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The Political Landscape of Game Ratings

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the rocky-terrain-twice-the-movement-cost dept.


Via GamePolitics, a Washington Post article about the political landscape surrounding game ratings. Author Mike Musgrove touches on Jack Thompson, Senator Brownback, and interviews ESRB ratings board chair Patricia Vance. From the article: Vance, the head of the ratings board, says the group has conducted surveys showing that there is an 83 percent awareness of the game industry's ratings system among consumers. By comparison, the movie ratings system has about 90 percent awareness, she said. Vance said the video game industry is a target largely because it still suffers from a perception that games are for kids, even though the age of today's average gamer is over 30. 'I think a lot of people who propose this sort of legislation have never purchased a game or don't play them,' she said."

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How fitting! (1)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 7 years ago | (#16611578)

"Nothing for you to see here. Please move along."

Hmm, political landscape... Nothing to see... Yeah, that's about right.

Re:How fitting! (1)

gt_mattex (1016103) | more than 7 years ago | (#16612358)

In ten years or so the young budding politician will either be a gamer on know one.

The current batch of politicians have unlikely been a part of the digital age.

Just remember age has habit of making fools of us all.

Its not about the average age of consumers ... (1)

HappySqurriel (1010623) | more than 7 years ago | (#16612004)

I honestly don't think that the political problems surrounding content in videogames has anything to do with the average (or assumed average) age of gamers; the real problem is that (inspite of what we gamers think) videogame playing is really not a mainstream activity.

If you want to understand what I mean, compare videogames to watching Movies/TV and you'll notice how widespread Television and Movie consumption is compared to videogames; I spent a year without watching any television and movies (largely because of school and social life) and I could hardly talk to people I didn't know because I had never seen the latest TV shows (Smallville and 24 at the time). Videogames (as a guestimate) are probably played by only 25%-33% of the population of North America, this means that 66%-75% of people see little value in them and are probably not going to help you protect them.

Re:Its not about the average age of consumers ... (2, Interesting)

thebdj (768618) | more than 7 years ago | (#16612156)

I honestly don't think that the political problems surrounding content in videogames has anything to do with the average (or assumed average) age of gamers; the real problem is that (inspite of what we gamers think) videogame playing is really not a mainstream activity.

I believe the average age of the gamers disprove the notion that gaming is not a mainstream activity. Ignore the notion of gaming as arcades and consoles. Think how many people have computers. Now, how many of those people do you think are at Yahoo! Games or the like, playing some flash based game. Or maybe they are playing a Java Game. These are not on the same level, but it is still "gaming". Honestly, simple things like this are almost "gateway" games to more intense gaming. (Though probably not GTA intense.)

Now, consider that the last generation of gamers (which I guess I am part of) is approaching 30. We are now working individuals with money to spend. Now, instead of dropping quarters into machines, we purchase $300+ consoles and $50+ games. The fact is, it is really becoming a mainstream media format, especially with the increase in casual gamers. The true problem is the age of politicians. It is disgusting to think how old some of them are. It is also bad when you realize this generational gap is a big reason why they are so ignorant of technology. (See previous slashdot article from today I believe.)

Re:Its not about the average age of consumers ... (1)

El Torico (732160) | more than 7 years ago | (#16612546)

The true problem is the age of politicians. It is disgusting to think how old some of them are. It is also bad when you realize this generational gap is a big reason why they are so ignorant of technology.

I tend to agree with you, but it is risky to overgeneralize. The "generation gap" you refer to isn't always as great as it appears at first glance. For example, Senator Brownback was born in 1956 and Representative McCollum was born in 1954. I suspect that these two are posturing for their constituents by singling out an industry that is not well established in Washington (few, if any lobbyists) and has less legal experience than the Motion Picture and Music industries.

Re:Its not about the average age of consumers ... (1)

creimer (824291) | more than 7 years ago | (#16612448)

I spent a year without watching any television and movies (largely because of school and social life) and I could hardly talk to people I didn't know because I had never seen the latest TV shows (Smallville and 24 at the time).

I spent the last 14 years not watching TV and I really don't miss it. The few shows that I do watch (i.e., Battlestar Galactica, South Park and Top Chef) I get through iTunes and I'm currenty in Season 3 of X-Files as I get the DVDs through Netflix. If you read the newspaper (yes, ancient technology) or news site, you should be able to handle yourself in most social situations. Now if you're trying to look cool by mouthing off on the latest TV show, then you're at a disadvantage.

Re:Its not about the average age of consumers ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16612696)

Even if you are watching them through iTunes you are still watching TV.

Re:Its not about the average age of consumers ... (2, Interesting)

creimer (824291) | more than 7 years ago | (#16613638)

I'm watching videos without ads on my own schedule. I'm not controlled by the boob tube (or even you tube). I enjoy entertainment but I'm not a slave to it. That's a big difference. I remember the days where I had the entire TV guide memorized for the coming week.

Re:Its not about the average age of consumers ... (1)

Alamoth (927972) | more than 7 years ago | (#16613160)

You are slightly inaccurate in your comparison of Movies/TV to Video Games.

This is from an old Chicago Tribune article:

"the video game industry rang up more than $9.9 billion in North America in 2004 versus Hollywood's North American box office of $9.4 billion" http://www.chicagotribune.com/features/lifestyle/c hi-0508230159aug23,1,6023554.story?coll=chi-leisur etempo-hed [chicagotribune.com]

Television does earn more than this, but not by very much. NBC is expecting a revenue of ~$12 Billion USD this year which is only $2 Billion more than the gaming industry made two years ago.

The Gaming Industry is quickly overtaking all other forms of entertainment as far as revenue is concerned. Whether or not that reflects the percentage of the population playing games vs. watching tv is a question I don't have the answer to.

Re:Its not about the average age of consumers ... (1)

HappySqurriel (1010623) | more than 7 years ago | (#16614426)

Generating more revinue is not the same as being consumed by more people ...

Consider that most games cost about $50 and the cost to see a movie at the theater is about $12.50 which means that you would need 4 times as many people to go see a movie than to buy a game to have similar revinue numbers. Now, remember you're comparing Videogames to box office and not the total movie industry which includes rentals and DVD sales and pay-per-view so (all in all) it would not be too unreasonable to assume that 10 times as many people watched movies than played videogames.

I do think my point was missed though so I'll ask you a couple of questions, how many people do you know that don't watch television or movies? How many people do you know who don't play videogames? Odds are that you know far more people who don't play videogames than you know who don't watch movies or television. The point was that as long as the majority of people have little interest in the gaming industry it will be very difficult to protect it from political attacks.

Re:Its not about the average age of consumers ... (1)

Lifelike (937107) | more than 7 years ago | (#16632300)

I don't think it's a product of videogames being mainstream or not, I think the issue is that by their nature videogames are a lot less acessable then TV/movies, and as a result the audience for videogames is a lot more polarized than the audience for TV/movies.

Here's what I mean.. Videogames are pretty easy to escape in our culture. The barrier to entry is pretty high, a hundred-dollar console that still has a bit of a uncool stigma associated with it, or the need to hunt down an arcade (not exactly as ubiquitous as movie theaters these days) so one can entertain their business model of having money sucked slowly away. Movies and tv on the other hand.. who doesn't have acess to a telivision or know someone who does? Who can't go down to the local strip-mall and watch themselves a nice flick even occasionally for a mere two-hour time comitment?

So as a result you end up with a populace where everyone has at least casually watched TV/Movies, but where much fewer (by comparison) have overcome that barrier to entry to play games. So when they're looking for a scapegoat, where do they turn? The subculture where everyone is at least partially a member (has been at some point in their lives) or the one where you can point to a distinct, discrete minority of "hardcore" players? What I'm excited to see is the rise of gaming culture brought on by easy-to-access "casual" gaming (usually flash based, although there's some hype around that Wii system that I frankly don't buy into- until they don't make you buy a seperate system to play, I think the barrier to entry is still too high). As internet gets more and more ingraciated into the things we use in our lives, it will be interesting to see if the pace of internet gaming follows suit and if, 20-30 years from now, when Generation Mario comes into power, whether there won't be more partial gamers than we already see.

People know, what a shock? (2, Insightful)

kinglink (195330) | more than 7 years ago | (#16612412)

It seems the only people who don't understand the rating systems are sitting in Washington.

The rating system is pretty solid except for the mindless parent. The problem is the mindless parent will NEVER understand, they don't care enough about their kid to learn about the stuff they play with.

I saw a parent in a store one day carrying Spongebob, and Rocket power, and GTA:San Andreas, so I'm reaching the counter at the same time, so I kindly ask "you do know that's a mature game" and the guy laughs and says "yeah, Those games are for the kids, but this is for after the kids go to sleep". People know this stuff already, most stores display this stuff pretty promentently already. I think it's time to stop relying on goverment to force stuff that is already done, and to ask parents to properly monitor the kids.

Over the last 15 years, it seems everything has been "who's fault is it?" when ever someone does something wrong, even 9/11. It's the person who commits the crime. The guys who hijacked the plane, the kids that shot up the school, the man who kidnapped the girls into the house in the amish town. They commited the crime. In the same vein, stop looking for influences from everywhere. It's not the games, it's the parents who allow kids to play games like this. It's the parents who don't ever talk to their kids to see they are disturbed, it's the parents who just basically assume everyone else is going to raise their kids. Hillary Clinton wrote "it takes a village". I'm saying BULLSHIT. They can help but it takes a parent, pure and simple.

Re:People know, what a shock? (1)

meregistered (895132) | more than 7 years ago | (#16613486)

Excellently stated.

I agree. Social problems may be influenced by media but they are created or resolved by parents/families.

Re:People know, what a shock? (1)

miasmic (669645) | more than 7 years ago | (#16613918)

True, but I question the idea that such things are "harmful to children". Me and all my school friends used to spend hours watching violent 18 rated war films and gory horror film "video nasties" at one lads house when I was growing up, from as early as the age of 8 or 9 when we were first allowed out unsupervised, and I can't see how it could have ever had any negative effects on us. I think the only effect it had on me was that I grew out of finding such things glamorous and cool at a much younger age than most children. We also used to like making model planes and playing at soldiers in the woods, but perhaps we would have done that anyway. If you ask me what is harmful to kids, I'd say WWE wrestling, and that is supposedly perfectly acceptable and has no rating on it at all. That is something that children do copy, with a lot of resultant injuries, not to mention that it's so moronic it probably actively makes them thicker.

Interesting (2, Interesting)

antizeus (47491) | more than 7 years ago | (#16612476)

Nowadays it seems common for legislation that regulates an industry to be written by lobbyists for that industry. That doesn't seem to be the case here. Perhaps the companies that write games aren't making enough campaign contributions. Or maybe cultural artifacts are too valuable as scapegoats for whipping one's base (followers of authoritarian religions, fearful soccer moms, etc) into a frenzy.

Re:Interesting (1)

El Torico (732160) | more than 7 years ago | (#16613424)

Nowadays it seems common for legislation that regulates an industry to be written by lobbyists for that industry.

That depends on the "influence" of the industry.

Perhaps the companies that write games aren't making enough campaign contributions.

Bingo! Either the business shakes down the government or the government shakes down the business.

It is very true. (1)

nat1192 (984954) | more than 7 years ago | (#16628010)

Awareness of ratings for games should be raised. My mom had bought me Halo PC thinking it was just a regular game. She had no idea what the M stamp on the front meant. Now she regrets ever getting it for me. Anyway, they should start an ad council about it. I think I saw an ad council the other day against game ratings all together though so they might conflict with each other. Then again that could have been completely made up like the other 60% of the internet.

Into Their Hands (1)

nimblebrain (683478) | more than 7 years ago | (#16634842)

I'd be disturbed about the governmental agencies getting their hands on this, given the general climate of misapprehension that video games are a major cause of actual, physical violence (thanks a bunch for jumping on the bandwagon, Hilary [senate.gov] :( ). Without some assurances that the ratings system won't be held over a barrel for any number of spurious motivations, such as the unfortunately credible possibility of lobby groups complaining that fantasy games teach witchcraft and should therefore be kept out of the hands of children.

The ESRB [esrb.org] has been running quite nicely for over a decade and, though not perfect, seems pretty on par with the MPAA in terms of hits and misses. Rating World of Warcraft Teen works great, and the more violent, disturbing Prey is properly rated Mature, though there are certainly younger folks who can deal with games like Prey (and certainly the old Ultima IX, which is also rated Mature).

I would surmise most of the issues people run up against are things like Parents or Granny buying Junior M-rated games (perhaps even because Junior asked for the game in question, as Juniors are wont to do), and totally missing the meaning of the rating.

That's not equivalent to the ratings on going to the movies, because people don't go to video games - they bring them home. However, when buying movies for someone, you have to pay attention to the rating on the movie; buying Body Double for your 9-year-old isn't a good thing, but the salesperson isn't going to stop you at the till to ask who you're buying it for. With games, salespeople are more likely to ask than with movies, especially if you're a senior who has just picked up an M or AO-rated game, but if you're 40 or under and don't look confused, they will properly assume that you've done a modicum of homework (and if you look nerdy, the chances of them asking trend towards zero :) You can always ask the people behind the counter, though - ESRB ratings are not hard to puzzle out.

It's the "not necessarily for me" part of video game purchasing that tends to lead to more oopsies. I don't see how any FTC oversight is going to help that issue in the slightest, unless it's to bend the needle to severe overprotection. Who amongst us can imagine what form that would take? No video games except Barbie and Veggie Tales in Wal-Mart? A tiny front section at EG with a beaded curtain dividing the FTC-approved-for-public-malls part from the vast majority of titles (perhaps an exaggeration, but if other legislation came down the pipe making sure minors had no access to even looking at a likely increased number of rated titles, how would EG and other retailers have to respond?)

...or would the effect be simply more insidious and behind-the-scenes? Vaunted games that were developed that the FTC simply prevented from being sold, or games being horribly watered down just to get to the wide audience that could have handled it in the first place?

Have these folks proposed a content rating system on books in the last little while?

Support the ESA [theesa.com] in their fights against jokers like this.

More Education, Less Legislation (1)

writerjosh (862522) | more than 7 years ago | (#16645789)

Microsoft to push parental control New ads promote use of video-game ratings tool

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/business/288401_msft parents12.html [nwsource.com]

"A new Microsoft Corp. initiative aims to educate parents about ratings and technological restrictions for video games -- a move that may elevate the company's profile in the national debate over children's access to violent and explicit games.

Microsoft plans to start the multimillion-dollar campaign, including advertising and a 20-city bus tour, today in New York.

It reflects the company's position that existing protections and greater awareness are preferable to government regulation or laws imposing penalties for selling inappropriate titles to minors. Courts have overturned such laws on First Amendment grounds in Washington and other states.

"We should be spending more time on education and less time in the courts," said Robbie Bach, the president of Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices Division, which includes its Xbox and PC video-game groups..."

An interesting point is at the very end of the article:

"...A Microsoft representative said the educational campaign isn't slated to include demonstrations of "mature"-rated games."

Wouldn't that be the whole point of the education? Aren't "mature"-rated games the whole issue? While I commend Microsoft for putting their money where their mouth is, it seems like they want to avoid debate over violent/sexual games that are played on their system. It's kind-of like they're giving the illusion that they are confronting the subject head-on, when in fact this may only be a pre-emptive move to divert attention away from their more violent games (which I assume have higher sales than others).
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