Citing a recent study that was published in Pediatrics magazine, Douglas Gentile from the Media Research Lab at Iowa State University said that parents want a universal ratings system for all types of media, but would be better off if they didn’t have age descriptors. Besides the fact that a universal system just won't work (different media has different descriptors that are likely not interchangeable - sort of like having universal descriptors for tobacco, drugs, and alcohol) ratings without age categories would be wildly unorganized and even more confusing.
"Regardless of what age raters set for a movie or video game, most parents will inevitably disagree," Gentile said. "With a content-based system, everyone can judge for themselves based on their own values whether a movie or video game is appropriate."
By removing age ratings, Gentile says that the ratings system would use even more descriptors to describe content - and then it would be divided up further with specific acts, actions or depictions. For example, descriptors for sex might be divided up in various categories including romantic kissing, affection without sex, open mouths or tongue contact, partial nudity, nudity from behind, etc. Just imagine the back cover of your game case if Gentile had his way.
"Parents say they really want ratings, but they don’t really use them that much because they aren’t accurate,” Gentile continues. "The reason it matters so much is because research indicates when parents do use ratings, it’s good for kids. They get into fewer fights, have better grades in school. So, the better the ratings are the more power we’ve given to parents. And 'digital convergence' — the ability to consume the same media on a variety of devices nowadays — means now is the time to develop a rating system that is universal."
Gentile doesn't say how content creators might condense these descriptor-focused ratings without some kind of age appropriate system. Imagine trying to condense all this information on the back of a DVD or videogame case; it would become a wall of text. If parents can't handle navigating the simplistic system of the ESRB, how are they expected to get through the "wall of text" this new method being proposed would create? The ESRB ratings aren't all that complicated and are very accurate, despite what Gentile says.
Instead of trying to create a dumbed down universal ratings catch-all for all content types, Gentile and others that advocate a universal ratings system should offer some advice to the ESA and other ratings boards about ways in which ratings can be approved. None of the ratings systems are perfect, after all.
You can read a detailed report on Gentile's ideas here.