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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Matthew WilsonI cant say anything though I am stupid lucky. I have a 75/75 line01/29/2015 - 11:27pm
Matthew Wilsonthat isnt awful 1.2MBs, but yeah 100bucks a month is over priced to all hell. ps 8mbs=1MBs01/29/2015 - 11:24pm
ZippyDSMleehttp://www.speedtest.net/my-result/410086446201/29/2015 - 9:12pm
ZippyDSMleeMatthew Wilson Dunlap, TN, its the only game in town and they only started in 08 or so.01/29/2015 - 9:12pm
MechaCrashThe explanation for the misanthropy of the character in Hatred comes from "we want to be super edgy and get those controversy dollars."01/29/2015 - 8:34pm
Andrew EisenI'm interested in giving it a try. I think it has some cool ideas but I haven't been "feeling it" when watching continuous gameplay.01/29/2015 - 8:04pm
Matthew Wilsonif you dont know, the code name STEAM demo is out, and it it downloading very slowly. It might be more popular that I thought, or it could just be the eshop.01/29/2015 - 8:02pm
Goth_SkunkPlayer/Playable Character, yes. As opposed to the NPC.01/29/2015 - 7:36pm
Andrew EisenOh, Player Character! Heh, that one took me a few moments!01/29/2015 - 7:29pm
Goth_SkunkIt really bothers me that there is no explanation for the PC's misanthropy. Even the Saw movie series, despite the level of violence in them, had a premise that fascinated me. The only thing about Hatred that fascinates me is the controversy.01/29/2015 - 7:27pm
Goth_SkunkI can't think of a time a game has made me simultaneously want to both buy it and not buy it. On the one hand, I find the premise disturbing and repulsive. On the other hand, I find the controversy fascinating and want to play it just to say I did.01/29/2015 - 7:25pm
Andrew EisenTrailer for new Van Damme movie, Pound of Flesh. "They just stole the wrong man's kidney!" http://vimeo.com/11808880501/29/2015 - 7:24pm
Andrew EisenNew Hatred trailer. Destructible environments, vehicles, light buildings and people on fire! http://www.gametrailers.com/videos/7bzwzs/hatred-devastation-gameplay-trailer01/29/2015 - 7:12pm
Goth_Skunk@WonderKarp: And that's why I don't read or watch mainstream news.01/29/2015 - 5:06pm
Matthew Wilsonzip is it KB or kb? if its KB its MB, if its kb is mb. ether way where do you live that you are getting ripped off that badly?01/29/2015 - 4:41pm
ZippyDSMleeI has a whole 1MB(mb mabye, 1000KBPS) for a whole...100$ a month ;_;01/29/2015 - 4:24pm
WonderkarpFCC appears to be kicking ass today01/29/2015 - 4:11pm
WonderkarpI found this neat. Shows the different ways different websites tell the same story. Not VG Related, but its neat https://i.imgur.com/3m6xOfE.jpg01/29/2015 - 2:12pm
Matthew Wilsonnp I am still suprised that the fcc did it, but I still do not trust the chairman yet.01/29/2015 - 2:11pm
Andrew EisenYeah, what I mean is I'm fortunate enough to live in an area where I have the option of up to 50Mbps if I want to pay for it. Meant that as an anecdote; didn't mean it to come across as a "you're wrong!" Sorry 'bout that!01/29/2015 - 2:06pm
 

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