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Thursday, May 04, 2006

The ESRB's Line In The Sand

Let's once again consider why the ESRB just upped Oblivion's rating from Teen (13+) to Mature (17+):

The content causing the ESRB to change the rating involves more detailed depictions of blood and gore than were considered in the original rating, as well as the presence of a locked-out art file or “skin” that, if accessed through a third party modification to the PC version of the game, allows the user to play with topless versions of female characters.

That long rambling sentence is proof as to why the ESRB is going crazy in the light of political pressure and inane moral crusaders. First, it admits that the ESRB cannot guarantee the accuracy of their consideration. If the version they are viewing for consideration can be so fundamentally different than the one published, what's the point? Remember, the ESRB doesn't actually play the games they rate. Publishers/developers are required to submit videos indicative of the content.

Second, they are holding a line in the sand which will be impossible to keep drawn. They can continue to say they aren't reviewing modified material and that this, like Hot Coffee, is merely a byproduct of the developer not acknowledging art files never intended for gameplay. Once again, though, I repeat ... that's irrelevant to the ESRB's publically stated goal. If their reason for existence is to inform consumers about the kind of content included within a game ... why should the consumer be concerned with the difference between modified code using new art and modified code using existing art. Is there any difference at all to the consumer?

Of course not. With Hot Coffee, however, the ESRB capitulated to this line in the sand to show that yes, they could be tough on Rockstar. In doing so, they've invited a very dangerous response. If the same political showboaters wanted to make a point about naked skins in Unreal Tournament then the ESRB is going to find that a very difficult argument to keep.

Sure, everyone loves to hate Rockstar. Few in the industry shed a tear watching them get kicked. Since then, though, we had Indigo Prophecy edited for content and supposedly Bethesda is rethinking their mod strategies for future. Maybe now some in the industry will realize that hating Rockstar isn't a good enough to reason to give up this kind of fight.

And now what? Virtually any PC game on the market can be turned to porn in the right hands. And let's be honest and rational here ... so freaking what? You bought the game. It's on your computer. Go download what you like. Just don't go whining that you're amazed nipples somehow magically found their way on your computer.

As for parents ... listen up: If you don't realize that you child can use the Internet to download a file to add porn to their games, you shouldn't be letting your kid on the Internet. You shouldn't need the ESRB to even warn you that "modified game code might cause adult content". Because if they can do that ... they can download something else to get porn a lot easier. Namely ... porn itself.

I mean ... thank god the ESRB is now going to step up to the plate and warn parents that Little Timmy might have been able to download a patch to see topless elves in Oblivion. Now Little Timmy won't have any distractions from googling up hot cheerleader on cheerleading action. Once again, the children are safe.

The ESRB needs to focus on their actual job - reviewing and rating content intended for gameplay. They clearly need a better system to monitor whether the blood and guts shown on a preview video matches what goes gold with the game. Modified content? It's out of the scope of the ESRB's abilities and responsibilities.

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