This came up this afternoon while I was shopping at a local used bookstore. I encountered a woman talking loudly on a cell phone about whether the games she held in her hand were appropriate for her child. After she got off the phone, I carefully offered to help, if I could.
She showed me two games, both for the Xbox: Rainbow Six 3 and Unreal Championship. Then she flipped them over and pointed out that Unreal Championship is rated Mature and Rainbow Six 3 is rated Mature 17+ yet both say "Blood and Gore, Violence" below the rating. Click the image on the right to see the ratings as they appear on front of each game.
So, there's the question: What is the difference between a Mature and a Mature 17+ rating?
I didn't know. Do you?
The answer is that in mid-2003 the ESRB announced a refinement of their rating system. For more information, there is a handy PDF explaining the differences, one of which is the switch from Mature to Mature 17+.
That is, Mature and Mature 17+ are essentially the same, from a consumer's point of view. I didn't know this before, but I do now.
Back to the lady in the bookstore, I did explain that the blood and gore would mean seeing humans killed, with blood splatters and explosions that would reduce bodies to bloody pieces. I asked if the kid would be playing online, and when the answer was "Yes" I explained that the child could hear others talking online and that the game wouldn't be able to filter that. The woman said that these games looked mostly like what her son was already playing, and that she just wanted to know what the 17+ meant, since her son was only 14.
I told her about the ESRB website where she could look up the ratings and explanations, if she were interested. She shrugged and said she might.
As we parted I said "I hope you enjoy the games." She replied, "Well, they're not for me, after all."
Click on the video game tab to get the relevant reviews. ;)
This is a much better way of helping consumers make informed decisions. Like SCREENIT for the movie industry, the Family Media Guide provides information on the actual content that is in the game. Consumers can then choose whether or not they are offended by that and at what "age" they think it is appropriate to be played.
If you compare say, Halo 2 and GTA:SA, you will get ratings that are much more useful than the ESRB M and M+.
This why Hillary's comment about ratings being "alphabet soup" is so horribly misguided. Politicians think that there must be something wrong with the ratings system, and that they need to scrap it and make their own.
Meanwhile, the ESRB has clearly made the move from M to M17+ in order to make things clearer. Even that minor change is clealy causing some confusion, and yet instroducing a whole new system is supposed to make everything clearer? By that logic you could keep doing that indefinitely, changing systems every few years before people have a chance to learn them.
Changing the rating system now would probably be a bad idea. Sure, I didn't know that there was no difference between M from M17+, but I did at least understand that both meant the game was not for a young child. What "young child" or even "child" means depends on the family. I'm not interested in criminalizing decisions that should be made by individual families.
I'd like to know if there were ever any confusion over what G, PG, and R meant. Did the addition of PG-13 cause any serious confusion among parents?
Just for clarification of my comments, I'm am not advocating for a change of systems. Rather, I just think that the ESRB system is arbitrary, inadequate in its review, and thus provides very little value to the consumer. (Anything that uses age as a cut off point is by definition arbitrary - including the age for drinking, smoking, driving, and voting.)
The things that offend me, may not offend others and vice versa. That is why it is useful to have a place to go that explictly lists examples of content in which a majority of people may find offense.
Sure, keep the ESRB rating for sheeple, but for those who want to know specifics about their game before they buy it, point them to something like the familymediaguide.
I haven't looked at the movie ratings for years now. When I rent a movie, or take my sons to a show, if I have any concerns abouty the content, I just check out the review at screenit.com and then I can make a very informed decision as to whether or not I want to open that part of the world up to them.
I have not had any confusion as to the meaning of G, PG, PG-13, and R - they simply hold no relevance for me (other than the price and availability of tickets). That is someone else's judgement of content, not mine.
"I asked if the kid would be playing online, and when the answer was "Yes" I explained that the child could hear others talking online and that the game wouldn't be able to filter that."
Is that part of the M 17+ rating?
Is that part of the M 17+ rating?
I think that the "Game experience may change online" warning covers that. Not sure when that was added, but I didn't get the impression that this was a change specifically in the M 17+ category.
I think they've just decided to punt when it comes to online games. Basically they say "game changes when online" and hope no one sues them because of the EULA.
As an example, the new Mario Kart DS is rated E and has online play. JohnH has told me of encountering other users with online handles that would clearly earn any offline game an AO rating.
In Unreal Chamionship, all are competitors whom have "assumed the risks of the sport". (Also in UC2 they have a respawn fiction that says the victim is saved and respawned elsewhere at the moment of death.)
I think in the Rainbow 6 game, innocents can die. The environment is more believeable and the effects of weapons are more realistic. The words "murder simulator" fit the game better than UC2. Theres your +