Happy Birthday ESRB: Game Biz Unveiled Rating System to Congress 15 Years Ago

It was 15 years ago today that the video game industry introduced the ESRB rating system to Congress, reports Wired’s This Day in Tech blog.

The move came in the wake of Congressional criticism of game violence, particularly the original Mortal Kombat, which seems laughably tame by today’s standards. Wired’s Chris Kohler writes:

The [Congressional] hearings were largely a response to the popularity of… Mortal Kombat…

Nintendo chairman Howard Lincoln and Sega vice president Bill White took potshots at each other during the hearing. Lincoln said that the Sega CD game Night Trap, another photorealistic, occasionally violent game that the company had rated MA-17, “simply has no place in our society” and testified that “small children” had bought it.

Meanwhile, White’s position was that Sega was more responsible than Nintendo, because his company had [its own] rating system in place…  [Connecticut Sen. Joe] Lieberman would later express his shock that the two executives went after each other with such ferocity.

Lieberman’s threat to regulate game content via legislation persuaded the game biz to get its act together. The IDSA (now known as the ESA) was formed and quickly set up the ESRB, which went into operation on September 1st, 1994.

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  1. 0
    JDKJ says:

    The worst offenders when it comes to willingly bending over are broadcast radio and television. I suspect it has something to with the fact that they need their FCC licenses in order to keep on broadcasting. 

  2. 0
    Adrian Lopez says:

    "Lieberman’s threat to regulate game content via legislation persuaded the game biz to get its act together."

    If by "get its act together" you mean "do exactly what the government wanted them to do while getting to pretend it was all voluntary", then yeah… the industry got its act together. The music industry, too, was once similarly threatened, and so with the movie industry, and the comic book industry. They all caved to pressure from congress. It’s regulation through intimidation.

    I wonder what’s the point of having constitutionally protected speech when the industries that produce such speech will bend over backwards at any threat of regulation.

    I wish more industries had the backbone to tell congress to fuck off just like webmasters did back when congress tried to regulate internet content (Communications Decency Act).

  3. 0
    Erik says:

    So part of the ESRB’s creation was due to complete falsehoods about Night Trap perpretraded by completely ignorant politicians?

    Yeah, yet another reason why the ESRB needs to crawl away and die.

    -Ultimately what will do in mankind is a person’s fear of their own freedom-

  4. 0
    Andrew Eisen says:

    Those who condemned Night Trap for its violence would have been completely humiliated had they ever bothered to take a look at it.


    Andrew Eisen

  5. 0
    nighstalker160 says:

    We need to get a gamer into the Senate and just have him start a filibuster in which he brings in a giant screen and a PS3 and just plays games in front of the Senate and talks them through them.

  6. 0
    JDKJ says:

    I assume that this was when the infamous "promise to Congress" which forever contractually bound the manufacturers and the ESRB to an entirely voluntary rating system was made.


  7. 0
    Dan says:

    IIRC, Lieberman testified that the goal of Night Trap was to trap the women in the game and mutilate them, wich is complete BS.

    The goal was to prevent that.

    An all too typical case of politicians failing to do any homework and talking out of their butts on topics they are completely ignorant of.

    —— Ago. Perceptum. Teneo.

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