Think Tank Issues Study on Video Game Ratings

December 11, 2007 -
The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Washington, D.C. think tank with a free market orientation, has issued a detailed position paper on media content ratings, including those of the ESRB.

Authored by Cord Blomquist and Eli Lehrer, Politically Determined Ratings and How to Avoid Them holds that the ESRB system, while complex, works better than most other rating schemes for media content. Ratings systems alone, however, cannot, over the long haul, influence the type of content produced.

From the report:
The best rating systems have three attributes: They attempt to describe, rather than prescribe, what entertainment media should contain; they are particularly suited to their particular media forms; and they were created with little or no direct input from government.

The [ESRB] system for evaluating computer games works better than most... Parents can tell, at a glance, exactly what they might find objectionable... Congress has held hearings on the video game industry and threatened to regulate content, but the system emerged almost entirely as a result of voluntary private action, and has worked well...

Blomquist and Lehrer, who offer a very readable history of the evolution of content rating systems, contrast the effect of the ESRB to radio, which is government-regulated:
In the radio market, the [FCC]  imposes vague but sweeping content guidelines... The threat of FCC-imposed fines has done nothing to give parents greater control over their children’s radio listening habits — they have virtually no way to protect their children from adult material like explicitly sexual “shock jocks” and violent hip-hop lyrics. Heavy regulation and the absence of a private ratings system have made radio worse for parenting.

The authors look at the severe restrictions imposed on comic books in the 1950's:
Comic books publishers long subjected themselves to an industry “code” that specified exactly what they could and could not publish. While officially a voluntary industry standard, the comics code came into existence following a series of hearings that made it clear that Congress would impose a code if the industry did not write one.

The resulting code became so incredibly specific that it once forbade comics from featuring werewolves, vampires, and zombies. The Comics Code collapsed during the 1990s...

Radio content regulation and the Comics Code fail because they provide very little information — none at all in the case of radio — and attempt to set particular limits over media that, by their very nature, should facilitate a wide range of different types of experiences for a wide range of different types of audiences. Neither takes the nature of the medium into account.

The authors also conclude that politics and media content ratings are a bad mix:
The best ratings systems have evolved in response to market forces. The First Amendment, correctly we believe, has long been interpreted to limit political control over entertainment media, anyway. Ratings systems that avoid government involvement will do a better job giving people the information they need.

GP: Blomquist and Lehrer have provided a well-reasoned look at rating systems. Our only concern is one of objectivity. Despite inquiries, we've been unable to determine whether any video game industry interests fund CEI. The organization has come under severe criticism in the past for its infamous anti-global warming campaign: Carbon Dioxide - They call it pollution; We call it life.

Full report available here (30-page pdf)

Comments

[...] The history of each of these forms of media is interesting and worth reading about, so far I’ve received a lot of great feedback. GamePolitics.com called the paper, “a well-reasoned look at rating systems.” The Your Family Games blog said “I encourage you to pick it up…a really interesting read.” [...]
 
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E. Zachary KnightGoth, they could have fooled me.03/05/2015 - 11:16pm
Goth_SkunkI don't understand. GamerGate supports an open, diverse gaming community for all as well. Google's statement is contradictory.03/05/2015 - 10:59pm
TechnogeekAnd as far as the Card thing went, I basically balanced it out personal guilt-wise by donating an amount equal to the Shadow Complex purchase price to the ACLU.03/05/2015 - 9:44pm
TechnogeekWelp, look like the Gerberghazi crowd is going to have to use Bing now. https://twitter.com/googlecloud/status/57365320825126093003/05/2015 - 9:42pm
Goth_SkunkAhh! I misinterpreted your statement about being left with almost every game in existence. I interpreted it as 'If you boycott games he's been involved with, you're boycotting almost all of them.'03/05/2015 - 9:31pm
Andrew EisenGoth - Card has been involved with only a small handful of games so if one were to boycott games for his involvement, they wouldn't be missing out on many games.03/05/2015 - 9:29pm
Goth_Skunk@Craig: Only if you're not interested in seeing it end.03/05/2015 - 9:27pm
Craig R.Instead of calling people the "anti gamergate faction", you could just call them "sane"03/05/2015 - 9:23pm
Goth_SkunkWhat do you mean 'almost every game in existence'? Card is a writer, not a game developer.03/05/2015 - 9:18pm
Andrew EisenBut I too wonder how many people who cry boycott actually follow through. I vaguely remember a few years ago a bunch of people boycotting one of the CoD games and were all found playing it on Steam.03/05/2015 - 7:53pm
Andrew EisenAn interesting quandary but not equivalent as boycotting games that Card was involved with leaves you with... well, almost every game in existence.03/05/2015 - 7:51pm
MechaTama31I agree that it's silly to avoid buying a game because one person involved with it said some things you disagree with. But I wonder how many of the people calling it silly this time have boycotted games for, say, Orson Scott Card's involvement?03/05/2015 - 7:40pm
PHX Corphttp://www.myfoxphilly.com/story/28274296/officer-injured Officer In Critical Condition Following Shooting Inside North Phila Game Stop03/05/2015 - 6:55pm
WonderkarpThe Shutup was a quick interjection saying "HEY! EVERYBODY SHUT UP AND LOOK AT THIS!" and I got the Critical Condition from a Local news site. I linked TMZ.03/05/2015 - 6:49pm
Andrew EisenThey call me The Jaws of Life.03/05/2015 - 6:48pm
Goth_SkunkThat's terrible. Now that it's been noted, can we return to Andrew's amazing steel-tearing teeth?03/05/2015 - 6:42pm
Andrew EisenWell, sucks that that happened and I'm glad he's alright (nothing in the article you linked says he's in critical condition) but there's no need for anyone to shut up.03/05/2015 - 6:41pm
WonderkarpEVERYBODY SHUT UP! Harrison Ford is in Critical Condition After A Plane Crash!! D: http://www.tmz.com/2015/03/05/harrison-ford-plane-crash-landing-golf-course-santa-monica/03/05/2015 - 6:38pm
Goth_SkunkIt ruined my joke about your billionaire lifestyle affording you state-of-the-art dentistry. I longed to see you fill your mouth with steel-tearing jaws.03/05/2015 - 6:32pm
Andrew EisenYep, typos happen. Even on the invoices I send for my freelance work. Yeah, that's always super embarrassing.03/05/2015 - 6:29pm
 

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