ESRB, GameStop See No Loophole in Animal Crossing Racial Slur Incident

Last week GamePolitics reported on a bizarre incident in which more than a dozen prominent game journalists were sent Animal Crossing: Wild World Nintendo DS cartridges which contained a racial slur.

MTV Multiplayer’s Stephen Totilo, who broke the story, reports that he subsequently queried used game seller GameStop and the ESRB as to whether the Animal Crossing incident exposes a flaw in the system whereby embedded user-generated content might exceed the content rating.

Both GameStop and the ESRB view the Animal Crossing episode as an anomaly and deny a larger problem. MTV’s Totilo writes:

ESRB spokesperson Eliot Mizrachi, told me… “Just as with online-enabled games that allow features like chat, ESRB ratings cannot anticipate and therefore consider user-generated content in the ratings we assign,” he wrote. “Besides, as you mentioned, saving content to the actual game medium is pretty uncommon in today’s games. Most games are read-only with the saved content being stored on the system and not on the game medium itself.”…

The ESRB may not have much reason to worry that questionable content will make it to consumers because gaming chain GameStop claims to be scrubbing the content from re-sold games. Chris Olivera, spokesman for GameStop, told me in a phone interview that his company has a “proprietary” process that wipes consoles and games clean before they are sold back to consumers…

GP: GameStop and the ESRB make a good case here. It’s important to remember that the offending DS cart was not purchased through retail channels, but rather was mailed out by Nintendo’s own PR department.

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25 comments

  1. 0
    Corey says:

    Changing catchphrases has been around since the original Animal Crossing. I remember changing one of my town resident’s catchphrase to bitch. It was great, he would greet me and say things like " hey, long time no see bitch," or "it’s a lovely day isn’t it bitch?" Good times… Anyway, I guess the problem is that the DS game saves directly to the cartridge, so if you sell your game to someone else without erasing the memory they may just get offended by having town residents call them bitch or some other bad name. Of course similar actions can be taken in other games, like naming your character in Zelda PH fagballs.   

  2. 0
    Doomsong says:

    Though it seems very convienient… it looks as though most people are forgetting that kids learned foul language in a time before video games. I learned it on the school bus… maybe we should see about banning those too.

    "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety" – Benjamin Franklin

  3. 0
    Stinking Kevin says:

    What M-rated content in the Sims does your uncensor cheat reveal? When I use it, I see Barbie-doll anatomy (or perhaps more accurately, lack thereof). My seven-year-old niece plays with Barbie dolls.

    Maybe T2 got screwed by Hot Coffee, but T2 should not have tried to lie their way out of it from the start. In any case, the only reason Hot Coffee matters now is the precedent it set: If it’s on the disc it’s up for rating and EULAs don’t have anything to do with it.

    Good point about teh Sea Reapers in Citizen Kabuto.

  4. 0
    sheppy says:

    I don’t know.  I still side with T2 over Hot Coffee.  Yes, the content was in there and on the disc.  Lots of companies, when cutting content, often just cut the connection to the content rather than remove it altogether.  After all, you never know what will introduce bugs and what won’t.  So T2 took the very common route and simply removed the code which linked to the events.  Problem solved, right?

    Unless, of course, someone violates the EULA and backwards engineers the missing code.  Which is exactly what happened.  While it’s true the content was provided by T2, in order to access it, you had to break an agreement you clicked "yes" to in order to do so.  What was on the disc is irrelevant if you have to hack your copy to access it.  ESRBs behavior in that particular case holds developers responsible for what hacks can and cannot do (read: Oblivion rerating).  Which begs the ultimate question, if the uncensor hack for Sims actually should change that rating?  Likewise I could remove one texture in my Citizen Kabuto copy and make the lead topless and bammo, that would have gotten the game AO from the time it was released.

    Wall of Text Simulation- Insert coin to continue.

  5. 0
    E. Zachary Knight says:

    You still had to hack your console and download and install the mod in order to access it.

    @Inimical

    The difference is that the Hot Coffee animations and game were physically on the retail disk. This user generated content is not physically on the retail disk. The ESRB rates all content on the retail version of the game now whether it is accessible or not out of the box.

    That is the difference.

    E. Zachary Knight
    Oklahoma City Chapter of the ECA
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  6. 0
    Inimical says:

    It is T2s fault but it’s still the community to created the mod to exploit it. To my knowledge this game allows you to put names into the game and while it came form the PR department, it mean that you can add your own content to it. Whether or not you add offensive content is your prerogative, just like adding the Hot Coffee mod.

    I get that T2 put the Hot Coffee content in and so that would warrant backlash, but to rate the game AO when you need to exploit the content yourself is not far from this situation. It’s rated E but anyone can easily turn it into something offensive so by the previous logic the ESRB used, shouldn’t that warrant a higher rating?

    They were rating game content with Hot Coffee but they still rated something based on what the community did with it.

  7. 0
    Kincyr says:

    somewhat poor analogy, chances are the razor would have a generic warning about mixing water with electricity.

    岩「…Where do masochists go when they die?」

  8. 0
    E. Zachary Knight says:

    Yes but regex based word filters don’t work well enough to be used in such a scenario. There are too many ways around them and too many ways to get a false positive. Do I regex out Dick when used as a name?

    E. Zachary Knight
    Oklahoma City Chapter of the ECA
    MySpace Page: http://www.myspace.com/okceca
    Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1325674091


    E. Zachary Knight
    Divine Knight Gaming
    Oklahoma Game Development
    Rusty Outlook
    Random Tower
    My Patreon

  9. 0
    hayabusa75 says:

    The ratings don’t cause the controversy, the content does.  The ESRB didn’t look at the word, "nigga", and decide, "Oh, that’s okay for everybody! E it is!"  As for your statement regarding the designer’s original vision, I’m pretty sure the makers of Animal Crossing didn’t have racial slurs in mind when they were going for that "E" rating.  Finally, it already IS the parent’s fault if they buy a game without researching it.  The ESRB can’t be expected to anticipate user-generated content, as Mizrachi said.

    I swear, no offense, but do you even read the articles before you post?  Or the articles that GP links to?  It’s a good strategy to avoid sounding silly.

    "There is no sin except stupidity." – Oscar Wilde

  10. 0
    VideolandHero says:

    This is why we don’t need game ratings.  All they do is cause controversy and hold games back from being presented how the designers want them to be presented.  And if the parents don’t like the game they bought it will be their fault for not researching the game before buying it, not the game industry.

    — Official Protector of Videoland!

  11. 0
    maneater says:

    I am a signature virus, please copy and paste me into your signature to help me propagate

    oh man I wonder what will happen when a little 8 year old comes to his mother and says "mommy whats this word mean?" Thank you nintendo ,child friendly my ass.

  12. 0
    sheppy says:

    And despite that quote, there are still people who somehow believe all 14 copies sent from Nintendo magically stumbled across the same user generated content on WiFi….

    Wall of Text Simulation- Insert coin to continue.

  13. 0
    zel says:

    "was not purchased through retail channels, but rather was mailed out by Nintendo’s own PR department."

    Ya, i bet someones kid that works for nintendo’s pr department is grounded for like, a year right now :)

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  14. 0
    Derovius says:

     The Hot Coffee content is T2’s fault, not the community who created the mod to open it to the user. The logic, as I see it, is that the material existed regardless of the mod, and was only brought to light by said mod. An analogy would be if you owned an electric razor that blew up if you dropped it in water while running. Its the company who made the razors responsibility to protect John Q. Public from exploding razors.

  15. 0
    Inimical says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but was Hot Coffee technically user-generated? It was embedded in the original code but it was users who found it and exploited it. It’s sort of the same situation here. There was an ability to put racial slurs and other bad language into the game due to gameplay elements and someone just exploited it.

  16. 0
    zel says:

    Rates as in, age rating or rating as in how bad is sucks? 😛

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  17. 0
    Derovius says:

     How can they possibly hope to rate user content? A game with open ended interfaces can swing from E for everyone to AO for pixelated breasts. No matter what they rate it, they are going to do it and the consumer a disservice.

     What they need is a new rating: User Driven Content -> U

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