GP’s AE Gets AO Form Letter from ESRB

GamePolitics correspondent Andrew Eisen advises that he sent a protest to the ESRB over the Adults Only (AO) rating the board assigned to Manhunt 2. In his gripe, posted via the ESRB’s website, AE wrote:

The AO rating has been bastardized and transformed into something it was never intended to be.

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

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

Sincerely,

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

Andrew reported on Saturday that he received a form letter back from the ESRB (not signed by anyone, just the organization). AE highlights a couple of points from the letter:

ESRB: [The ESRB] rates computer and video games in terms of content and age-appropriateness so that consumers, especially parents, can make educated purchase decisions… We are aware of the fact that the AO rating does pose a challenge to game publishers…

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

The full ESRB letter follows: 

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

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