From squidi.net, Three Hundred Mechanics:
June 25th, 2007 - ESRB
The ESRB has been SERIOUSLY pissing me off recently. I thought the MPAA was horrible, but those guys are pornographers based on the standards ESRB uses to rate videogames.
First of all, there's that whole deal with Manhunt 2. Since no retailers will carry an Ao (Adults Only) rated game, and no game console manufacturers will allow Ao games on their systems, the ESRB has de facto censorship control over many games. They rate Manhunt 2 as Ao and it CAN NOT be released. That's too much power for any organization to have, period. And why have an Ao rating if it is the definition that retailers use to no carry a game. I thought the purpose of ratings was a guideline for consumers to accurate select games that are appropriate for them, not to deliver a black mark of censorship on any product the ESRB wishes.
The fact that the ESRB is run by ESA (Entertainment Software Association, which is like a union of top shelf publishers who look after their own interests) makes the ESRB biased against smaller developers. The Godfather might get an M rating because it is by EA, while some small game from a company that can barely afford an ESRB rating in the first place might get an Ao for the same content. That's how the MPAA works with movies, and I see no reason why this won't be the case for the ESRB. But that hasn't really been a problem just yet. I'm just pointing out that as the ESRB becomes more tight assed, the people who are going to be hurt the most are the small independent developers.
I mentioned tight assed, right? How about control freaks too? The newest bunch of bullshit coming out of left field is that now the ESRB wants control over ratings AND distribution of internet trailers! Even the MPAA doesn't go that far. They want to rate trailers (which will cost money to the publishers, of course) and any trailer for a game rated Mature or Adults Only must be behind an "age gate" (those things where they ask your birthday).
The second problem is that they said that trailers for M or Ao games must be behind age gates. Not that the trailers are M or Ao, but that the games are. That's like saying you have to be 18 to see a trailer for an R-rated movie. Forget for a moment that they are trying to police the internet, and the consequences of not living up to their retarded conditions could be devestating to small publishers, how about the simple fact that they are controlling trailers based on what they are advertising, and not the content in the trailer itself? Isn't that just... well, I want to say retarded, but that word seems to give them too much credit.
Also in that little posting is the note that the trailers for the game Dark Sector were so offensive that the ESRB wouldn't even let them be posted behind age gates. That's right. They don't just have the ability to control which games get released, but also which TRAILERS do! The trailers are still available from gametrailers.com. I wonder if they took offense to the trailer where they hit various vegetables with hammers to get that perfect head splitting sound effect?
Their goal of cleansing the videogame world of every nasty thought for the sake of our children is an admirable goal, but children aren't the only people who play videogames. Having the ability to outright ban videogames and even videogame trailers is just too much power, and the conservative context of the upcoming presidential election (in which videogame violence will no doubt play a part), we'll be seeing more and more control enforced at the whims of the ESRB. I have a major problem with that, and not just because I wanted to play Manhunt 2.
Every time a new medium comes out - EVERY TIME A NEW MEDIUM COMES OUT - there is a witch hunt against it. Radio had it, television had it, movies had it, books, rock and roll, dungeons and dragons, and now videogames. In most of these cases, the witch hunt destroys a few careers and then moves on. In the more major mediums, out right censorship takes place. With the radio and broadcast television, the FCC is psychotic - but both have private alternatives like Serius Radio or HBO. With the movies, the MPAA is psychotic, but when the movies get released to DVD these days, it's the unrated director's cut.
But what alternatives do videogames have? An ESRB rating is not only required by many large retailers (who, I should point out, have no problem selling the unrated director's cut of Hostel), but going unrated essentially guarantees that you can't sell your game at all. States are trying to pass laws which put M-rated (not even Ao-rated) games in back rooms that you need an id to get into, putting it on the same level as porn. The ESRB is now rating trailers. To make matters even worse, they seem to have the power to revoke ratings at any time. Obviously, there's the Hot Coffee thing with GTA:SA, but they also rerated Oblivion based on the fact that hackers could remove female tops, and the boobs had NIPPLES! But they didn't just rerate the PC version of Oblivion. The rerated the Xbox 360 version, which you couldn't access nipples on. In both cases, the rerating costed the publishers millions as they had to recall and relabel all the games. If absolute control over distribution of products isn't enough, how about the ability to arbitrarily rerate games and put the bill of doing so on the publisher?
The ESRB was originally promoted as a healthy, happier version of the MPAA. But the truth is far worse. They are as corrupt as the MPAA ever was, but with far more power and control than the MPAA has had since the days of the Hayes Code. Videogames are on precipice of artistic integrity. Before them is a deep canyon, but beyond that, the ability share meaning and value. Beyond that endless chasm is a ledge where videogames will find their value. The ESRB isn't helping videogames reach that ledge. They are widening the canyon, moving that ledge ever further out of sight.
I am not defending violent games. I just happen to think that there can be found value in any idea, even violence. Violence can send messages. Satirical messages, as used in Robocop. Realistic messages, demonstrated by things like Platoon or Saving Private Ryan. Intense messages, like Hostel or Straw Dogs. Comical messages, like Monty Python. Violence is not just one thing. It's a whole bunch of things - a whole bunch of meanings. No, they aren't all equal, but they all have value to a person adult enough to see it. You can't just put a ban on all sex and violence because not all sex and violence is dirty. It's not all unclean. You can't paint with such broad strokes like that. And if videogames are going to become more than what they are today, they need to be able to figure out what violence means to that medium as well. Videogames can have satirical violence, realistic, intense, and comical violence too. And until we learn as a society why those things ARE indeed valuable, then we shouldn't stand in the fucking way while we try to figure it out.
That's what this is all about. Somebody thinks something bad is going to happen. But it hasn't happened yet. It probably won't. And rather than having the balls to let our freedoms defend themselves, they force us to defend our freedoms before we are allowed to have them. I say, we release Manhunt 2, and then when the sky doesn't fall, people will either have to move on or shut the hell up. The world doesn't need something like the ESRB. The world needs the games the ESRB is censoring.