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ESRB To Automate Game Rating

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the rated-l-for-lazy dept.

Games 119

The Entertainment Software Rating Board, which has struggled to keep up with the flood of games produced for app stores and other online markets, is now taking steps to automate the rating process. "Starting on Monday the ratings board plans to begin introducing computers to the job of deciding whether a game is appropriate for Everyone, for Teens or for Mature gamers (meaning older than 16). To do this the organization has written a program designed to replicate the ingrained cultural norms and predilections of the everyday American consumer, at least when it comes to what is appropriate for children and what isn’t. ... the main evaluation of hundreds of games each year will be based not on direct human judgment but instead on a detailed digital questionnaire meant to gauge every subtle nuance of violence, sexuality, profanity, drug use, gambling and bodily function that could possibly offend anyone. The questionnaire, to be filled out by a game’s makers (with penalties for nondisclosure), is like a psychological inquest into the depths of all the things our culture considers potentially unwholesome."

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119 comments

Can it be... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35865266)

The first attempt to automate the posting of an appropriate rating for each new game. I think so.

six days in Falujah (2)

SharpFang (651121) | more than 3 years ago | (#35865280)

six days in Falujah would get T(13+) for moderate-to-high amounts of violence, no sexual themes, limited or no use of profanity, no drug use, no gambling and no bodily functions.

Re:six days in Falujah (1)

Veggiesama (1203068) | more than 3 years ago | (#35865332)

I'm pretty sure soldiers do all of those things you just mentioned.

Re:six days in Falujah (1)

Vaphell (1489021) | more than 3 years ago | (#35865480)

I'm pretty sure people do all of those things you just mentioned.

ftfy

Re:six days in Falujah (3, Insightful)

Vectormatic (1759674) | more than 3 years ago | (#35865814)

speak for yourself, i dont use moderate to high amounts of violence in my daily life (or drugs/gambling for that matter)

Re:six days in Falujah (1)

GNious (953874) | more than 3 years ago | (#35865984)

no longer practicing kick-boxing, but still ingesting caffeine and I sometimes ride a bike in Brussels .. 2 out of 3 aint bad :)

Re:six days in Falujah (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35866156)

Uhm... When they say there's drugs and gambling, most peopel would infer illegal drugs and gambling for money...

Re:six days in Falujah (1)

pyrosine (1787666) | more than 3 years ago | (#35867278)

That's a ridiculous assumption, drugs refers to any form of medication that alters the physical state and gambling can be defined as taking chances, which you do everyday.

Re:six days in Falujah (1)

RobDude (1123541) | more than 3 years ago | (#35867692)

Not really.

Most casual conversation is pretty imprecise. We use the context to infer meaning *all the time*. Being 'technically' right, while also painfully wrong is generally considered a bad thing, particularly outside the trolly-goodness of the internet.

"Say no to drugs" is simply easier to say than "Say no to illegal, dangerous drugs unless you've been medically evaluated by a professional doctor (licensed by the AMA and in good standing with the licensing board) and then only take the prescribed drug in the prescribed amount."

Re:people (1)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | more than 3 years ago | (#35866424)

Slashdotters have limited or no ineteraction with girlfriends, but heavy use of evil lairs.

Re:six days in Falujah (1)

Nidi62 (1525137) | more than 3 years ago | (#35866010)

six days in Falujah would get T(13+) for moderate-to-high amounts of violence, no sexual themes, limited or no use of profanity, no drug use, no gambling and no bodily functions.

Yeah, but at this point I'm expecting the new Duke Nukem game to be released before we see Six Days in Fallujah, which is sad because it is the one game I'm really looking forward to.

Re:six days in Falujah (1)

mangu (126918) | more than 3 years ago | (#35866446)

Let's see my daily life:

moderate-to-high amounts of violence

I watch the news. Check.

sexual themes

Fuck? YEAH!

use of profanity

Fuck, YEAH!

drug use

Do coffee and beer count?

gambling

I cross the street, drive a car... does that count?

bodily functions

Who doesn't?

Re:six days in Falujah (1)

jgtg32a (1173373) | more than 3 years ago | (#35867824)

IIRC Alcohol gets its own category

America, Fuck Yeah (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 3 years ago | (#35867838)

moderate-to-high amounts of violence

I watch the news. Check.

FCC-regulated TV news does exercise discretion as to whether to show the gorier shots.

sexual themes

Fuck? YEAH!

use of profanity

Fuck, YEAH!

Now you've got that song from Team America: World Police running through my head.

gambling

I cross the street, drive a car... does that count?

Western culture generally doesn't consider pure risk [investopedia.com] to be forbidden gambling. As I understand it, forbidden gambling is any sort of risk that A. isn't a pure risk and B. isn't tied to a business concern's profit.

drug use

Do coffee and beer count?

Maybe and yes. Irresponsible drug use counts, as does use of age-restricted drugs.

bodily functions

Who doesn't?

Not flamboyantly in front of other people in the way that a video game about a monkey flinging her own poop might.

everything reduced to a meaningless number (3, Insightful)

Hazel Bergeron (2015538) | more than 3 years ago | (#35865298)

I'm fed up with decisions being made by questionnaires and computers. I think we should stop tolerating analyses of health, fitness, credit, intelligence, etc based on simplistic tests and numbers. The expert system is one of the most horrible simplifications of human judgement ever to grace the confused world of AI, and is almost without exception implemented with some bias to fulfil a pre-determined aim and reinforce some prejudice.

Re:everything reduced to a meaningless number (4, Insightful)

Eivind (15695) | more than 3 years ago | (#35865428)

But -any- rating-system that in the end, delivers a recommendation for age-group, is going to have to choose some prejudice.

You have to compare different sorts of content and weigh them against eachother.

How does *this* sort of violence stack up against *this* sort of sex ?

There is no single correct answer to that, indeed any extreme is thinkable from "Any amount of sex is okay, but no violence" to the opposite extreme of "any amount of violence is okay, but no sex"

It doesn't really matter if the score is by computer+questionaire or by human judgement or by any other method. There simple *isn't* one single correct answer.

The method of judging, isn't the problem. The fundamental task, is.

I tend to ignore the age-recommendations completely - instead if I'm in doubt about a certain game being apropriate or not for my kids, I will play it myself for a while. (usually you don't have to play it for -that- long to get a fair guesstimate)

Re:everything reduced to a meaningless number (1)

Kokuyo (549451) | more than 3 years ago | (#35865620)

But that is AFTER you bought it, isn't it. How are you going to return it after you determined that it's unsuitable?

Re:everything reduced to a meaningless number (1)

Vectormatic (1759674) | more than 3 years ago | (#35865820)

if it suitably unsuitable, that makes it probably more enjoyable for the GP himself

Assuming he reads his reviews and doesnt buy ultimate stinker games

Re:everything reduced to a meaningless number (1)

arth1 (260657) | more than 3 years ago | (#35866386)

Why should you have a right to return it if it doesn't fit your personal moral values for the intended user?

Vote with your wallet. Take your next purchase elsewhere.
And read reviews before you buy.

Re:everything reduced to a meaningless number (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35868410)

Aren't playable demos supposed to solve that problem?

Re:everything reduced to a meaningless number (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35865822)

I tend to ignore the age-recommendations completely - instead if I'm in doubt about a certain game being apropriate or not for my kids, I will play it myself for a while. (usually you don't have to play it for -that- long to get a fair guesstimate)

And this is how it should be.

The fundamental problem with ratings, beyond their subjectivity, is that they take away information from those who're looking for information to help make a decision (i.e., parents trying to decide whether to buy a game).

If a game has a "(T)een" rating, what does that really say? Nothing; maybe it contains things you consider OK (such as homosexual characters kissing), maybe it contains things you don't consider OK (such as reasonably graphic violence). Or vice versa. You just don't know.

The proper solution would be for games to carry labels describing what they contain: e.g. "some sexuality" or "moderate violence", along with a concise but detailed explanation of what this actually means. That way, parents could make their own informed decision, rather than having to put blind faith into other people's prejudices and biases.

Re:everything reduced to a meaningless number (1)

UserChrisCanter4 (464072) | more than 3 years ago | (#35866816)

Games already do this. I can't speak to app store purchases, but retail boxed games that are ESRB rated contain a more detailed explanation on the back of the box.

Here [esrb.org] is a list of the ratings and content descriptors. I'm not sure what a concise but detailed explanation would consist of, but the sexuality side of things is conveyed by a number of descriptors:
  • Mature Humor
  • Suggestive Themes
  • Sexual Themes
  • Sexual Content
  • Partial Nudity
  • Nudity
  • Strong Sexual Content
  • Sexual Violence

There are similar spectrums for violence, profanity, drugs, and gambling.

The only area in there where I can see any room for mistake on a parent's part might be Sexual Themes vs. Sexual Content. If someone knew that both existed, they could probably figure out the difference. You wouldn't see both on the same package since Sexual Content encompasses Sexual Themes. If someone just saw "Sexual Themes," though, I could imagine they might think it was worse than "References to sex or sexuality." Violence exists in a similar realm - if anything, the only ambiguity in the descriptors is that they sometimes sound worse than they really are.

Anti-shoplift interferes with rating effectiveness (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 3 years ago | (#35867900)

a more detailed explanation on the back of the box

Walmart keeps its console games behind locked glass. Is each parent supposed to ask an associate to take every single game off the shelf, one by one, just to read the descriptor on the back? No, a parent in a Walmart store will probably look at the one-letter summary if anything.

Re:Anti-shoplift interferes with rating effectiven (1)

UserChrisCanter4 (464072) | more than 3 years ago | (#35869570)

And the one letter summary is a great place to start (and stop in most cases). You're not going to find Sexual Content in anything below an M-rated game. You won't find blood in anything below T-rated, and even then they stipulate "Minimal Blood" in T-rated games. The content descriptors are there to help make fine selections after you've narrowed the field - If you're comfortable with your child hearing profanity but not seeing violence then they can help you make your choice.

Once you're looking at a particular game (or a choice among a few), it's pretty trivial to ask the Wal-Mart employee to open the case and let you flip over the box.

I worked in videogame stores or big box retailers in one way or another for 6 years through high school and college. Admittedly, it's been years since I worked in a retail environment selling games, and maybe parents have changed since I sold games. I ran into plenty of parents who were concerned about content, and even a good many who asked about the ratings. In all my time, though, I never encountered someone for whom the content descriptor was their first step in the purchasing decision. It was a final step, a check on whether the game(s) they'd selected were appropriate.

In my experience, a parent was either concerned about the content of a particular game ("Joey said to get BloodSlaughter 5 for his birthday - is it appropriate?"), is asking for a recommendation from the staff ("What's good for a 13 year-old boy? Uh-huh, and is there a lot of adult stuff?") or was familiar enough with the games him/herself and not in need of running down each game. Maybe there's someone out there who starts their purchasing process by making a pile of games without Sexual Themes or Animated Violence descriptors, but it seems so backwards because it would result in a massive pile of things to sort through rather than choosing games that look appealing and deciding if they're appropriate. A Dora the Explorer licensed game is unlikely to have any objectionable content descriptors, but that doesn't mean that most parents will be actively considering it for their 12 year-old son.

In other words, no one's reading the back of every game in the Wal-Mart case because, even for the most game-clueless parents, half or more of the games in the case probably aren't potential purchases to begin with.

Re:Anti-shoplift interferes with rating effectiven (1)

yashachan (1422227) | more than 3 years ago | (#35870314)

Walmart keeps its console games behind locked glass.

For accuracy's sake, this is not true at all Walmarts. The one I work at doesn't keep games behind glass, and I don't think any of the other local ones do, either (that's another 4+ stores in a 1.5 hour driving radius).

They're supposed to be putting the glass back up at all stores, though. Nationwide, apparently the theft rate went up ~1000% after the glass was removed.

a parent in a Walmart store will probably look at the one-letter summary if anything.

I think it's more accurate to say that the parents just buy what their kids want. As a cashier, I have to go through the rating speech if there's a kid present and 90% of the time I get as far as "You're aware that this game has a rating of..." before I get cut off. Heck, I had one parent send her ~11 year old to buy his M-rated game by himself. Only once have I had an actual discussion with parents about game ratings, and they found that they much preferred the content in M-rated games to the content in T-rated games for their son. Even the kid agreed that he'd found more questionable content in T-rated games than M-rated ones.

For context, I live in a very rural part of New York, about 30 minutes south of Canada.

Re:everything reduced to a meaningless number (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 3 years ago | (#35867870)

The proper solution would be for games to carry labels describing what they contain: e.g. "some sexuality" or "moderate violence"

The old "RSAC Advisory" used by PC games once upon a time had bar graphs for profanity, violence, and the like, and no MPAA/ESRB style one-letter summary. Parents were ignoring it. So the industry switched to ESRB, whose one-letter summary required less effort to train parents.

Re:everything reduced to a meaningless number (1)

Firethorn (177587) | more than 3 years ago | (#35869194)

whose one-letter summary required less effort to train parents.

Thing is, except for maybe less than 1% of parents, they're STILL ignoring it. It's just that some segment of that <1% crowd is very, very vocal.

For example, as a kid my parents didn't really give a hoot about drugs, sexual violence, etc... I got a waiver letter every year to let me rent whatever I wanted from the video store(yes, I'm dating myself). I was watching R rated films while still in the single digits. Only thing they didn't want me watching was horror films.

GTA? They'd of had no problem with it. I think most parents don't care. The whole reason for the rating system is to give them cover when the occasional butt-hurt 'What is my child playing?!?!' parent tries to sue.

Re:everything reduced to a meaningless number (1)

mikael_j (106439) | more than 3 years ago | (#35866134)

There is no single correct answer to that, indeed any extreme is thinkable from "Any amount of sex is okay, but no violence" to the opposite extreme of "any amount of violence is okay, but no sex"

You missed "No amount of sex or violence is okay" and "Any amount of sex and violence is okay". There are definitely those out there with biases in those directions...

Re:everything reduced to a meaningless number (1)

Tom (822) | more than 3 years ago | (#35867770)

"Any amount of sex is okay, but no violence"

Totally with you on that one, mate.

Oh, you were still talking about computer games? Dang.

Re:everything reduced to a meaningless number (1)

mjwx (966435) | more than 3 years ago | (#35865534)

This game contains 14.3 units of boobs, far too high for an M rating.

Re:everything reduced to a meaningless number (1)

Dodgy G33za (1669772) | more than 3 years ago | (#35865800)

Is that one pair, or lots?

Re:everything reduced to a meaningless number (1)

Vectormatic (1759674) | more than 3 years ago | (#35865826)

i'd say 7 pairs and a sideboob

Re:everything reduced to a meaningless number (1)

BlueStrat (756137) | more than 3 years ago | (#35866106)

i'd say 7 pairs and a sideboob

Sorry, Joe Biden is busy until 2012. [rimshot]

Thanks, I'll be here all week.

Tip the steaks and try your waitress.

~Strat

Re:everything reduced to a meaningless number (1)

bjourne (1034822) | more than 3 years ago | (#35865548)

Not at all! Automated decision making processes is an important acknowledgement that human judgement is subjective at best. The more we learn about the human psyche, the less rational it seem. There are so many ingrained biases that we are endowed with, such as how we judge persons by their appearances, how personal anecdotes trumph statistics that the only way to get fair and logical decisions is to automate the process. One can argue whether games need an extremely detailed rating system to protect the kids. But if one has to have a system, then it is 100 times fairer to have an automated one than a human controlled one.

Re:everything reduced to a meaningless number (1)

Hazel Bergeron (2015538) | more than 3 years ago | (#35865578)

And who do you think builds the software which performs the "automated decision making process"?

Centralisation leads to corruption. All automation does is centralise the decision-making process so the (often intentional) bias of one small, elite group becomes the whole system's prejudice.

It's not that I don't trust computers - any more or less than I "trust" any tool or weapon. It's that I don't trust humans.

Re:everything reduced to a meaningless number (1)

HungryHobo (1314109) | more than 3 years ago | (#35865884)

I'd still tend to go with the machines because in the end they're auditable, if you leave it to human judgement then it's easy for the humans involved to waffle on about something irrelevant and make up justifications when challenged .

but if it's in code then it's effectively in writing and you can check it and see "hey, look, it's been programmed to outright [reject]/[give AO rating to] anything with even a trace of homosexuality no matter how wholesome free of sex and violence "

Re:everything reduced to a meaningless number (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | more than 3 years ago | (#35867874)

I agree with this. If you've ever watched This film is not yet rated [imdb.com] , you can see just how bad ratings boards with no oversight can be. Basically, if you are a big enough studio, They will help you get an NC-17 rating down to an R, but if you're just a small guy, they will just give you NC-17, without saying what you need to cut to get the rating changed, or why the rating was even given. I could really see this being an important step. Make the questionaire open for everyone to see. And let consumers see the entire questionaire with all answers if they really want to. In order to inform themselves if the game is appropriate. I think a lot less people would be complaining about ratings in games and movies if the process was completely transparent, and everyone got the same treatment.

Re:everything reduced to a meaningless number (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35865590)

And how some people appear to think that they can accurately judge whether or not everyone has all of these traits.

Re:everything reduced to a meaningless number (1)

mjwx (966435) | more than 3 years ago | (#35865568)

Now the serious reply,

All this will do is allow publishers to game the system.

Activision Exec: We need to make our ultraviolent game available to kids.
Activision Project Manager: Easy, we've already found enough flaws in the automated system to allow Medal of Duty 117 to pass under the G category.
Activision Exec: But isn't that game full of violence and gore.
Activision PM: Yes, but we've diversified the gore just enough that no single criteria breaches the G category.
Activision Exec: Excellent, Lord Kotik will be most pleased.

I'm in favour of game ratings, as a guide. It allows parents and adults make informed choices about games, it also allows stores to know what to stock and better compliance with advertisng regulations. This system would be good for publishers to get an idea of what ratings games are likely to get, but we still need a human to judge the entire content, not just receive a as the OP pointed out, meaningless number.

If anyone is interested. (0)

mjwx (966435) | more than 3 years ago | (#35865606)

If anyone is interested in how that conversation ended.

Activision exec: My lord Kotik, the 117th iteration of Medal of Duty is ready for release.
Bobby Kotik: Has there been any changes to the gameplay?
Activision exec: Uh, my lord Kotic
Bobby Kotik: /Angry glance.
Activision exec: One of the junior developers thought of some improvements.
Bobby Kotik: I SAID NO CHANGES.
Bobby Kotik: /presses button on chair, spins around to reveal a giant screen. The image of a young programmer appears on the screen.
Junior Developer: ahhh, um, Lord Kotik, I, I, I wasn't expecting you.
Bobby Kotik: You have failed me for the last time Junior Developer.
Junior Developer: URK... gargle... klick.
Bobby Kotik: See that this does not happen again Executive.

Reskin (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 3 years ago | (#35867994)

Bobby Kotik: Has there been any changes to the gameplay?

It's possible to tone down the violence by changing the setting while leaving the gameplay unchanged. One extreme is the tack taken by early first-person shooters, such as Battlezone and Faceball 2000, which didn't have any blood or even humanoid forms. A slightly less extreme example is the localization of Contra into Probotector for Germany and neighbors, where most characters were turned into android robots.

Re:everything reduced to a meaningless number (1)

91degrees (207121) | more than 3 years ago | (#35865908)

They have no interest in making violent games available to kids. If they want to make a game available to kids, they'll make a non violent game! They design the game to the rating, not make a game and then see what the rating is. Hell, if you saw a game and it said suitable for children, wouldn't you think perhaps it might be a little tame?

Games are targeted at a specific age group. There's really very little interest in selling to people outside that age group. Scandals are too much hassle.

Re:everything reduced to a meaningless number (1)

hairyfeet (841228) | more than 3 years ago | (#35866258)

Ever see how much boy bands and other tweener stuff makes? they'll skirt to the very edge because tweeners get teh monies! just add just enough hints of sex to make the tweener boys go "Yeah!" while throwing some shirtless twilight pretty boy to get the tweener girls moist and Cha Ching baby!

hell it has ALWAYS been this way! remember the Farrah swimsuit poster in the 70s? or Garbage pail kids in the 80s? You push it to the very edge because that makes teh monies and it is ALL about the greenbacks!

Re:everything reduced to a meaningless number (1)

mjwx (966435) | more than 3 years ago | (#35866416)

They have no interest in making violent games available to kids. If they want to make a game available to kids, they'll make a non violent game! They design the game to the rating, not make a game and then see what the rating is. Hell, if you saw a game and it said suitable for children, wouldn't you think perhaps it might be a little tame?

You're wrong. They, being the publishers are interested in getting games into as many hands as possible. This means getting the game the lowest rating possible whilst still pandering to the most base instincts (sex and violence, you've got to be blind and retarded not to see that this is the staple topic of media, be it games, movies, music and even books).

You're right in the fact they design the game to the rating, they also try to push that rating as far as possible, the idea is to get the maximum amount of "impact" without actually going over into the next rating group. Why do you think Activision try so hard to keep Call of Duty at the Teen level, despite eventually failing? Could it be the fact that Activision wanted 13 yr old's to be able to buy it?

Certainly as an adult player, I know that COD is certainly not designed with me in mind. BTW, I still enjoy games like Mario as much as I did when I was a kid. G rating does not imply that a game is no fun.

Scandals are too much hassle.

Scandals are great free publicity. Nothing sells games like a good scandal. That way people feel like they are rebelling when they play it.

Re:everything reduced to a meaningless number (1)

91degrees (207121) | more than 3 years ago | (#35866710)

I've worked in the industry for 10 years. We're just not that cynical.

Adult gamers like violence. If a game is rated as suitable for teens then you would expect it to be pretty tame. Call of Duty sounds liek a marketing screw-up where marketing wanted to target it at the Teen age group and the developers were developing for an adult age group. Scandals are great free publicity

They're unpredictable. It might work out well. It could backfire, especially if it turns out that you actively tried to create the scandal. They're expensive to manage and cause share prices to go a little crazy. This does not please investors.

Re:everything reduced to a meaningless number (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35868194)

Adult gamers like violence.

Adult gamers don't mind violence. Teenage gamers LOVE violence. I think generally, adults are just as happy with E-13 and Teen games, while teens mostly want Mature games. Sure, occasionally a Mature game will come out with truly deep, mature themes... but generally, the 'mature' aspect of most Mature games are pretty juvenile.

Re:everything reduced to a meaningless number (2)

Dhalka226 (559740) | more than 3 years ago | (#35865592)

Why?

I mean, look, I share your feelings -- I truly do. I think the fact that our lives can be boiled down to a set of various numbers is pretty disgusting in a lot of ways.

But the reason we do this is because, culturally, we feel we need to make these decisions and we have devised specific criteria for them. We feel there is value to a number that denotes how good we are with credit, how much of a risk we are to insurers, and other such. If that is the case, then I would prefer it be done with computers and done fairly and uniformly. If I'm going to be denied a house because of one of my numbers, or have my insurance rates hiked because of another, I want it to at least be the same situation for others in my situation and not because somebody forgot to carry the one on their worksheet or interpreted my response different than a different examiner.

In that sense, this is a really good use of computers. If there is any value to the ESRB system (which I'm not particularly sure of), then it may as well be administered uniformly and fairly.

Now whether or not the system itself has any value is certainly open to debate in each case. Whether it is really the best choice for our society is certainly open for debate. And of course, whether the tests are an accurate representation of what we hope they're an accurate representation of is open for debate as well. But these systems exist because the people who use them find value. The people who are debating lending you money want to know your credit score; insurance providers want the answers to their questionnaires; many stores use ESRB ratings to determine whether or not games are stocked and (some!) parents use them as a guide for what is an isn't appropriate for our children.

If it's a monster, it's one of our own creation, by our will. It may be sad, but it is what we want--and so long as we want it, it's what we deserve. May as well be consistent about it. Boiling disparate things down into a number is, at the very least, a result that is fairly unambiguous.

Re:everything reduced to a meaningless number (1)

Hazel Bergeron (2015538) | more than 3 years ago | (#35865610)

If that is the case, then I would prefer it be done with computers and done fairly and uniformly.

The first thing you do with any automated process is learn how to game the system. It's much easier to game a system which relies on simplistic computerised parameters than the thorough review of well-trained humans.

Just as with DRM, or any technical solution to a social problem, only the honest user loses out.

Re:everything reduced to a meaningless number (1)

HungryHobo (1314109) | more than 3 years ago | (#35865934)

Bank loans and car insurance are already fairly heavily automated.

wasn't there an article a while back where it was pointed out you get better rates if you use certain browsers when applying for the loan(it only cared out correlations and apparently used that as a datapoint of some kind).

Re:everything reduced to a meaningless number (1)

cgenman (325138) | more than 3 years ago | (#35867620)

Having spent many years on the "Oh gods what will the ESRB think" side of things, it will be nice to have some Actual criteria for judgement laid out. Right now, you have absolutely no idea if a piece of content is going to hit the rating that you think it will. Is X too gross? Is Y unacceptable to middle america? Even genuinely important things like having a single person die in a sad and impactful way will effect your rating, because the more you grip the reviewer, the more likely it is to be adult rated. And, the reviewers don't actually play the games, they just watch a video of the bad bits. So if you create a game that is 40 hours of important, genuine emotional content, with 5% interspersed violence, all the reviewer is going to see is a wall of violence. Imagine Shindler's List compressed into 5 minutes of Germans torturing Jews. That's all the reviewer sees.

And you never know who your reviewer is going to be. You might get someone from Los Angeles, who happens to love blood and gore but can't stand any romance. You might get someone from New York, who doesn't like blood but could watch people kissing aliens and pets and desk chairs all day. You might get someone for whom horrific violence is AOK, but only horrific violence against "bad people." And when you get the review back, you don't get a solid grounding in *why* the game got the review it did. You just get a couple of guidelines and make some cuts. Then you have to argue with your handler that the cuts did exactly what they were supposed to do, and just give it the rating you want without cycling through the system again. The larger publishers with more clout win this argument, and get to put out titles under lower ratings than they perhaps should, and everyone else gets to start all over again blindly.

I remember working on a non-violent game and spending two weeks and going through about five different gestures of displeasure before finally finding one that we thought was close enough to a middle finger to be culturally recognizable, but not so close as to harm our rating. Then we found a violent game that used the middle finger with exactly the same rating we were going for.

You can't make titles without clear criteria, and the lack of clear criteria out of the ESRB has definitely helped dumb down gaming. Complex emotional subjects or unique takes are more likely to draw the dreaded M rating. If you need to make your T or E rating, it's far better to stick to established subjects that the ESRB has already rated.

Re:everything reduced to a meaningless number (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35866222)

I, for one, welcome our new ESRB Scientology Sec-Checking overlords.

captcha: sympathy

This isn't automation... (5, Insightful)

Phoenix0 (1242588) | more than 3 years ago | (#35865322)

This is shifting the work to the game developers, whose staff has to fill out the extremely long questionnaires. Which might make one wonder, what's the point of the rating board in the first place?

Re:This isn't automation... (4, Insightful)

91degrees (207121) | more than 3 years ago | (#35865356)

The developers already do most of the work. They develop games to fit the rating. They don't produce a game and then wonder what the rating's going to be.

And they had to fill in the questionnaire anyway. The ESRB doesn't play the game through to the end. They rely on honesty from the developers. The developers will be honest because getting a too low a rating will typically deter serious adult gamers from certain types of games.

Re:This isn't automation... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35865418)

Developer of Duke Nukem: "Lets see.... violence...nop...pissing jokes... nop....ass spanking....nop...dirty jokes... hell no!.."

Rated for All !

Re:This isn't automation... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35865476)

:). Would anyone buy Duke Nukem without the violence and crudity?

Re:This isn't automation... (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 3 years ago | (#35865488)

Well, Duke Nukem 3D did have a "parental lock" type mode that got rid of the blood, tits and profanity, though IIRC it was easy to get around just by editing the config file.

Re:This isn't automation... (1)

Bobakitoo (1814374) | more than 3 years ago | (#35865906)

The "parental lock" was ever intened to be difficult to get around. It is only an ass-cover for the publisher. It don't need to be efficient, it only need to be present. If anyone complain, the publisher blame the 'evil hacker' that got around.

Re:This isn't automation... (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35865446)

They already had to do this for years. I've done the ESRB paperwork for games. Most ESRB submissions are put in with an extremely long form filled out, disclosing which red flags you hit. Then the developer has to put together a gameplay/cutscene video with an example of every single thing in the game that may change the rating, plus everything in the form. You have to list how many instances (and the circumstances) of things like tobacco use are in game. You know what this does? Makes is so the ESRB doesn't have to watch the video and the developer doesn't have to make it. Which will make a lot of low-paid employees very happy. Those videos were a pain to make. Oh, and the old system had the same penalties for non-disclosure this one does.

In the end, nothing really changed.

Re:This isn't automation... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35870220)

Hey, we noticed that in between shooting three men in the head, you knocked over a vase of flowers. That actually should have been added to the form under Violence to Objects. CLASS A VIOLATION ISSUED. 30,000 DOLLARS PLEASE.

Re:This isn't automation... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35865538)

Step 1: Switch to Computers.
Step 2: ...
Step 3: Fine non compliers for profit!

Seriously though, anybdoy remember the failure of the Energy Star reviewing systems? Gasoline Powered Alarm clock anybody? Meh, I'm sure the ESRB will get it right.

AFK for some Hot Coffee!

Rediculous (3, Insightful)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 3 years ago | (#35865338)

The board says that publishersâ(TM) answers to the digital questionnaire will determine a gameâ(TM)s rating and that a human wonâ(TM)t review it until after the game is out the door.

As stated in a draft of the boardâ(TM)s news release, âoeAll games rated via this new process will be tested by E.S.R.B. staff shortly after they are made publicly available to verify that disclosure was complete and accurate.â

Their computer spits out a rating based on a questionaire and nobody double checks until after the public launch?
The ESRB is turning itself into a rubber stamp organization.

Re:Rediculous (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35865704)

ESRB is already a rubber stamp organisation. They have always relied upon honestly from the developer (or publisher) as to the content of the game. We make games to fit a rating; I have been on projects where we have removed story elements and reduce particle effects in game to ensure that we get the rating that will make the game available to largest audience.

Re:Ridiculous (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35866008)

This reminds me of companies playing Google's algorithm to get a higher page-rank.

Will we see people playing the ESRB engine in the future? - There has to be some sort of risk mitigation or analysis at any decent company on how to best produce desired outcome.

I mean no program is person, some games need human decision making, and a tool should have been developed to supplement human input rather than replace it.

Just my opinion. (Public terminal, AC sorry)

Re:Rediculous (1)

nedlohs (1335013) | more than 3 years ago | (#35866818)

They already are, and they can't not be.

Do you really think ESBR staff played all the way through Dragon Age as every character type, doing every quest, and choosing every option?

There's no way they can check everything anyway, a developer can stick in an easter egg that you will never figure about by just playing the game that shows some content you don't otherwise see. So why should they pretend to?

Re:Rediculous (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35867802)

The point of the ESRB is to keep Congress from legislating that games must be rated. They are an industry group, not a government organization. They will figure out the cheapest, fastest way to make sure Congress doesn't get involved with game ratings. That is the only purpose of the ESRB. If you think they were created to do something silly like protect children, I have a bridge I'd like to sell you...

A bad idea? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35865382)

What happens if you manage to design something that just straight throws the system off and rates it totally wrong? Did they ever stop to think that cultural norms are not a static type of thing? Seems to me that this is just a recipe for disaster

the Questionnaire (5, Interesting)

mustPushCart (1871520) | more than 3 years ago | (#35865384)

Why dont we just put the answers to the questionnaire online and then any parent who cares enough to read them will know exactly what they are buying. That way no one will be judging at what age you can play a game and the ... unpleasantness of games is no longer reduced to a number. Parents who are sensitive to topics like drug abuse or gun control or sex can read the questionnaire and decide for themselves on a per topic basis.

Re:the Questionnaire (1)

Jbcarpen (883850) | more than 3 years ago | (#35865406)

But parents can barely be bothered to check the ratings on games as it is. What makes you think they'll be any more likely to read the questionnaire?

Re:the Questionnaire (3, Insightful)

mustPushCart (1871520) | more than 3 years ago | (#35865444)

The idea is to wash liability off the ESRB and everyone and let parents decide exactly what they want their kids to play. If they cant be bothered to read it then they have no right to complain. As it stands right now the parents are saying "this 13+ rated game has too much violence" and the other 'mature gamers group is saying "you cant decide at what age we should play these games!".

There might soon be a time when parents will set up a steam account for their kids and be shown a checklist of games they are allowed to own on that steam account with max limits based on the questionnaire like nothing more than moderate sexual themes but no restriction on violence.

Re:the Questionnaire (1)

gknoy (899301) | more than 3 years ago | (#35869536)

That would be awesome, even as a way to filter games people buy for themselves. However, as a parent, it's especially important, as it lets me make sure that my kids play games which I feel are wholesome. ... which the more I think about it, seems to be "none of them". ;) I kid, I kid. Hardly any of the games I consider formative and awesome are ones I'd want my kid playing for Quite Some Time, though (Fallout, Deus Ex, Call of Duty, etc). In some ways, I think the simplicity and enforced abstraction of the Older Games (Secret of Mana, early Final Fantasies, Chrono Trigger, Mario series) are better ones to start a kid with -- and go figure, those are the ones with teen and E ratings. Now to make sure I can get a copy of them on $CONSOLE of choice...

Re:the Questionnaire (1)

martin-boundary (547041) | more than 3 years ago | (#35866036)

That won't work for all possible games though. Consider a beer drinking game. Is that game going to be rated Everyone, Teens or Mature (16+) ? The first two are out, and the third one depends on the legal drinking age, which probably rules out most of the USA.

Mmm. I just thought of something, I'll be right back!

Re:the Questionnaire (1)

Plekto (1018050) | more than 3 years ago | (#35866888)

The silliest things also red-flag some games. For instance, if you dare mention homosexuality in any way or form, even if it is part of a normal storyline or background character, it's automatically kicked into the mature level by the Puritan Squad. Another one is to mention or deal with sex in technical terms or just simply discuss it in a normal and realistic manner. This puts many RPG type games into the M category because the developers are caught between the idiots at the ESRB and similar groups and making a non Poekmon type storyline.

Yet blowing up people, swearing, violence towards authority figures, and so on are just 13+? I think there's a far larger issue with the ESRB that they don't want to really deal with. I think what this will end up doing is making developers revert to either their own rating system or not rating their games at all. I know if I was EA games and most other companies, having to submit a (excruciatingly long and tedious) set of documents for each game would get old really fast.

15 years ago, there was no rating system and people used their brains. Now, as it was originally feared, what was a ratings system has become a hindrance and a set of barriers that developers have to deal with. And you wonder why games are becoming more and more like the worthless crap Hollywood churns out...

Dropping ESRB? Drop retail and consoles too (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 3 years ago | (#35868424)

I think what this will end up doing is making developers revert to either their own rating system or not rating their games at all.

Dropping ESRB will have three consequences:

  • Video games won't be sold at retail. Major video game retailers appear to require ESRB ratings.
  • Video games will be exclusive to PC or smartphone platforms. All three makers of game consoles and dedicated handheld game systems require ESRB ratings for professionally produced video games, apart from the "Xbox Live Indie Games" ghetto.
  • Video games in genres not traditionally associated with PCs and smartphones will just not get made anymore.

Re:Dropping ESRB? Drop retail and consoles too (1)

tlhIngan (30335) | more than 3 years ago | (#35868606)

I think what this will end up doing is making developers revert to either their own rating system or not rating their games at all.

You missed the most important point. The whole reason why the ESRB was created - to avoid government from doing it!

It's one of those necessary evils that seems to keep the legislators at bay, other than trying (and failing) to get actual enforcement of the ratings.

Yes, scrap the ESRB and you'll start finding calls from parents on the evils of games and trying to get video games banned.

It's already a tricky enough topic. We complain about how Nintendo makes it hard to do online gaming with their consoles - it's a part technical limitation (there's no "OS" like the Xbox/Xbox360/PS3 - the Wii/DS is pretty much bare metal development), but also one to keep all the "OMG Pedobear!" crowd from overreacting and vowing to get all their products banned or to remove wifi and all that, after all, Nintendo's the "kid-friendly" alternative. Apple's pretty much still getting burned by it, and Microsoft (via Kinect) got into some hot water over when some third party (unrelated to Microsoft) commenter/PR folk started envisioning "Kinect Sex" game possibilities.

Alas, those people make such loud noises that legistlators unfortunately listen which forces companies to put in all sorts of strange and wonderful things to toe the line.

Re:the Questionnaire (1)

Syberz (1170343) | more than 3 years ago | (#35866430)

Not a bad idea, but I would do both the rating and make the questionnaire available. I like seeing the little rating icon in the corner of the box. Just like movies, you can quickly see what type of contents it contains and then decide whether or not it's appropriate; very practical when you just want to buy a random game, the questionnaire comes in when you kid tells you exactly what he wants so you can do your research beforehand.

Re:the Questionnaire (1)

arth1 (260657) | more than 3 years ago | (#35866432)

Why dont we just put the answers to the questionnaire online and then any parent who cares enough to read them will know exactly what they are buying. That way no one will be judging at what age you can play a game and the ... unpleasantness of games is no longer reduced to a number. Parents who are sensitive to topics like drug abuse or gun control or sex can read the questionnaire and decide for themselves on a per topic basis.

What makes you think that parents want this, instead of the right to sue a games manufacturer or go to a news station and get their fifteen minutes of fame?

There are already plenty of reviews parents can read before buying games for their children. And even videos for those who can't read.

Re:the Questionnaire (1)

mangu (126918) | more than 3 years ago | (#35866658)

There are already plenty of reviews parents can read before buying games for their children. And even videos for those who can't read.

People who can't read shouldn't have children.

Mentally, illiterate people are at the pre-school level, equivalent to about 5 years old. Sex at that age is harmful, ask the ESRB.

Re:the Questionnaire (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35867112)

That would go against the purpose of the ESRB: to do the parenting for you.

Re:the Questionnaire (1)

Tom (822) | more than 3 years ago | (#35867754)

because "more information" is not always a good thing. There have been numerous studies showing that something like 5 key pieces of information is optimal, additional information beyond that does not improve decision-making, counter-intuitive as that may be.

I wouldn't mind the info being available, but you do need a layer of summary information.

2,000 Dollars (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35865438)

But it will still cost 2,000 dollars to have a game rated.

It's understandale right now, since they have to play the whole... No wait, they just watch a video of the game. But s omeone has to make the video... oh, yeah... The publisher does that. Well, buying retail copies for records, and future checks of... No, they demand three retail copies after the rating is completed. Well, they are located on Madison Avenue.

There's no follow up to that one. They are a non-profit on Madison Avenue that charge you 2,000 dollars for you essentially rate your own game, the ngive them the right to fine you 30,000 dollars if you make a mistake.

Nice. Fuckng. Racket.

Re:2,000 Dollars (1)

Nethemas the Great (909900) | more than 3 years ago | (#35868046)

That's ok, now DNF can be rated "E" for everyone. Hail to the king.

There is more then 1 culture (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35865452)

I'm really getting annoyed that we are importing American culture, their values and norms.

It's not that they are conflicting with my culture there is already a lot of overlap, but there is a difference in values and norms. And it annoys me that problems are being made of things that are no problem or less of a problem in my culture and vice versa.

Cultures are meant to be different let's respect that and keep it so.

Not As Much A Change As It Sounds (2)

mentil (1748130) | more than 3 years ago | (#35865506)

Game developers/publishers already submit a long questionnaire and a video detailing every instance of everything that might affect the rating. They're already on their honor to do this honestly. All this move involves is removing the human element, which was intended to be objective anyways, and replace it with automated computer analysis. They honestly probably already have an algorithm to determine how many swears gives a Teen rating or Profanity label; counting the exact number can be done by voice recognition, if it's not already part of the questionnaire.

Wow... (2)

whois (27479) | more than 3 years ago | (#35865640)

Way to show you just don't care.. "hey, fill out this survey so a computer can determine how to rate your game. No, we aren't going to play it."

From the wikipedia article:

"To obtain a rating for a game, a publisher sends the ESRB videotaped footage of the most graphic and extreme content found in the game. The publisher also fills out a questionnaire describing the game's content and pays a fee based on the game's development cost:[5]

        $800 fee for development costs under USD $250k
        $4,000 fee for development costs over $250k"

So, the game developer is going to do all the work and pay you to certify their game and you aren't doing anything but running a website and pocketing money? You're trading on the name you've built as a "reliable standard" and you're going to be gone as soon as Sony/Microsoft/Apple/any other app store marketplace, realizes they can take your piece of the pie and do this same thing and take money for it.

I could understand if not enough games were being submitted and you were contemplating going out of business because nobody used you anymore, but you're claiming the exact opposite. Too many people are giving you money wanting you to rate games so you're stepping out of the game rating business?

I don't have any kids and have never cared what rating a game received, but I consider this move to be counterproductive to the people who are paying you. The first slip-up isn't going to be a publishers ass it's going to be the ESRB when people ask "who's minding the store?" and the answer is nobody.

Re:Wow... (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 3 years ago | (#35866544)

I'm pretty sure that that is exactly why they are tolerated(being a requirement for wally-world release is good too; but they had to get that way).

The ESRB is a creature of the publishers' trade association, not the independent product of free-floating moralists. They exist as a(comparatively) low cost combination Objective Entity/shield for the publishers. "Did little timmy see a tit? Well, that product was rated M(17+), by the ESRB, don't talk to us."

Clearly, something with the overhead of the ESRB process is not terribly helpful to the indie types(a $2k budget and a $200k budget are both in the same fee bracket, which gives one a sense of who the expected customers are); but the $4k is practically a rounding error in the production and promotion costs of the latest iteration of SOCOM: Sequel of Honor N anointed blockbuster, which is a very small price to pay for a (so far) effective show of 'self regulation' that keeps actual regulators away.

Re:Wow... (1)

anomnomnomymous (1321267) | more than 3 years ago | (#35866548)

Way to show you just don't care.. "hey, fill out this survey so a computer can determine how to rate your game. No, we aren't going to play it."

Erm, they already don't play the games. Instead, they have the same list of questions that have to be filled in by the developers, on which they base their judgement. Developers also supply videos of gameplay, to clarify some of the answers/explanations.

I really don't see too much wrong with this: I think it makes it much clearer for developers how to target the rating they have in mind: If, for instance, they try to shoot for a PG13, they can fill in the survey/test beforehand, and clearly see if it's on the mark.

Overall, I think it's good for them to have a clear rating system, to remove any of the bias that some of the reviewers might have.

If we produce stuff that offends no one . . . (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 3 years ago | (#35865740)

. . . we will have stuff that pleases no one . . .

"Bland New World"

Re:If we produce stuff that offends no one . . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35865990)

[...] violence, sexuality, profanity, drug use, gambling and bodily function that could possibly offend anyone.

Anyone that get offended by anything just need to chill the fuck out. Been offended is a useless and dangerous emotion.

The cure is easy. Desensitization through shock image and video.

One's mind is only free when it cannot be controled by moral values.

They should outsource it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35865958)

Do what a lot of shitty companies and research programs have been doing: outsource it to MTurk (Amazon's "artificial artificial intelligence") site. The task would be something like, put a checkmark next to a series of stills from a video excerpt of the game playthrough. If there's a checkmark there, it gets an AO rating. The worker is paid 2 cents for her effort.

The American Consumer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35866136)

[Generic scenes of violence]: Yawn.
[Graphic dismemberment]: No problem.
[Guns and car chases]: I see worse on Nickelodeon/Disney these days.
[Well-endowed woman with skimpy skin colored top on]: WHOA WHOA WHOA. NOT FOR KIDS. RATED M. RATED M!!!!!!!!

load of crap (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | more than 3 years ago | (#35866292)

My 3rd old commits more violence in the 1hr after he wakes up and the 1hr before bed to his own family than you'll ever find in a game like "Call of Duty." The idea that you're going to protect a child from something that they are literally doing from birth is asinine. How would the ESRB rate the average schoolyard playground?

Nonlethal violence (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 3 years ago | (#35868478)

My 3rd old commits more violence in the 1hr after he wakes up and the 1hr before bed to his own family than you'll ever find in a game like "Call of Duty."

How? In my experience, the violence of a single-digit-year-old is nonlethal,* unlike the violence in Call of Duty games.

* Apart from reports of accidents involving unsafely stored firearms.

Different Point of View? (1)

Palidase (566673) | more than 3 years ago | (#35866484)

I am wondering if the criteria will be published. Could we possibly see a game developed specifically with the intention of hitting every button possible?

Re:Different Point of View? (2)

gknoy (899301) | more than 3 years ago | (#35869632)

I'm pretty sure Duke Nukem Forever will be coming out later this year.

Mandatory? (1)

softWare3ngineer (2007302) | more than 3 years ago | (#35866978)

Is being rated by the ESRB mandatory? Can they rate your game without your consent??

Will it be like some auto essay gradeing system (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 3 years ago | (#35867562)

Will it be like some auto essay gradeing systems where you can game it to pass? Also auto Software QA and Testing systems can pass a APP that fails but not to the point of tripping the QA system.

I'm curious how it will be decided what's "bad" (1)

Dr. Spork (142693) | more than 3 years ago | (#35867590)

So will there be a category for promiscuity? Adultery? Bearing false witness (cruelly lying)? Inter-species love? Homosexual love? I bet you that only the last one will be asked about, but on any way of looking at the issue (weather biblical fundamentalist or humanistic or whatever) that sort of focus makes no sense. Should interest groups now call in and request certain lines which play to their issues? Can someone force them to ask about abortion on the questionnaire, for example? Or about cancer, which in many families could be considered an "adult" topic? About uncritical jingoism? About philosophical arguments for why God doesn't exist? About the uncritical promotion or demonization of some religion or culture?

I'm trying to think of some troubling categories that almost certainly won't be on the checklist. I'm sure that there will be a category for graphic violence, about whether blood and dismemberment is shown, etc. But whatever, we know it's a game. But I'd like to also know whether some character will be killed or "taken away" which the player actually started to care about. That's the sort of thing that traumatizes kids: stuff like Bambi. Of course that won't be rated.

We all know that we don't need anything graphic to be freaked out. Just think of Lovecraft or Poe. Some fiction just succeeds at scariness, but no checklist will catch it. So I think that this checklist idea is just an abdication of responsibility by the ESRB. But it doesn't matter. I can't think of anyone who thought that they were a valuable source of information about games.

How can it possibly work (1)

DrXym (126579) | more than 3 years ago | (#35867734)

I could make a game containing flowers and ladybugs and spangly stars that would mess a 5 year old's mind up and give them nightmares. Conversely I could have a game which has themes of sexuality and violence that an early teen would have no trouble with.

How does a questionnaire and automated system deal with the tone and nuance of a game through a bunch of questions? Maybe it might work as a prescreening system but there still has to be some measure of human review. If necessary charge games developers to receive their rating and hire staff according to demand.

Even with human intervention, transparency is paramount.The rule base and the source code should be publicly disclosed. If they can't do that then it really shouldn't be trusted at all. After all, how were these rules judged to be representative of public opinion. What does public opinion mean anyway? I expect public opinion in most cities is vastly more liberal than it is in the middle of the bible belt.

Hot Coffee Mod (1)

BigJClark (1226554) | more than 3 years ago | (#35868074)


I wonder if this also covers unintentional content that gets released to the public through less than obvious means? (bugs, hacks/cracks)

I mean, when the hot coffee mod was dropped, independent of the developer or publishers control, didn't that send the ESRB into a tizzy?

Anyone know where to get the questionnaire? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35868236)

Hi all,

So where can I find a copy of this questionnaire? The article doesn't seem to link to it. It would be cool to have a list of things I could do to potentially offend people.

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