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October 06, 2005

ESRB Explained

Since the Entertainment Software Rating Board is at the forefront of every discussion of children and video game violence these days, I thought it might be helpful to aggregate some articles that should demistify the ESRB a tad. I found one of them on this Joystiq post, and the others in my wanderings. The explanations should be a bit more useful than simply checking out the ESRB web site.

Here's my $.02 on the ESRB, combining excerpts from my reviews of Dog's Life from GameFam and GameDAILY Family:

EDIT: I also have some ESRB issues in my review of the Ratchet & Clank series.

In general, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board is recognized as a very good internal (i.e. non-governmental) rating system. In fact, Senator Joe Lieberman, who chaired the 1993 hearings (along with Senator Herb Kohl) that led to the very creation of the ESRB, has said that the ESRB is “the best entertainment rating system in the United States.” And as a parent of 2 young kids, I was thrilled when they recently created the new E10+ rating, to differentiate between games for my kids, and those more appropriate for pre-teens. On the surface, the ESRB seems to do a good job, and many times, they give games the ratings they deserve.

However, they are far from infallible, and they occasionally give a game a confusingly incorrect rating. Dog’s Life is one such mistake.

In fact, the entire continent of Europe agrees with me. Instead of the ESRB, Europe uses PEGI, (Pan-European Game Information), and if you compare the North American box and the European box side-by-side, you'll notice that while the North American version (left) has a "T" rating, the European version (right) is rated "3+".

Why the 10-year discrepancy? What did the ESRB see that’s so harmful for North American children under the age of 13? What did they see that I (and an entire continent) missed? Are Europeans born with a 10-year head start on Norteamericanos in terms of maturity? No, that couldn’t possibly be the answer... right? ;o)

Could it be that the main character says "that sucks" a few times (I'd rather he didn't, but I just explain to the kids that it's not a nice way to talk)? The dognapping, perhaps? Or maybe the dreaded "running of the rodents?"

The likely truth is as funny as it is pathetic. My educated guess (based partly on remarks made by a Sony Europe exec at an E3 marketing conference panel) is that it the T rating is a result of simple potty humor. You see, Jake has the ability to perform bodily functions - pooping & farting - on cue. Horror of horrors!

If you don’t want your kids to play any dog-pooping games, that's certainly your parental prerogative. But kids think it's hilarious, and it’s all good, clean... er... well, it’s good fun anyway. In addition, the pooping isn't completely arbitrary. You can only make Jake "do his bidness" after he's eaten. If that ain’t edutainment, I don’t know what is.


To be perfectly honest, the main impetus behind that post back in June was as it applied to one specific game, but the ESRB certainly has more issues than just the one I mentioned.

Here are some criticisms of the ESRB:


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