Monday, October 02, 2006


Ok, I’ve come up with new rule for government that is so common-sense, that it’s hard to believe that it’s not in practice today.

When you put someone in charge of something, they should have at least a basic understanding of how that thing works.

In fact… No. Screw that.

If someone is in charge of making laws and policies, they should have a complete and total understanding of the thing under their control.

I’m talking about people like United States Senator, Ted ‘Series of Tubes’ Stevens, who not so long ago, informed us all that the internet is not a ‘Big Truck’. The same guy who went off on a quite frankly wacky diatribe on how he didn’t receive an ‘internet’ from his secretary because of people streaming movies, completely missing the point of Net Neutrality.

It was perfectly obvious that Mr. Stevens had no clue what he was talking about, and had to have the issue explained to him, using pictures, puppets and not too many big words.

(As an aside, Mr. Stevens, I think what you meant to say is that bandwidth is finite and people who use most of that bandwidth should be charged for it. Of course, you completely missed the point that they already pay for it, we the consumers also pay for it and that the telecom companies basically want a big fat share of the profits because someone else was making too much money.)

The latest thing in this long line of madness is the bill challenging the ESRB.

First of all, here’s the thing no-one takes into account. The ESRB was set up voluntarily with no outside pressure. Before there where any laws restricting underage kids from buying inappropriate games, the video games industry took it upon themselves to create a rating system.

Well, anyway, the latest thing is that soon the ESRB may be required to play games all the way through in order to give them a fair rating, rather than the video of ‘applicable content’ they view today.

Now, this doesn’t sound too bad. It seems to make sense…unless you understand anything about games.

First of all, there’s the feasibility of this practice. For example, I played Oblivion for over 20 hours before even touching the main quest. From my save screen, I can see that I’ve put over 50 hours into that game, and I’m still pretty sure I’ve not seen everything.

Sure, the current way is basically on the ‘honor system’, but how can you expect the ESRB to spend anywhere from 20 – 60 hours per game?

The other big problem is a simple question.

What exactly constitutes ‘playing all the way through’?

If we look at the controversial games like Grand Theft Auto, you can play that game until the end credits roll, but chances are you’ve not seen everything in the game. Chances are you’ve not even seen 70% of the game.

Also look at Resident Evil 4.

20 minutes of that game tells you everything you need to know about the violence and gore level of it…but do they really expect the ESRB to play the game through (approx 20 hours), then play the unlockable mini-games (another few hours), then play through again on the higher difficulty level? Technically, you’ve not ‘played a game through’, until you’ve done everything you can and used every option you can.

So that’s exactly what they’re asking the ESRB to do.

It’s impossible. Games aren’t like movies or books where if you read it through once you’ve seen everything.

The best way I can describe this problem to a non-gamer is to imagine getting a very long book, tearing out the pages and then reading about half of them randomly. Then, when you’re done, shuffle the pages and read half of them again…and keep doing that until you’ve read every page…while not being allowed to keep track of what pages you’ve read and what pages you haven’t.

Every time though you’re going to get a lot of the same pages, and keep missing one or two…and you’ll never be certain you’ve read every single page.

Of course, the games companies could be required to give a detailed run down of everything the ESRB needs to see…but isn’t that the system already in place, only without requiring 50+ hours of donkey work?

However, the most ridiculous thing about this is that they’re holding the game publishers responsible for user created content.

Let me put this into perspective. Imagine you’ve written a book, then one day, I read it and decide it could do with a little spicing up. I write in a few sex scenes and tape my new pages into your book. Then, a child gets hold of it, and you’re held responsible, because the ‘questionable material’ is in your book.

For example, Oblivion found itself receiving a higher rating after release because someone released a ‘nude’ patch.

Previously, in the game, if you removed your clothes (which was necessary to change armor, etc), your character would be wearing underwear. Someone simply wrote a mod that replaced the underwear with bare skin.

Despite the fact that there is no nudity in the release version of the game, and the user has to download and install a non-official patch to see a cartoon nipple, it still received a higher rating.

Think about that, a piece of media is given a higher rating because of what can be done to it when the consumer gets it home.

It’s like demanding that Baby Einstein videos be given an R-rating, because the viewer can tape over the original show with porn…or that the Bible only be sold to people over 18 because someone might glue a playboy centerfold on one of the pages.

In conclusion, my point is this. People in charge should know what they’re talking about.

Also, it is not the government’s job, or their right, to decide what we can and can’t see.

If you’ll indulge me a moment, the one thing that makes me laugh about all this is that the game that started this whole band-wagon jump-fest was Grand Theft Auto…an extremely violent game that got barely a whisper of bad press until the sexual content came to light.

GTA has always been rated M, which is 17 years or older. The whole thing is a moral panic uproar about people old enough to actually legally have sex, seeing an extremely tame cartoon version of it in a game.

The whole “save the children” thing doesn’t apply. If your child has an M-rated game in the house, I wouldn’t ask how the ‘Evil Games Industry’ allowed it to happen, I’d ask why you, as a parent, are buying M-rated games for your kids and allowing them to play them.

In the end, the Government never had to stop me from playing an inappropriate game, or watching and inappropriate movie…my parents did it all by themselves.


MC Etcher said...

I have not read anything about this ESRB bill before, this is the first I've heard of it.

Rating a game without playing it through would be like rating a movie without watching all of it. Yes, a movie is only about 2 hours long usually, but the comparison still works.

Can developers be trusted to accurately capture on their submission video and paperwork everything the ESRB might have an issue with? The answer is no, even if it's incidental or accidental. I've put together the submissions for ESRB ratings, and it would be extremely easy to censor what information us provided.

As I was putting the submission together, I was amazed to find out the ESRB didn't want an actual copy of the game to check for themselves.

While some games never end or could take 50 hours to play, many games clock in at 10 hours or less, which a team of expert gamers on the staff would be able to accomplish easily. I wonder if they would have trouble finding applicants interested in playing games before they are released. Hell, they could pay minimum wage and still be turning people away.

For unlockables and easter eggs, the ESRB could be provided the codes necessary to access them without having to ace the game.

Clearly, it could be done for games going forward, but not for all games ever released.

Full ESRB playthroughs would delay release dates, and publishers would have to take that into account - they would know how long it takes for a playthrough and would include ESRB playthroughs in their development schedule. Sadly, many games cannot be played all the way through until just before release.

Hell, games cost millions of dollars now - how about the developer sends their best tester to the ESRB with a copy of the game, and the tester demo's it for them? How much would that business trip cost, a few thousand? As it is, it's not unusual to have someone fly cross-country to deliver the gold master to the duplication facility.

As for making publishers liable for user-created content, that's just silly.

MC Etcher said...

Doe! Typos! And I can't delete the comment and repost it because Beta is stoopid. Hmph.

Paulius said...

You raise some good points Etcher, But...

As I understand it, having a beta tester go to the ESRB and play the game through for them, or simply supply codes for the easter eggs and unlockables wouldn't be possible under this bill.

Why? because the tester might not show the ESRB everything or supply all the codes.

This bill is essentially to stop games companies from Hiding content by not including it in their video. By having an ESRB member play the game completely through like a regular player is the 'solution' to this problem.

If you think about it, it's swings and round-abouts. What's the difference in someone involved in the game company playing the game through in the presence of ESRB members, and them just sending a video of the most 'extreme' content? If the 'Hot Coffee' mod for GTA SA was actual available game content, how easy would it be for a tester to simply never visit a girlfriend in the game? It's not necessary to complete the game.

The other point is how does this apply to games like World of Warcraft where content is continually being created?