New Challenges Ahead for ESRB

An article on The Escapist traces the origins of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) from an institution initially created in order to avoid government regulation to where it is today.

While noting that the ESRB has made huge advances in connecting with its primary clientele (parents) and has even won over The National Institute on Media and the Family (NIMF), the article begins to detail “unaddressed challenges” from today’s videogame market that “pose serious threats to the ESRB’s newfound relevance.”

Among these challenges is the ESRB’s current disinclination to rate online interactions (i.e. Online Interactions Not Rated by the ESRB):

The organization is missing out on a great opportunity to provide parents and children with a resource that enables informed choices beyond the enforced restriction of filters, a noble cause given that children play more online games than any other format.

A shift from brick and mortar retail outlets to digital distribution also poses “an immediate threat to ESRB compliance rates” says the piece’s author, Sara Grimes, who worries that this means that “the ESRB must rely on console manufacturers and mobile service providers to act as the system’s new wardens.”

In summation, Grimes writes that “it’s almost as if the Board is orchestrating its own obsolescence.” She continued:

It’s abstaining from involvement in significant game trends, failing to provide guidance where it is arguably needed most and handing over key governance responsibilities to certain members of the game industry while leaving others to fend for themselves.

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  1. sqlrob says:

    If you don’t want your kids to play online and some jerk comes up and yells f-bombs at them, then DON’T blame the ESRB.

    Blame the stupid idiot.


    Wow, you’re optimistic. Remember, someone sued Rockstar over GTA because she didn’t know about sex in the game. You know, the game that has "Strong Sexual Content" right on the rating?


  2. TBoneTony says:

    Then again, that is perhaps one reason why Nintendo has got strict measures on their games that have online abilities, but still I did make a level on Super Smash Brothers Brawl that I called, the Maturity stage.

    A Giant Stage with 4 letters…that should give you an idea…

    Of course I did not let other people play it…except for my friends who are over the age of 18.

  3. TBoneTony says:

    Simple rule for parents.

    If you don’t want your kids to play online and some jerk comes up and yells f-bombs at them, then DON’T blame the ESRB.

    Blame the stupid idiot.

    If you walk outside and experience F-Bombs, then it will be just like that online.

    And if you don’t want that for your kids, then DON’T PLAY ONLINE!!!!

    There are allot of games that are fun and enjoyable that are NOT online, so consumers always have that choice.


    Also it might help to teach your kids about proper manners when it comes to the online world, treating people in the online world as if you would treat them in the offline world, that will be a good start.


    Take a note from King Soloman, do onto others as you would do on yourself.


  4. gamegod25 says:

    Agreed, rating online interactions would be like rating sheets of paper, the people who made it have no contol over what someone might write or draw on it. On any open forum, game, etc. there will always be at least one douchebag spouting racist garbage. The developers can’t do anything about that and the ESRB have no way of knowing what will happen. That’s why they can’t rate it.

    As always no matter the ratings, restrictions, and controls put in place they don’t mean a thing if parents don’t take resposibility. If parents are "too busy" to make sure a game is suitible for their children then that family has bigger problems than violent games.

  5. Arell says:

    I think we’re all in agreement on this one.  Sara Grimes (the author of the article) obviously missed the point on "why" the ESRB doesn’t rate online interactions.  The fact being, you can’t control the actions or words of others, and therefore cannot predict the type of content that would occur.

    In my WoW guild, most of the time we interacted in what would probably be considered a "Teen" rating (we encouraged mature behavior in guildchat, which ironically made our discussions "safer" than a Mature rating).  But pretty much anywhere else, even in our own private chat, things were a lot more risque.  There’s no way Blizzard could police everything everyone typed (or spoke in voicechat).  It’s simply impossible.

    Automatic "M" for all online content?  HA!  Just to be accurately safe, you’d have to slap every game with any type of chat with an "AO."

  6. Stinking Kevin says:

    Wow. That was three pages of sound and fury signifying nothing. A lot of dubious complaints with no proposed solution.

    I’ve never seen an ESRB-rated game for sale digitally without its rating being prominently displayed. It’s just as easy to check content warnings online as it is in a brick and mortar store. All online purchases require a credit card, which requires an adult purchaser, which requires no content-rating based sales restrictions anyway. Of course, parents who allow their underage kids unsupervised online credit card use are far beyond the purview of the ESRB, or any other sort of retail regulation.

    As for online interactions (as others have noted here), it’s impossible to put a content rating on something someone might say in the future. It is also impossible to create a chat system that prevents people from expressing any ideas they please, and this includes expressions of ideas that some parents may find unsuitable for their underage children. You’d think a post-graduate communications student would know better.

    I’m still not sure I completely understand what the author is talking about, but it’s obvious to me that she doesn’t either.

  7. metroidprimegmr says:

    >implying that the ESRB can predict every possible use, event, or user exchange that could occur in a game’s online mode

    1239332955899.gif picture by metroidprimegmr

  8. Alyric says:

    I have always viewed "Online Interactions Not Rated by the ESRB" as a disclaimer noting that the ESRB cannot predict or control the behavior of other players in a multiplayer setting.

    So now, all the ESRB has to do is either:

    A) Hire psychics or prophets that can send you an e-mail with your personalized fortune when registering a game ("Uninstall this game now, Jim, YES YOU!"), or

    B) Create a future-viewing machine, resist the urge to move to a volcanic island and take over the world, and use it strictly FOR THE CHILDREN.

    The only ‘safe’ way to rate any game with online play would be MA or AO, and that would rather defeat the purpose of rating the game’s content.

    Pro-tip: labels can’t replace parenting, and any decent parent should monitor his or her kid’s online interactions.

  9. ZippyDSMlee says:

    You can;t rate online interactions untill you can censor spoken words.

    THen it should be rather easy to do.


    Untill then we need a T15 rateing level so Halo and such games game be palced into it and not be labled as mature.

    Until lobbying is a hanging offense I choose anarchy! Stop supporting big media and furthering the criminalization of consumers!!

  10. Adrian Lopez says:

    I’m assuming that any law requiring video games to receive a rating before they can be published would be struck down as unconstitutional (Google for "prior restraint" and "compelled speech"). I simply detest the fact that the videogame industry capitulated to the government in order to avoid unconstitutional legislation.

    Let parents decide for themselves whether specific content is suitable for their X-year-olds instead of relying on third parties such as the ESRB and MPAA to decide it for them. Parents who think that’s too much of a hassle should not be having children anyway.

  11. DraginHikari says:

    I’m afriad I don’t follow… how would the ESRB disappearing be anymore good now then it was then?   If the rating system was abolished what makes you so sure that it still would result in the same problem?

  12. Adrian Lopez says:

    "A shift from brick and mortar retail outlets to digital distribution also poses ‘an immediate threat to ESRB compliance rates’ … ‘it’s almost as if the Board is orchestrating its own obsolescence.’"

    I think the ESRB disappearing in the age of self-published digital downloads would actually be a good thing.

    The ESRB exists solely due to threats from the US Congress against the videogame industry: regulate or be regulated. Game publishers, wanting to see themselves as the masters even as they did the government’s bidding, chose to regulate themselves and gave the government exactly what it wanted: a ratings system with none of the pesky constitutional issues that would doubtless have surfaced if congress had followed through on its threat to regulate the industry.

  13. E. Zachary Knight says:

    After reading the article, the author appears to want the ESRB to do just as he says. Rate all player to player communications and player generated content.

    That is utter stupidity. Seriously. If you buy an M rated game and expect all player to player communications to be rated E, you are a moron. As a general rule of thumb for myself, all "online interactions" are expected to be at minimum equivolent to the rating on the game. Often times they are more than that.

    As for player generated content, my general rule of thumb is that player created content as a whole is rated AO. Take Spore for example.  A nice E rated game with all manner of AO rated player generated content.

    The author is a moron to expect the ESRB to do anything more than they already are for that.

    Her other beef is with digital distribution and how that has the potential to sidestep the rating process.

    Her only problem with that, is that the ESRB and compliency is voluntary. Nintendo could tomorrow say, "We will no longer require ESRB ratings for games released in the US." The ESRB would have no say in that matter. The Same could be said for retailers.

    Digital Distribution is the same. They have the choice of requiring ESRB ratings for games distributed through their service or not. It is their choice and the ESRB cannot say otherwise.

    E. Zachary Knight
    Oklahoma City Chapter of the ECA

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

  14. hellfire7885 says:

    If things were doen his way any game with an online mode would get slapepd with an AO every time. ALL OF THEM!!!.

  15. Andrew Eisen says:

    Right up front, I haven’t read the Escapist article yet.  That said, I have to wonder exactly how the author expects the ESRB to accurately rate online interactions.

    I also don’t see the shift to online distribution posing a threat to compliance rates.  As you need a credit card to purchase stuff online, you’re either an adult or acting with your parents’ permission.


    Andrew Eisen

  16. Zerodash says:

    99% of all games with "online interactions" would probably need to get slapped with an M rating- just to play it safe.  Even in games without voice/text communication, people could position online characters in compromising poses.  I’ve seen more "virtual" oral sex in WoW than I care to (kneeling naked character clipping in front of naked standing character). I’m sure someone can find a way to make Hello Kitty online inappropriate.

    However, making a rating and content descriptors for online games is about as complex as rating a trip to a shopping mall- you have no idea if in any given trip you are going to encounter cussing, lewdness, or half-nude prosti-tots.  Rating something so random and unpredictible is too complicated to be practical or useful.

    The best you can probably do is enact a further parental control that will lockout online elements of games (or simply unplug the internet from your kid’s consoles). 

  17. nightwng2000 says:

    The problem with rating online experiences isn’t in the rating of the games themselves.  It’s in trying to mesh the games with the other participants that you are exposed to.  The ESRB can’t anticipate that.

    Let’s face it, even if a particular game has built in filters, there are those who will find a way around them.  Even if the game is CandyLand Online, you can bet there’s some douchebag out there talking about their hot and wild weekend with their love toy.  :/

    The ESRB COULD be more specific about what they can and can’t rate.  But with twits like Leland Yee and others trying to run all the smoke screens they can to justify being allowed to dictate what is and what is not appropriate for other people and their children (by claiming that Parents are too incompetant to understand even the simpilest instructions, and so they should just let Yee and the other Tin-Pot-Dictator-Wannabes make the decision for them), the ESRB apparently doesn’t want to bother.


    NW2K Software

    Nightwng2000 is now admin to the group "Parents For Education, Not Legislation" on MySpace as

  18. doewnskitty says:

    I thought the main reason why the ESRB doesn’t rate online interactions is because it’s such a moving target.  It’s one thing to rate content that is static and will remain largely the same, quite another to rate something that is constantly changing.

    Granted, they could just go with John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory.  But that wouldn’t end well.

  19. Nessmk2 says:

    Yeah, I can’t see the ESRB being able to rate most games online content at less than an M, unless the game itself tries very hard to avoid it (ala Little Big Planet), and even then, people can find their way around such things at least momentarilly. All PC shooters that allow sprays would instantly be M-rated, as would just about any game with a Mic.

  20. Kajex says:

    … what

    So let me see if I have this straight- even though the article commends the ESRB for pointing out the content inherent in any given game, there’s a "problem" in the ESRB not rating online interactions?

    I could log onto Halo 3, ODST, Guild Wars, WoW, Battlefield 2 or any other number of games which might have online interaction, and there will be at least ONE person who will, not matter what, go out of his way to call other people "fags". Does the writer expect the ESRB to know how people are going to act in-game the moment a game is made available online? What do they want the ESRB to do, send out pamphlets telling parents that some douchebag in Deathmatch MIGHT call your kid a homo because he’s playing so well?

    "Online Interaction Rated-M for Mature: Chance that players may call you names, Chance that players might crouch and stand repeatedly to ‘hump’ your corpse, Chance that someone will stack two Scorpion Tanks on top of each other and pretend they’re having tank sex or some other demented fetish."


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