Yee: What is ESRB Trying to Hide?

August 29, 2007 -
Included in GameSpot's coverage of the Manhunt 2 political fallout are strong words from California State Senator Leland Yee concerning the re-rating of the controversial game:
What are they trying to hide?  Unsurprisingly, the culture of secrecy continues at the ESRB. 

Even individuals within the video game industry are now calling into question their rating system.  Parents simply can not trust an entity that is unwilling to disclose or give any meaningful rationale at how they come to their decisions. 

The ESRB refuses to use the AO rating for violence despite the descriptor calling for such a rating when there are "graphic depictions of violence."  If Manhunt doesn't qualify, what would? 

Combined with the use of the ambiguous term "Mature," many parents are left with a false sense of how violent an M-rated game may be; and obviously even many retailers as the Federal Trade Commission secret shopper study suggests.  Using the numbers generated by the FTC, 42 out of 100 kids who want to purchase Manhunt 2 will be able to do so.
 
When weighing in on laws to prohibit the sale of ultra-violent video games to children, the industry has said over and over, "trust us; our rating system will protect children."  This latest episode demonstrates once again that the ESRB in fact can not be trusted.

Yee, of course, was the driving force behind California's 2005 video game law, recently declared unconstitutional by a federal court judge.

GP: Presumably for space reasons, GameSpot edited Yee's remarks. We've published the entire statement, which came to us from Sen. Yee's office.

Comments

You gotta love how the word "Ultra-Violent" keeps coming up in these press releases. What soccer mom thought that word up?

I wish this guy could permanently take Jack Thompson's place. I may not completely agree with him, but at least he's not a reprehensible, mean spirited jerk with an obvious inferiority complex. At least Yee's a respectable person who acts like a professional.

Umm...Anthony Burgess?

"The ESRB refuses to use the AO rating for violence despite the descriptor calling for such a rating when there are “graphic depictions of violence.” "

Ummmm... Isn't that EXACTLY what they just did? I haven't heard anything about any massive sexual content in Manhunt 2, so I'm going to assume they ramped up the violence too much - hence, the AO rating. I respect Yee in a lot of ways - I disagree with his positions, but I think that he's somewhat more educated and intelligent about them instead of just virulently crazy-like. But in this case, that's just stupid of Yee to say that. The violence level was EXACTLY what got this put into the AO category.

Indeed they did. Rockstar then edited it so it would get an M....

"What are they trying to hide? Unsurprisingly, the culture of secrecy continues at the ESRB. "

Heres my version of this -
What are they trying to hide? Unsurprisingly, the culture of secrecy continues at the MPAA.

Dear Politicians. Shut up about the ESRB. You, the ones who demanded the formation of the ESRB in the first place, cannot turn around and say it's evil. You cannot willingly create a monster, then join the angry mob when it smashes a few buildings.

The ESRB isn't trying to hide anything. The MPAA operates in the same manner, yet Mr. Yee isn't whining about that(maybe those campaign contributions he gets from the MPAA and the RIAA have some to do with that; you know the saying "money talks, bullshit walks".)

Yee continues to prove himself to be an idiot.

Yee: The ESRB refuses to use the AO rating for violence despite the descriptor calling for such a rating when there are “graphic depictions of violence.”

They did, moron. The original version of Manhunt 2 apparently got an AO for that very reason, and you didn't question it then. Yet when Take-Two submitted an edited version and got a M rating, you shed crocodile tears about it.

Yee: When weighing in on laws to prohibit the sale of ultra-violent video games to children, the industry has said over and over, “trust us; our rating system will protect children.”

Yeah, considering the statistics the ESA found, these laws are a complete waste of time

-While the Federal Trade Commission found that minors were successful in buying a M-rated game 42% of the time, they also found that it was 35% of the time in major retailers like Wal-Mart, Best Buy, etc., where most of sales are generated from.

-The ESA reported that a combined 86% of all game sales(combining both computer and console game buyers) were to people over 18, leaving 14% left over to people under 18.

-Of that 14% left over, 91% of those sales were with parents present at the time of purchase, leaving 9% to minors by themselves. Meaning that sales to minors by themselves only represent 1.26% of all video game sales, and if the FTC’s 42% figure were applied to that, it would mean that M-rated game sales to minors by themselves would only account for 0.53% of all video game sales! Though that last figure doesn't take into account other variables(minor returning to store with parent; minor going to another store and is successful)

Shows how unnecessary Yee's legislation really was.

This is the whole "if your innocent, then you have nothing to hide" issue. Same reasoning cops use to try and search your house, your car, and just do what they want because not agreeing "makes you guilty looking". It's a childish tactic and I'm sad (but not surprised) to see politicians once again dropping to this level. But while the movie industry pads their pockets (it is California after all), they would never dream to use this on the movie industry to see how the Hostel series got a R rating, as well as how they can sell Unrated movies with no question and sell them right next kids dvds (noticed this last night at the local Wal-Mart).

Who's worse, Yee or JT? 'Cause they sound fairly similar at the moment..

my vote goes for wacko jacko

Good point. Maybe I should have asked: Who would you rather fight, JT or Mr. Yee?

But then, I like having a favorite enemy (JT).

Speaking of which, he's missed his cue..

"Combined with the use of the ambiguous term “Mature,” many parents are left with a false sense of how violent an M-rated game may be..."

Perhaps Yee likes the suggestions for a replacement put forward by Jon Stewart.

D-Dropout
W-Wastoid
CMB-Child in Man's Body

Seriously, though, how does that give a false sense of anything to parents? How hard is it to figure out that Mature=for mature audiences? Incidentally, parents can just flip the game case over and, in the lower corner there, get a list of descriptors describing the level of violence. Can parents connect the dots and find out that Mild Violence="Not much of it" and Blood and Gore="Lots of violence?" Most people know what the words "gore" and "mild" mean, right? So what's the "false sense" here?

How is the term 'Mature' ambiguous? Especially when "17+" is clearly visible right above that to anyone who would actually be taking the time to look at the box.

How does this show that the ESRB can not be trusted? Does he even know what Manhunt 2 is about? If he does, I'm sure there are plenty of people here who would love him to share. After all, if the statistics are true, then maybe 1% of sales are to minors by themselves. Does 1% really need that kind of protection?

He would rather us trust him and his government cronies? Sorry, but I don't think so. I'd rather not have the government control my entertainment. What's next? Restrictions on anime?

This statement is nothing but a sad little man trying to make himself look good and justified when he is nothing but a villain.

@ BearDogg-X

Do those figures count E, E10+, and T rated game sales? If only 1.26% of video game sales are accounted for by minors, its possible that the number picking up M rated games is even lower.

Terminator,
Hah
Hah
Hah.

:)

No, I believe that Senator Yee is linked to the CCFC. He's already mentioned them previously and one has to wonder why he is so very interested in pointing them out over the PTC or even GamerDad (who is far more Parent-oriented than the PTC or CCFC and certainly far less biased, practically unbiased, in his ratings than the PTC or CCFC).

Maybe it's Senator Yee who has "something to hide", not the ESRB.

Nightwng2000
NW2K Software

Doesn't the MPAA similarly not disclose this stuff?

@ Gameboy

Yep, those statistics encompass all games. That 1.26% figure is sales to minors by themselves without parental oversight.

And it would be even lower than that, even factoring in variables like the minor going to another store and being successful, or returning to the same store with a parent/guardian.

@ Nightwng2000

Yee does have something to hide, since it has been established that he has accepted campaign contributions from the MPAA(which is why he won't complain about the MPAA giving Hostel Part II a R rating).

“What are they trying to hide? Unsurprisingly, the culture of secrecy continues at the ESRB. “

A NDA might be the reason for the secrecy. I mean I’m pretty sure the ESRB signs those because the developer doesn’t want content leaking out.



“The ESRB refuses to use the AO rating for violence despite the descriptor calling for such a rating when there are “graphic depictions of violence.” If Manhunt doesn’t qualify, what would? “

Umm, how exactly do you know how much graphic violence is in Manhunt 2? You don’t? didn’t think so.



“Combined with the use of the ambiguous term “Mature,” many parents are left with a false sense of how violent an M-rated game may be; and obviously even many retailers as the Federal Trade Commission secret shopper study suggests”

yeah, that’s why several big game chains have changed their policy so that M games can’t be sold without a parent or 17 yr old there on penalty of termination. It’s rated MATURE for a reason. MATURE means you should be MATURE enough to play it.


the industry has said over and over, “trust us; our rating system will protect children.”

Yes, they said something that they actually never said. The rating system isn’t supposed to protect children, it’s there to inform customers on the content in the game, be it a 21 year old gamer or a 12 year old kid.

btw, for those who do not know, NDA = Non-Disclosure Agreement. usually used by developers for beta testers, and other fun things.

"What are they trying to hide" Oh I don't know, perhaps the content of an unreleased game?

What makes me sick is that Yee and this stupid soccer mom group don't care at all about the ratings system. They don't care about the system, they don't care about gamers, they don't care about their children really, and the only reason they're involved at all is because of the media buzz around a single game.

Where were all these people when the ratings system was being developed? Where were their demands for evidence when the AO rating was issued in the first place? This is a crock of ****. This goes to show how much contempt these people have for the game industry, because they're willing to make completely insane demands, such as having access to corprorate secrets that they are not entitled to. This would never happen to a movie.

I'm not just upset about this. Yee should resign. This shows me he is not competent to hold public office. Hopefully the folks of California agree.

@Joe_Snow: Yeah, it's really weird how the word 'ultra-violent' keeps cropping up. It spreads like some kind of virus, but only through people who need the extra drama to convince people of their false statements.

Like 'WMD' before the Iraq war...

@ D.C.O.W.

Um, I'm 22 and I never use the ESRB ratings, unless I'm just flat curious as to what it was rated (or buying as a gift for a younger person). Then again, I usually have an idea of what is in a game before I pick it up. I'm less interested in blood and gore and more interested in a good game with solid game-play. If it has blood and gore that's just a bonus (or something like that).

me i really like my games with blood and gore..but thats just me

@gameboy

I'm in the same boat, but I mean like the ESRB has said that the ratings are to help parents make educated choices. I don't expect gamers to look at a game and think "I wonder what is in this game, I better look at the rating!" but a parent might have their child hand them a game, and they choose to look at the rating instead of just looking at the name or the back of the case. They might see "blood and gore" and then decide not to purchase it (well, that's the hope at least).

I mean it's not like the ESRB hasn't been trying to make parents more knowledgable about the ratings.

Depends on the game for me. When it comes to military games, I'm not as interested. But horror games, it seems to be a staple of the genre the same as it is with horror movies.

My son, however, doesn't like gore. Blood is ok, but he doesn't like gore. Prey he really doesn't like. But Rainbow Six and Call Of Duty. But he's only just getting into FPS. He's been more RPG (like Final Fantasy series), Street Racing (NFS and Midnight Club) and Card based games, like Yu-Gi-Ho and even Pokemon. He does have his "brain" type games, like Harvest Moon (-I- consider them "brain" games more than RPG) and a few puzzle games. He's also getting into chess but whether that will turn into a like for RTS or not, only time will tell.

Nightwng2000
NW2K Software

I still have to side with the ESRB on this one. Basically they don'y want to give details because that would create a dangerous precedent (ie Well you told us what Manhunt 2 had so you should tell us what GTA IV has). Plus, as stated by many people already, this is a minor change (AO to M) thus the whole "children" factor doesn't hold water.

Now I can understand Yee's (and many others) complaints. Basically they want proof that the ESRB is playing on the up and up. And because of the secrecy they think it is rigged. (My brother thought boxing was rigged because judge scores weren't announced until after the fight). Ultimately what they are going to have to do is wait and buy it themselves.

"When weighing in on laws to prohibit the sale of ultra-violent video games to children, the industry has said over and over, “trust us; our rating system will protect children.” This latest episode demonstrates once again that the ESRB in fact can not be trusted."

Hmm I don't remember the ESRB saying the rating system will protect children. They say its to inform parents what is in the game so they can make the choice if its right for their own children.

And why can't the ESRB be trusted? Cause they won't say what Rockstar did to the game. I'm pretty sure if ESRB did speak out they would be sued by Rockstar and then the game industry won't trust the ESRB in the future with NDAs. Frankly I will stand behind the ESRB being quiet about this as they need to watch both sides with care. Yee and others you should really ask Rockstar what was done to get different rating who knows they might actually tell you.

Sorry to bother you again beardogg, but I noticed something in your figures again

you say 86% of sales are made of over 18, I'm willing to bet the leftover portion is vastly made up of 17 yr olds, still legal purchasers of M rated games.

And unless you misquoted its game sales in total, so we're not even counting in E rated games are we? The sales to minors could make up a lot of those.


I suspect the figure may be even lower than what youve got if you add in these factors.

If you want to know, ASK ROCKSTAR. They're the ones who had to do the editing.

@Awol

It's a pattern I'm noticing. if the system doesn't do ALL of the work for the parent, removing all responsibility from the parent and making it so they don't have to think.

If the system doesn't do those things, it is inevitably broken.

This culture of secrecy in ratings boards really starts with the MPAA. That said, the ESRB is more transparent than them, but still fairly opaque.

@chris

Also, since he is only considering the effects of Yee's law, which only would affect California, you'd also have to consider the % of total video game sales that are made in California, from there, you could extrapolate the total number of people younger than 17 that would be affected by Yee's law.

@MG

frankly anyone with half a brain and isnt on the gamehate bandwagon knows the simple truth that most gamers are over 18, the market is geared towards over 18s and games are marketed and sold to over 18s. despite the crap people like Yee and thompson say, this is the truth we know and they dont. And its our responsibility to get that message to the public before the haters indoctrinate them to the 'games are marketed to kids' phallicy. Theyre already not taking the ERSB as seriously as it should be.

Did Yee forget already that they did use the AO rating? Namely for Manhunt 2 itself prior to Rockstar wussing out and editing it?

I would like to see more transparency at the ESRB. Using the secrecy of the MPAA as justifiction is ludicrous considering it's own reputation. I am sure there are some NDA issues involved that would prevent the ESRB from releases details PRIOR to a games release, but there should be no reason why the ESRB could not release a more detailed report AFTER a games release. I do not imagine the ESRB review would be any more revealing than a game review.

I have written before that my major complaint with the ESRB is that it is simplistic and vague. I sympathize with parents who are confused by the system as it is not informational at all. GamerDad.com and other sites exist because of this void. I would rather see the ESRB pioneer a better way to manage a ratings system. Videogames are a new cutting edge entertainment medium, why can the industry not set the example and create the new standard for a reviewing body.

But seriously, we live in the age of Open Source, I am sure the ESRB review process could withstand a little open scrutiny.

ESRB is hiding its CP.

"Combined with the use of the ambiguous term “Mature,” many parents are left with a false sense of how violent an M-rated game may be"

As opposed to how abiguous "Restricted" is, when any 12 year-old can buy a movie rated as such? Or how about how violent some PG-13 or PA movies can be, I don't think you want to be slinging such words around, Mr. Lee.

You know, at this point I honestly think Yee truly just does not understand the fact that the game was edited and resubmitted to get the M.

Or he's just choosing to remain willfully ignorant of this so he can keep attacking the ESRB, but then that would mean he's a two-faced ignorant jackass by choice.

>You gotta love how the word “Ultra-Violent” keeps coming up in these press releases. What soccer mom thought that word up?

Pretty sure it was actually Stanley Kubrick. Clockwork Orange ftw =D (now THERE'S a game that would warrant an M rating...)

I don't get why Yee cares. I mean, the AO version probably won't be released. What's the big deal? The ESRB hasn't given us any reason to not trust them in the past. I mean, they re-rated games after 'hidden content' popped up in San Andreas and Oblivion that required simple 3rd Party mods. Ideally if a person modifies the product the company shouldn't be held accountable, much like voiding a warranty. How's about we stop focusing on the game industry and worry more about the fires that plague the state every year? Maybe send in the FTC guys to fight those, make them do some real work for once...

Lets break it down using the MPAA instead of the ESRB. In order to "reveal" all the bits that got it a rating, in order to be fully open, you'd have to release all that footage publicly right? Which means you'd have to release the movie to the public for free the instant you started posting the rating, because to do anything else (charge money, hide scenes, etc) would be considered "hiding something."

Now does it seem fair to take a movie that cost millions of dollars, and release it for free, just to prove that you're not hiding anything? No?

Then why demand that a game be released to the public for full disclosure?

Think about it. If they didn't hand Yee a copy of the game, and a Wii to play it on, they'd be hiding something, right? They can't just give him a copy of a video of the game, because they could hide certain stuff. And in order to be fully disclosing, they wouldn't be able to refuse anyone else who wants a free pre-release try either...

So in other words, the ability for anyone to play a game before it's released, just by saying that you're concerned the rating doesn't tell you everything. Can't it wait until you can pester the guy in the corner game store to load it into the demo station?

The reason the ESRB gets to see this stuff, is that they have strict controls over their raters (NDAs, likely closed testing rooms, etc), and they respect a company's IP to not disclose the contents of the game.

Once the game is released, there's also no point in disclosing everything, because the game is out in the market, you can rent/buy/try out at the store and see for yourself what the content is.

The ESRB is not black and white. It's a judgment call, just like any other rating system. And just like every other rating system, it's not "this is ok/bad for your child", but rather "here's topics of concern you need to be aware of when deciding for yourself if this game is right for your child.
-- If your wiimote goes snicker-snack, check your wrist-strap...

"42 out of 100 kids who want to purchase Manhunt 2 will be able to do so."

This is because the parents (you know, the people with the money) will buy it for them. Even when retailers go out of their way to inform parents that a game may not be suitable for their children the parents often brush it off. It's not Rockstar's fault that parents don't want to do any actual parenting.

As far as the ESRB disclosing why they gave the rating they gave, does the MPAA give out specifics as to why they rate a movie the way they do? If they do not then there is certainly no reason to expect the ESRB to do so.

@David Durica

"Doesn’t the MPAA similarly not disclose this stuff?"

Nope. Because if it wanted to be fully disclosing to the public, they'd have to release the entire movie ahead of it's release date.

Can't release the "worst" scenes, because that would involve a judgment call, and wouldn't be fully disclosing.
-- If your wiimote goes snicker-snack, check your wrist-strap...

@Eric

"I am sure there are some NDA issues involved that would prevent the ESRB from releases details PRIOR to a games release, but there should be no reason why the ESRB could not release a more detailed report AFTER a games release. I do not imagine the ESRB review would be any more revealing than a game review."

An NDA can still cover material after it hits the market, because it has a market value, and is the property of the publisher. Game reviewers still have to purchase a copy of the game, or be given a free copy by the publisher. Even unauthorized strategy guides are still limited in how much game content they can "show" in pictures because of Fair Use (word descriptions are ok, but really, do you want to read the 1,000 page summary of all the different scenes in MH2?)

So just because it's released doesn't necessarily free the ESRB from it's NDA.

Remember too that the big stink is that they want MH2 to be rated AO BEFORE it hits store shelves.
-- If your wiimote goes snicker-snack, check your wrist-strap...

@Eric

"I have written before that my major complaint with the ESRB is that it is simplistic and vague."

But so is EVERY OTHER rating system on the planet. The BBFC ratings, MPAA, RIAA, the AU/NZ ratings, CERO, CSM, etc. EVERY rating system is a judgment call on content made by a group of individuals, either professional, political, or pulled in from off the street.

Yeah some have a little more detail than others, but all still boil down to the "suitable for teens/not suitable for teens", and "has enough boobies to rate 'adult', doesn't have enough boobies to rate 'adult'"...
-- If your wiimote goes snicker-snack, check your wrist-strap...

Hooray for more completely uniformed wind-bags.

Pretty much, he wants the support of all the angry soccer moms who know even less than he does. He should really be campaigning for parents to be more cautious with the money they give their kids.

They say that 42 out of 100 kids can buy this game? Well, I don't know or trust where they got those numbers, but as a GameStop employee we NEVER sell M rated games without an adult there and even then we inform the parents or guardian or whoever, this is is an M rated game for Violence, Gore, Sexual theme, Adult Language, and so on. Now, on several occasions, upon informing a parent they'll be completely surprised and not even realize that the M meant that.

Terribly uniformed parents who insist on buying games to shut their child up are quite disgusting to me. It's because of them that we have so many problems and attacks on the ESRB.
The important thing to ask, though, is why are there so many unattended children out there with at least $50-60 in their pockets? Who's letting these kids run free out to the nearest WalMart so they can purchase these "Ultra violent" games we keep hearing about?

Combined with the use of the ambiguous term “Mature,” many parents are left with a false sense of how violent an M-rated game may be

Yeah, someone should put some kind of note on the rating that tells you what age it's suitable for...

"The important thing to ask, though, is why are there so many unattended children out there with at least $50-60 in their pockets? Who’s letting these kids run free out to the nearest WalMart so they can purchase these “Ultra violent” games we keep hearing about?"


I remember when I was a boy of 10 years old. On fridays I would jump in my camero and drive down to the strip club where I tended bar. After that I drove to the nearest K-mart to buy a new game, before picking up some Jack Daniels at the nearest State Store and heading home for a drunken gorefest.


The preceding has been complete sarcasm.

@ChrowX

"They say that 42 out of 100 kids can buy this game? Well, I don’t know or trust where they got those numbers"

The FTC did a study, and found that teens couldn't buy M rated games 58% of the time, a huge improvement over 36% it was a few years ago. But as BearDogg-X points out, if you take into account how many games are sold directly to minors with zero parental involvement, that 42% accounts for less than a percent of all games sold.
-- If your wiimote goes snicker-snack, check your wrist-strap...
 
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