years ago | (#29746485)

My experience is somewhat different, but mostly because the only online game I've played really is WoW.

In my experience in WoW, kids have been a real mixed bag. Some of the better players I've had in guilds have been 12-14, and so have some of the worst. In general, once someone is known to be a little kid, the ventspeak gets somewhat less "mature". It always feels weird, though, when you know your tank is 12 or so, even if he's doing a great job.

I suppose my server (Lightninghoof) tends to be pretty good communitywise. Sure we have our share of dickheads, but much less than other servers I've played on. Probably because we're an RP server, for what that's worth.

Re:I don't see why this is a problem (1)

deafNewt (1003036) | more than 4 years ago | (#29746021)

Yup. This is exactly why I quit playing any FPS online after Halo2 (and, I get p0wned). My two sons play on Xbox live quite a bit, but neither one engages in much of that bullsh*t behavior. It might be because they're mature enough to know it's stupid, but it also might be because I play games with them and will often kick back in the recliner to "veg out" and watch them play.

Re:I don't see why this is a problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29746483)

No kidding. It was only when I started playing Call of Duty on XBOX Live that I realized that the US was undergoing an invasion... an epidemic, really. Apparently, the US is flooded with "nigger faggots". Countless young boys (with voice profiles similar to young girls) will scream or sing or just natter on incessantly about how EVERYONE that they don't like in the game (anyone other than their immediate friends... and sometimes them too) is a "nigger", "faggot", or most impressively "nigger faggot". This is the youth of today... they will have the vote just as Obama is coming out of office. :(

Re:I don't see why this is a problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29742955)

The problem is that I believe EVE-Online has a teen rating. However despite this teen rating there is no chat filter for content or language, the other day I cussed someone out in local for being a griefer using language most likely not appropriate for teenagers.

Now the step the ESRB has taken is that they say "Online Content Not Rated" or "Content Interactions May Change During Online Play" and as we know people are stupid. They need to be told "This game is probably not appropriate for a 12 year old" directly. Also you cannot depend on the player base to maintain a healthy content level.

Re:I don't see why this is a problem (4, Interesting)

V for Vendetta (1204898) | more than 4 years ago | (#29744991)

The problem is that I believe EVE-Online has a teen rating. However despite this teen rating there is no chat filter for content or language, the other day I cussed someone out in local for being a griefer using language most likely not appropriate for teenagers.

I find it more problematic that I, as a German EVE player, playing a game of a company from Iceland, who's (main) game servers are hosted in the U.K., am greeted each time I log in with an U.S. American content notice.

Re:I don't see why this is a problem (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#29743991)

Every time someone takes their kids outside they run the risk of those kids being exposed to god knows what, I don't see how online experiences are any different

You mean, like people shooting hookers, people shooting scary monsters, people stealing cars and recklessly running over pedestrians, etc? Not even in the worst parts of town, unless your town is somewhere in Iraq or another war-torn country. Games are seldom anything like real life.

Re:I don't see why this is a problem (1)

Grimbleton (1034446) | more than 4 years ago | (#29745029)

I see you haven't visited Chicago lately.

Re:I don't see why this is a problem (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#29745755)

No, it's been over a decade. I certainly hope you're joking.

Re:I don't see why this is a problem (1)

Alerius (851519) | more than 4 years ago | (#29746345)

Every time someone takes their kids outside they run the risk of those kids being exposed to god knows what, I don't see how online experiences are any different

You mean, like people shooting hookers, people shooting scary monsters, people stealing cars and recklessly running over pedestrians, etc? Not even in the worst parts of town, unless your town is somewhere in Iraq or another war-torn country. Games are seldom anything like real life.

I think you've missed the point. The programmed portions of the game are rated by the ESRB, it's the interaction with other people that are left out and so being discussed here.

The things you mention are reflected in the ratings with specific mention made of violence, drug use, sex, nudity, etc. In fact, consulting the ESRB website, the Grand Theft Auto games have been rated M for Mature or AO for Adult Only and their rating notes "Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs". World of Warcraft is rated T for Teen, again with specific mention of "Blood and Gore, Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol, Violence". Neither of these is rated as appropriate for a 7 year old

What the GP was talking about was the online experience of dealing with other PEOPLE that are playing the game. There is no effective way that I can think of to predetermine who else is playing the game and rate how they will behave. There is the potential to run into abusive people, drug users, criminals, sociopaths and just plain idiots. Speaking as a parent and a gamer, I don't see how this is any different from real life. I would not let a 7 year old play a game rated M; I would not let that 7 year old play WOW without supervision and I would not allow that 7 year old to roam the streets of a major city alone. A parent should work to teach their children a value system and try to instill in them the ability to determine their own opinions of right and wrong as they grow to be adults.

The ESRB rating system is certainly not without its flaws, but I don't think their choosing to not rate the interaction with other players and specifically say so is one of them.

Good (3, Insightful)

Urd.Yggdrasil (1127899) | more than 4 years ago | (#29741989)

I for one am glad they aren't policing internet interactions in gaming, the last thing I want is game companies being forced to attempt to censor every bad word to kowtow to the ESRB for an M rating. As for all the companies that already attempt to do it, good luck with your stupid useless endeavor.

Fu(K!ng n0o85!!1

Re:Good (1)

AmberBlackCat (829689) | more than 4 years ago | (#29746293)

Why don't they just give all online multiplayer games the adult rating and be done with it?

You have it easy (4, Interesting)

AdamInParadise (257888) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742041)

1) The South Korea's Games Rating Board is supposed to certify every game.
2) The Jesus Phone is finally about to be launched in South Korea and it will be widely popular for lots of reasons (you can trust me on this one).

But because of 1), the South Korean AppStore will not include games... [koreatimes.co.kr] Now that's not keeping up with the times.

Re:You have it easy (1)

DangerFace (1315417) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742327)

This brings up an interesting idea - if South Korean Dangerface were to ring South Korean AdamInParadise and we were to play hangman, and the word I chose was 'fucktards', would we get our phones taken away?

I can't see how (5, Interesting)

Tukz (664339) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742069)

I can't see how they would be able to rate online games.
The fact of the matter is, they can only rate the underlying content of the game, not the interactions in the game.

In a lot of games you can manipulate environment, and create scenarios which isn't covered in the rating.
For example, make a NPC standing behind a cow and moving in a certain way, making it look like he is fornicating with said cow.

There is no way they can rate against things like this. The above example may be harmless as it's only insinuating something sexual, however, it wasn't intentional in the game.
Same thing can be said of online play.

The moment you introduce human interaction, anything can (and will) happen.
Spore got entire solar systems inhabited by several "races" of penis' for crying out loud.

That's a pretty innocent rated game.

So alternatively, all online interactions should be rated "M+: Enter at own risk".

tl;dr: They can rate the underlying game, but cannot rate human interaction, and thus can't accurately rate online play, imo.

Re:I can't see how (4, Interesting)

Shrike82 (1471633) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742203)

Exactly. They talk about how the ESRB can make these ratings based on censor technology, moderation schemes etc. but at the end of the day any game where you can interact with other players will go one of two ways:

1) Chat and interaction will be free enough that people can be offensive, obscene or agressive

2) Chat and interaction will be severely limited to avoid any potentially upset parents, so communication and interaction are likely to feel unnatural and clunky

Generally speaking there will always be idiots out there who will go to great lengths to upset and offend others. How can the ESRB make a rating for online interactions with that in mind?

Re:I can't see how (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29742259)

No doubt.

"That's unfortunate, because the ESRB's intimate relationship with the game industry could provide it with a unique vantage point from which to evaluate aspects of online games that are beyond the purview of other would-be raters, including the quality of the game's moderation system, programmed restrictions on chat and known player demographics."

Moderation system: potentially constantly changing to respond to new chat behavior & cost controls. As new things become trendy, the negative aspects of chat changes, and either the moderation system adapts to address the new negative aspects or doesn't. Programmed restrictions on chat: Near pointless. Censor shit and people will write sh!t. Known player demographics: The most obvious aspect that can't be rated. I mean how are you going to know this before the game is released in order to get that initial rating, and once the game has been released the demographic is going to change no question. Take World of Warcraft for example - there's an entirely different demographic represented for a few months following each expansion. There's a different demographic over school summer vacations. And as other games are released, certain demographics dump WOW for other games.

Re:I can't see how (2, Insightful)

IBBoard (1128019) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742295)

For example, make a NPC standing behind a cow and moving in a certain way, making it look like he is fornicating with said cow.

And what's even worse with the idea of rating the online content is that a) it could be entirely perspective (i.e. from another angle there's nothing wrong with a cow over there and a man 'dancing' nearby) and b) everyone has their own little dirty imagination that can corrupt some fairly simple things.

$deity help them if they ever did English Literature - from what my wife said then everything (like swords) seems to get drawn back to some phallic symbology, which completely messes up low ratings on fantasy games.

Re:I can't see how (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29742527)

$deity help them if they ever did English Literature - from what my wife said then everything (like swords) seems to get drawn back to some phallic symbology, which completely messes up low ratings on fantasy games.

Harry Potter is some of the dirtiest literature ever written.

Re:I can't see how (1)

Dragonslicer (991472) | more than 4 years ago | (#29747165)

Harry Potter is some of the dirtiest literature ever written.

Citation [bash.org]

Re:I can't see how (1)

tuxedobob (582913) | more than 4 years ago | (#29743959)

I want to know what horny bastard decided that everything shaped like a stick had to be phallic. Have you seen how many penises are on a tree?

I forget what comic first said it, but "you can make missles shaped like vaginas; they just won't fly very well."

Re:I can't see how (1)

The Archon V2.0 (782634) | more than 4 years ago | (#29746305)

I want to know what horny bastard decided that everything shaped like a stick had to be phallic.

A moralizer, obviously. Only someone who insists they are pure and want to free the world from sin sees corruption in innocence. Less "Those who fight monsters should take care that they never become one." and more "Those who see monsters are monsters themselves, looking for justification."

When the blogoverseonetsphere was young I once read a rant on sexism in gaming ads. Started off strong (I mean, how hard is it to find a gaming ad with an objectified female?) but devolved once it got into the phallic imagery. A guy about to throw a dynamite stick was "holding a phallic object" (damn, that Nobel was a kinky bastard). A guy holding a joystick was "gripping it as though it were his penis". To which I responded something like "Okay, first off a joystick is a handle attached to a base; it can only look like that and you can only hold it like that. Second, how do you know how he grips his penis?"

I have my doubts (2, Informative)

dFaust (546790) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742095)

including the quality of the game's moderation system, programmed restrictions on chat and known player demographics.

As someone who works on a large website targeted towards children which has both chat and UGC with various systems around who you can communicate with, whitelists, moderation, etc. this seems very unlikely to prove useful. Our weekly lists of banned phrases show just how creative people can be with regular, every day words and their ability to use them in ways which while using no established slang still very clearly come across as harassing/derogatory/sexual, etc - and as noted, the demographics here are young children (hence I don't think there's much value in "known player demographics"). I think the only way they could truly rate a game with real-time interaction with other players is based on what types of interactions you can have (which could still be tricky).

For instance - an online game of chess with no communication system, just the ability to make moves... probably pretty safe (though I'm sure someone will find a way to get creative with a horse and a queen). Whereas a game where you can run around and have the ability to duck - well, someone's gonna get tea bagged. But it all seems of limited usefulness, because very quickly you get to the point with your interactions where all bets are off - you'll end up with a very small segment of "safe" games with everything else being "at your own risk." Parents, et al are probably better off considering any game with online play "at your own risk."

Re:I have my doubts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29747369)

That gives me an idea regarding communication. I've seen people "talking" in ideograms in a game before wherein they developed code for talking about dirty things.

What if you gave them a very small selection of words to express themselves with and changed that roster of words regularly, making communicating effectively with them both a game for the kids and frustrating for anybody who's trying to be dirty?

It's got as much capacity to backfire as anything else, but you'd probably not get anything dirtier out of it than I got in 1st grade in the 1970s.

Posting anon to preserve moderation.

You know why? (5, Funny)

pHus10n (1443071) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742101)

You know why they don't/can't rate online experiences? Here's an example of World of Warcraft Trade chat when in a city:

[2. Trade] Deringer: ANAL [Attack]
[2. Trade] Arrtthhaass: ANAL [Corpse Explosion]
[2. Trade] Treqir: ANAL [Injection]
[2. Trade] Arrtthhaass: lol
[2. Trade] Yosim: STFU an stay out of trade
[2. Trade] Deringer: lol u have downs

Re:You know why? (1)

nacturation (646836) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742199)

Wow, lots of people saying they're not lawyers.

Re:You know why? (1, Funny)

Idiomatick (976696) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742437)

You are confusing ANAL with IANAL. Which is also not to be confused with iANAL, Apples latest sex toy, they said it appealed to their demographic.

Disclaimer: My apology to the queer community, I meant no insult linking you to Apple products. It was only in jest.

Disclaimer: No really, I do think Apple would release a sex toy if they could make one shiny enough that gangstas would wear it as bling.

Re:You know why? (1)

space_jake (687452) | more than 4 years ago | (#29745145)

[1. General] Me: I hate g**** flavored cough medicine. Seriously what is wrong with grapes?

Re:You know why? (1)

The Archon V2.0 (782634) | more than 4 years ago | (#29746501)

[1. General] Me: I hate g**** flavored cough medicine. Seriously what is wrong with grapes?

I once visited a message board in which people were talking about Corpus ******i, Texas. And then, of course, there's the classic Fark filter annoyance where "I wish it were true" becomes "I wishiat were true".

Anything is better than nothing. (5, Interesting)

ZackSchil (560462) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742125)

They should just design a few tier labels to classify online interaction types.

Controlled - Anonymous multiplay only. All user content must be approved. Chat limited to preset phrases.

Friends only - Unfiltered user content and open chat from Friends Only.

Unfiltered - Open online community. Supervision recommended under 17.

That would at least let parents know what's going on in the game. It's a lot more informative than a simple: "Online interactions not Rated"

Re:Anything is better than nothing. (4, Insightful)

Shrike82 (1471633) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742221)

That would at least let parents know what's going on in the game. It's a lot more informative than a simple: "Online interactions not Rated"

Slightly off your point but relevant anyway: I think the sort of parents that pay attention to these ratings are smart enough to realise that online interaction has the potential to offend. It's the ones that buy an 18+ game for their 8 year old, then scream blue murder to the media/government when they walk in and see him screwing a hooker in a car that are the problem...

Re:Anything is better than nothing. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29743205)

So the reply to "Think of the children!" cry should be "Think about actual parenting your child instead ruining things for everyone else."

Re:Anything is better than nothing. (1)

The Archon V2.0 (782634) | more than 4 years ago | (#29746569)

So the reply to "Think of the children!" cry should be "Think about actual parenting your child instead ruining things for everyone else."

"Think of the children!" is only half the phrase. The other half is "So I don't have to."

Re:Anything is better than nothing. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29743379)

I agree that some form of online rating is needed - but the suggestions you give here are just too broad. The problem with a lot of these online games is that filter settings and restrictions can change from server to server... especially those games that don't tie the player down to servers only hosted by the publisher.

More reasonable might be:
Preset Phrases Only
Text Communication Only
Text And Voice Communication.
Text, Voice, and Video Communication.
etc...

At the end of the day - any rating system depends on the informed consumer to know what's best for them/their child. I'd be comfortable letting a 14 year old play games with preset phrases and text communication, for instance, but now with voice or video communication.

Also - developers need to be more aware of this problem as well... offering options like turning off text communication entirely (something that seems to be done often for voice and video). Of course - this raises another question... if a game can be filtered down from the "unfiltered" status to a level that is really relatively innocuous by even single player standards, then what rating should be given to that game? Should there be a "filterable" flag appended to the rating in this case? So, the ESRB would rate the "worst case scenario" and then flag the content as filterable. Of course - how do you define a good filter? It is a complicated issue indeed!

I imagine the folks at the ESRB have wrestled with these issues in the past and that is their reasoning for not rating online content to this day. Basically any solution will oversimplify the content being rated and therefore be rather ineffective and inaccurate.

Re:Anything is better than nothing. (1)

Radtoo (1646729) | more than 4 years ago | (#29743615)

No ESRB rating is needed. Do a test on the kids, rate the parents. If they're not able to calmly deal with the sort of interaction you might have online (people's bad side shows at times, but no real physical harm can be done) by the time they're about ten to twelve years old, consider putting them in a special social education class, or even a different home.

Re:Anything is better than nothing. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29744665)

This would be reasonable, I don't see how they could do any more than this.

Why is that "unfortunate"? (3, Insightful)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742285)

Most gamers have come to consider ESRB as "the enemy", given the degree to which they disagree (which at times tends to be rather extreme).

Why, then, should gamers (and by extension, game companies) welcome their expansion into intra-game communications? They're not the bloody FCC, and ORPG companies have been doing a pretty good job of limiting what can be sent (via text) to other players. And trying to limit spoken words in a game would do no good, because they would just bypass it with Ventrilo or some such program.

Bye-bye, ESRB.

Re:Why is that "unfortunate"? (1)

omega_dk (1090143) | more than 4 years ago | (#29744241)

The game publishers will *never* get rid of the ESRB voluntarily. The ESRB is the only thing holding back the spectre of government-mandated ratings, which I can assure you will not be as company-friendly as their voluntary system.

Re:Why is that "unfortunate"? (3, Insightful)

BaronHethorSamedi (970820) | more than 4 years ago | (#29744575)

Most gamers have come to consider ESRB as "the enemy", given the degree to which they disagree (which at times tends to be rather extreme).

"Most gamers" consider the ESRB as "the enemy?" How so, and why? I'm a gamer over thirty years of age, and I have a child. I like the ESRB. I certainly don't think it's on its way out. I suspect the gamers who view the ESRB as "the enemy" are under twelve, and have conscientious parents.

Re:Why is that "unfortunate"? (1)

PitaBred (632671) | more than 4 years ago | (#29746319)

Meh... as a parent, I still don't trust the ESRB any more than I do the MPAA ratings. They both have a very strong slant to make violence rated relatively less and sex rated much higher. Just look at the Hot Coffee fiasco... hidden CONSENSUAL sex makes it so the rating should be higher than mowing down innocent pedestrians with your vehicle and participating in gang wars?

Rating for the sake of it? (3, Insightful)

war4peace (1628283) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742289)

Rephrasing ESRB's notice: "The Internet can be a dangerous place". Rating online gaming experience equals them attempting to rate my ability to understand this statement. Which they can't do.
They're not lagging behind modern times, they're just flat-out telling us the truth: online interactions can't be rated.
One would laughingly dismiss the statement saying "Accessing Internet via Opera is always safe" or "Yahoo Messenger rating: TEEN". It would be careless, stupid and would take away all trust in the company making those statements. So they wisely stay away of moving sands.

Re:Rating for the sake of it? (1)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | more than 4 years ago | (#29743847)

Yahoo Messenger used to have user channels but they were all like "PRETEEN GIRLS FOR HIGHSCHOOL BOYS" and "BRO-SIS SEX" so they axed that. The internet is no place for children. No place for children not looking to suck a dick anyway... geeze.

The best part is I'm not even old. I was exposed to this stuff when I was like 12. I lived for this stuff. It's too bad they took user chat rooms away, or YIM would be a great way to hook up with local college chicks... unfortunately it turned out to also be a great way to hook up with local middle school chicks, who would input their age as 18 anyway, hence why it was shut down.

Parental Involvement (4, Insightful)

Rhoon (785258) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742301)

I have found that no rating or ruling agency (whether Government or Private) can replace the effects of parents who get involved with their children and actually attempt to understand what their kids are doing and who they're interacting with. I don't care what stamp or rating is put on the outside of the box, if I haven't researched whatever my children are doing, then I'd consider myself a failure as a parent, which is really what the underlying problem is here... not the fact that the ESRB doesn't rate online content / social interaction.

Re:Parental Involvement (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29742655)

Praise be to Jeezbus - ya all cant be expecting the parents to be responsible for raising their own children and watching what they do online - Thats what Central Governments for !!!.

Re:Parental Involvement (1)

TheVelvetFlamebait (986083) | more than 4 years ago | (#29744091)

I have found that no rating or ruling agency (whether Government or Private) can replace the effects of parents who get involved with their children and actually attempt to understand what their kids are doing and who they're interacting with.

However, on the other hand, they can help. For one, it gives you a rough idea of the kind of entertainment your child enjoys right off the bat.

The danger is chatting with persons unknown (1)

ScaledLizard (1430209) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742449)

Online chat may expose may be exposed to all kinds of thoughts, and many of those thoughts may be beyond a kid's limited grasp of reality. As such, any online game is dangerous as the players playing it, and a warning like that should be printed on every box sold for parents who think "I want my kid to know everything about computas".

Re:The danger is chatting with persons unknown (2, Insightful)

IBBoard (1128019) | more than 4 years ago | (#29743433)

Online chat may expose may be exposed to all kinds of thoughts,

I like the way you phrased that. My first thought was of right-wing nutjobs complaining that Command and Conquer (random game choice with "Reds" in it) should have a much higher rating because their kid has been playing it and had all of these "dirty", "immoral" and "disgusting" thoughts put into their heads about socialism, freedom, a world without religion and other such "bad" topics :D

Re:The danger is chatting with persons unknown (1)

ScaledLizard (1430209) | more than 4 years ago | (#29745859)

Online chat may expose may be exposed to all kinds of thoughts,

I like the way you phrased that.

Typical case of being blind to my own writing...should read "Online chat may expose kids to all kinds of thoughts". The only thing more dangerous than making an appointment to do something evil is the deed itself. In-game chat may be all that is needed for it, and as a parent I would like to be warned about that possibility.

a world without religion

Even science is a belief system (the belief in reproducibility of observation and extrapolation), so I doubt there can be a human world without religion. Even if that belief system works a lot better for me than texts written from the views of people who lived centuries ago, far far away.

Cute Kittens (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29742533)

Rated E for everyone

Then Being raped by tentacles.

No. (1)

Legion303 (97901) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742703)

This is the most thoroughly stupid article I've ever seen. Is the ESRB supposed to consult its crystal ball to determine whether or not someone will spam a link to lemonparty in an otherwise "E"-rated game?

Re:No. (1)

ILuvRamen (1026668) | more than 4 years ago | (#29746209)

runescape blocks all urls, some names of IM programs, some names of websites, all swear words, all possible variations of swear words including the use on nønstándárd characters, and all lewd language. It's pretty damn impossible to say anything M rated in that game. I guess they'd get a better rating than Silkroad Online aka swear your ass off online.

Lazy parents... (2, Insightful)

LichtVonWahrheit (1542169) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742741)

Any responsible parent explores the games content on their own. Ratings are unreliable for any game where addons, mods, or online interaction are concerned.

I still find it disturbing that little Billy's parents would go batshit crazy if he saw a female nipple, but couldn't care less if he was playing a game where the goal was to murder police officers.

Are you telling me... (0, Troll)

thisnamestoolong (1584383) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742781)

...that children are able to have real human contact in games?! Oh, the horror!!!

What a pointless article (3, Insightful)

PhotoBoy (684898) | more than 4 years ago | (#29742787)

The article talks about rating online games based on their demographics and moderation systems, but I believe even that is pointless. Just look at Nintendo, I lost count of the number of hairy dicks people had drawn on the front of their karts in Mario Kart DS, and that game has no text or voice chat and no webcam features. No matter how many people you ban for inappropriate behaviour, there will always be someone new on the game ready to mis-behave.

The ESRB can't rate online interactions and they're right not to try to do so. The only thing they should be doing is educating parents about the risks of playing games online and recommending that parents monitor who their kids are talking to in those games.

Re:What a pointless article (2, Funny)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | more than 4 years ago | (#29743715)

Sweet, I'm gonna get Mario Kart DS just so I can draw hairy dicks!

They rate these things before the game comes out? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29742813)

How do they do that? Time travel? They know how good the GM staff will be and how bad the player base will be before the GMs are hired or the game is sold and has players? Awesome. Can the Escapist talk to those scientists who think the Higgs boson is holding up the LHC by traveling back in time, and tell them that they've already proven the theory?

The new ESRB Online Ratings System (1)

BillCable (1464383) | more than 4 years ago | (#29743069)

Every online game with voice chat is rated M for mature. Every online xbox360 game with voice chat is rated RPWK for racist pre-pubescent white kids.

It's very simple (2, Insightful)

Random2 (1412773) | more than 4 years ago | (#29743181)

The ESRB doesn't want to be forced into rating everything 17+ because some kid said fuck a few times. By not rating online interactions, they actually maintain some integrity to their ratings, whether people agree or disagree with them.

As for parents wanting to know the 'online climate' of a game, that's bullshit. If you buy your kid an online FPS, you can expect there's going to be at least one guy who wants to cuss his head off at everyone. If you don't want your kids to experience that, then don't buy the game, or take it from them if they buy it. (Not like the kid isn't going to be exposed to profanity anyways, but this would be a parent obstinate about controlling their home environment).

you cannot rate... (1)

wisnoskij (1206448) | more than 4 years ago | (#29743199)

You cannot rate what other people will do. yes you can out in a bad word filter, but they will get around it. you are interacting with people the ESRB cannot be responsible for what they say/do, therefore they do not put a rating on it.

Why not just clarify "online interactions"? (1)

TimTucker (982832) | more than 4 years ago | (#29743255)

Seems like the current "online interactions not rated" could at least be split into 3 different classifications:
  • Online interactions may contain unrated visible content (i.e.: Second Life)
  • Online interactions may contain unrated audible content (i.e.: voice chat)
  • Online interactions may contain unrated textual content (i.e.: text chat)

Scrabble... for adults only. (2, Funny)

argent (18001) | more than 4 years ago | (#29743443)

Come on, one of the most notoriously funny quotes on bash.org is about someone caught cybering on a Scrabble website.

NSFW [bash.org]

SCRABBLE: Rated AO for sexual content! And that's not even counting a triple word score for "epididymis".

How can you evaluate something you can't evaluate? (1)

Chas (5144) | more than 4 years ago | (#29743453)

That's unfortunate, because the ESRB's intimate relationship with the game industry could provide it with a unique vantage point from which to evaluate aspects of online games that are beyond the purview of other would-be raters

What? Essentially you're going to do...WHAT? Be a complete asshat in a game you're evaluating, testing the censor list, being rude to people, trying to get around the censor list using 'leetspeak, try to break the game, and generally engage in any and every behavior that could possibly get you kicked offline.

DURING THE GAME'S EVALUATION PERIOD ...when it's tightly controlled as to what is in the game and who makes up the population?

Seriously. How can these people claim to actually be thinking? Their heads are shoved someplace dark and poopy-smelling on this.

This is like people who claim they can idiot-proof something their developing. Too late! One is already in charge of the project!

You simply CANNOT, EVER, make reasonable assumptions about how the entirety of a player-base is going to utilize a product.

If someone claims they can, check their hands for the telltale of a manure shovel.

This is impossible. (1)

bluefoxlucid (723572) | more than 4 years ago | (#29743641)

The game has an excellent moderation system. It filters "Shit" "fuck" Pussy" and "Cum." But people are smart and still manage to slip in "I wanna l*ikc yur pu$$y" to a 12 year old. In front of her mom. And kids can read that shit too. Hell kids can read "wanna suck my djck" as "wanna suck my dick" I'm sure... does your filter block that? What about voice chat when i star talking dirty over the thing to cyb0rz... teenager-to-teenager voice sex is probably pretty popular on XBL, I know I had a friend that always talked about textsexing on WoW or FF11 or whatever the hell he was playing.

Any interaction with physical real people cannot be rated.

Rating Interactions... (1)

SnT2k (842980) | more than 4 years ago | (#29743817)

So they want games to end like this [tinypic.com] ?

Rated Adult Only for racism. (1)

Yaos (804128) | more than 4 years ago | (#29744431)

Every multiplayer game would be rated Adult Only just because of chat and VOIP. The number of mothers being violated in these games is ridiculous and somebody needs to put a stop to it.

This one's easy! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29746105)

You want to know how to rate multiplayer interactions? It's simple. You just systematically stereotype everyone who plays a game genre and then write that down for the rating. You could even be more specific, and craft game-specific stereotypes. For instance, "Halo 3 is rated 'M' for gore and violence. Online interactions are rated 'A' because when playing on XBox Live you have a high probability of coming into contact with an asshat."

Attempting to put an ESRB rating on the human race (1)

Notmare (1656695) | more than 4 years ago | (#29747227)

Good luck.
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