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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Andrew EisenTrue, but I liked the fact that rather than do a crappy looking version of the PS3/360 version, it went with an art style more suited to the Wii's strengths.11/23/2014 - 12:26am
Wonderkarpif I had the money, I'd buy one of those expensive proton pack replicas11/22/2014 - 11:25pm
Wonderkarpthats the wii version though. the PS3/360 version is far superior.11/22/2014 - 11:19pm
Andrew EisenOdd that there was no hose connecting the thrower to the backpack. Was there just no more horsepower left in the Wii to animate it? And did seriously no one on the dev or QA team notice the Ghostbusters patch on the player's sleeve was backwards?11/22/2014 - 11:17pm
Andrew EisenI played it one the Wii and rather liked it.11/22/2014 - 11:15pm
Neo_DrKefkaGhostbusters on the PS3 and Xbox is Ghostbusters III for me. It was a short but wonderful experience.11/22/2014 - 11:13pm
Andrew EisenGhostbusters is my number one but the other films in my top 5 are Blues Brothers, Nightmare Before Christmas, Little Shop of Horrors (the Frank Oz one) and Jaws.11/22/2014 - 11:05pm
Wonderkarpso interesting info about that blocklist I'm on https://pbs.twimg.com/media/B3GOLniCUAAnHbP.png11/22/2014 - 10:54pm
Wonderkarpspeaking of game swag, went to a GTAV midnight release at a gamestop. I was getting WWE2k15. First in line so I got 2 free posters and a free Los Santos Sherrif hat that doesnt fit my head. Still sits proudly on a shelf11/22/2014 - 10:34pm
Wonderkarpno pics though cause I'm going to be moving soon hopefully so I'm not too keen on working on it, other than buying some stuff.11/22/2014 - 10:33pm
WonderkarpGhostbusters, Alien, and Aliens make up my top 3 favorite films. Its not a Coincidence that Sigourney Weaver is my favorite Actress11/22/2014 - 10:31pm
Andrew EisenIf you do build a game room you're proud of, do post pics.11/22/2014 - 10:31pm
Andrew EisenGhostbusters! My favorite movie.11/22/2014 - 10:21pm
Wonderkarpthough not strictly games. I have Lightsabers mounted on the wall, and on a shelf you'll see the Infinity Gauntlet, the Ocarina of Time, a Sith Holocron, and some of my Ghostbusters Props11/22/2014 - 8:57pm
Wonderkarpswag of all kinds, Andrew. I'm trying to build a game room as impressive as AVGNs nerd room. I'm also trying to build a coffee table/storage space shaped like a NES Controller11/22/2014 - 8:55pm
E. Zachary KnightI need new controllers for my Gamecube. Its not everyday you can get brand new 1st party controllers.11/22/2014 - 8:51pm
Andrew EisenPredominately figurines or swag of all kinds?11/22/2014 - 8:37pm
WonderkarpI would like a new gamecube controller....but I also just like gaming swag....11/22/2014 - 8:32pm
Andrew EisenI'm just waiting to buy a new Gamecube controller for my Gamecube.11/22/2014 - 7:15pm
Wonderkarphttp://kotaku.com/smash-bros-gamecube-adapters-sold-out-online-prices-g-1662162871 Smash Bros Gamecube adapter sold out, online prices go nuts11/22/2014 - 6:50pm
 

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