Video Games Presentation At Penn State Univ (Adam Thierer   Pff)
Upcoming SlideShare
Loading in...5

Like this? Share it with your network


Video Games Presentation At Penn State Univ (Adam Thierer Pff)






Total Views
Views on SlideShare
Embed Views



4 Embeds 51 36 7 5 3



Upload Details

Uploaded via as Adobe PDF

Usage Rights

© All Rights Reserved

Report content

Flagged as inappropriate Flag as inappropriate
Flag as inappropriate

Select your reason for flagging this presentation as inappropriate.

  • Full Name Full Name Comment goes here.
    Are you sure you want to
    Your message goes here
Post Comment
Edit your comment

Video Games Presentation At Penn State Univ (Adam Thierer Pff) Presentation Transcript

  • 1. Adam Thierer Progress & Freedom Foundation April 2008 1
  • 2. 2
  • 3. Outline (I) Why care about ratings & parental controls? (II) Current state of ratings (III) Current state of parental control tools (IV) Third-party rating efforts (V) Legal/ regulatory issues (VI) Future controversies & issues (VII) The forgotten role of informal household rules 3
  • 4. Why Care about Ratings & Parental Controls?  Recent video game and Internet legal cases suggest a major jurisprudential shift  Courts have:  (a) rejected most “harm to minors” theories  (b) employed the “less restrictive means” test = regulation must yield to private alternatives if they are available and effective (Q: but what is effective?) 4
  • 5. That means…  Courts have largely foreclosed government censorship of most media and placed responsibility over what enters the home squarely in the hands of parents  This is why parental control tools and methods are more important than ever before  But, future policy debates could hinge on continued effectiveness of ratings & parental controls 5
  • 6. Ratings 6
  • 7. What makes for a “good” rating system?  The purpose of a rating system is to: (1) convey information about a given media product to consumers (especially parents), (2) so that they are able to make an informed judgment about the wisdom of consuming that media, or allowing children to consume it.  In other words, a good rating system INFORMS and EMPOWERS  A rating system is NOT a tool to “clean up” or self- censor media 7
  • 8. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB)  Established in 1994  Rates approximately 1,000 games per year  Virtually every game produced for retail sale is rated  7 rating symbols + over 30 content descriptors  Both ratings and descriptors have evolved slightly over time 8
  • 9. ESRB Game Ratings EARLY CHILDHOOD: Titles rated EC have content that may be suitable for ages 3 and older. Contains no material that parents would find inappropriate. EVERYONE: Titles rated E have content that may be suitable for ages 6 and older. Titles in this category may contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language. EVERYONE 10+: Titles rated E10+ have content that may be suitable for ages 10 and older. Titles in this category may contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language, and/or minimal suggestive themes. TEEN: Titles rated T have content that may be suitable for ages 13 and older. Titles in this category may contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling, and/or infrequent use of strong language. MATURE: Titles rated M have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content, and/or strong language. ADULTS ONLY: Titles rated AO have content that should only be played by persons 18 years and older. Titles in this category may include prolonged scenes of intense violence and/or graphic sexual content and nudity. RATING PENDING: Titles listed as RP have been submitted to the ESRB and are awaiting final rating. (This symbol appears only in advertising prior to a game’s release.) 9
  • 10. ESRB Content Descriptors  Alcohol Reference  Nudity  Animated Blood  Partial Nudity  Blood  Real Gambling  Blood and Gore  Sexual Themes  Cartoon Violence  Sexual Violence  Comic Mischief  Simulated Gambling  Crude Humor  Some Adult Assistance May Be Needed  Drug Reference  Strong Language  Edutainment  Strong Lyrics  Fantasy Violence  Strong Sexual Content  Informational  Suggestive Themes  Intense Violence  Tobacco Reference  Language  Use of Drugs  Lyrics  Use of Alcohol  Mature Humor  Use of Tobacco  Mild Violence  Violence 10
  • 11. Most Games are Rated “E” or “E 10+” “E” “E 10+” “M” “T” 11
  • 12. ESRB also…  operates an Advertising Review Council (ARC) that promotes and monitors advertising and marketing practices in the gaming industry.  “Principles for Responsible Advertising”  “Advertising Code of Conduct”  works with retailers to educate  “OK to Play” campaign  has an educational partnership with the Parent- Teacher Association to encourage and enable state and local PTAs to educate their community’s parents  produces educational PSAs with policy makers to build awareness about ESRB system 12
  • 13. ESRB Promotional Efforts 13
  • 14. Relative Strengths of the ESRB  Most comprehensive industry-led media rating & labeling system to date  “professional” game content is all being labeled  Focus on content descriptors versus ratings differentiates the ESRB; provides much more information to parents  A lot of parents are aware of it and use it  Of course, the price tag of games helps!  $40-$60 price tag means parents pay more attention  “power of the purse” more prevalent with games than other media content 14
  • 15. Parental Awareness & Use of ESRB Ratings 100% 89% 90% Ratings Awareness Ratings Use 85% 83% 80% 78% 74% 72% 71% 70% 70% 67% 60% 53% 49% 50% 43% 40% 30% 20% 10% 0% 1999 2002 2003 2005 2006 2007 Source: Entertainment Software Rating Board, Peter D. Hart Research Associates 15
  • 16. Challenges for ESRB system  #1 challenge = Retailer compliance  Constant need to train and retrain retail clerks to enforce system at point of sale  Many clerks are young themselves; friends of buyers  System often judged by unique outliers (ex: “Grand Theft Auto” and “Manhunt”)  Unfair; like judging all books by the Unibomber manifesto!  Most games are acceptable for young kids  Keeping game developers happy is hard!  The artists who create these games often don’t like having their art rated; creates tensions 16
  • 17. ESRB Challenges (cont.)  Social science critiques  some psychologists or media critics allege …  Failure to account for supposed harm to cognitive development of minors  Ratings creep  Legal / regulatory challenges  Constant stream of state & federal legislation (discussed in concluding section on “Future Trends”)  Seemingly endless legal cycle  10 major cases so far, all won by industry 17
  • 18. Parental Controls 18
  • 19. Game Console Controls  All major gaming consoles (Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo) have embedded parental controls tools  can block by both ESRB and MPAA ratings (via metadata tags)  allow parents to enter the ESRB rating level that they believe is acceptable for their children. Once they do so, no game rated above that level can be played on the console  Even controls for massive, multiplayer online gaming  Ex: XBOX 360 can block chat, restrict via a “buddies list,” and block online purchases  Microsoft Vista offers similar gaming controls 19
  • 20. How the Xbox 360 gets it right…  Importance of “out-of-the-box” parental controls experience  Bundled ESRB rating card+ clear manual  Online support/ manuals  Chat restrictions  Buying restrictions  Buddy lists can be easily monitored  “Family timer” now offered (limits game time) 20
  • 21. Xbox 360 Parental Controls 21
  • 22. Microsoft Vista Controls 22
  • 23. Other consoles…  Nintendo (Wii) & Sony (PS3) not quite as sophisticated as the Xbox, but basic controls are included in both systems  Can filter by rating and block chat & purchases  Sony’s PS3 controls need some work  Strange “1-11” rating matrix; not explained well in manual  Manual & online site lacks details; little assistance  More difficult to set up out of the box 23
  • 24. Third-Party Efforts: Rise of independent game rating & review services 24
  • 25.  Common Sense Media  Gamer Dad  What They Play  Children’s Technology Review  + good user-generated reviews of video games on sites like and 25
  • 26. 26
  • 27. Benefit of independent rating & review sites:  Most obviously, not industry affiliated  Wealth of divergent views; many from average parents (and sometimes even kids)  Creates equivalent of a shadow ratings process = a check / watchdog for the ESRB But.. none are as comprehensive as the ESRB; many games not considered by these sites; they focus mostly on popular titles 27
  • 28. Concluding Thoughts and a Look into the Future 28
  • 29. Some thoughts about ratings and technical controls…  No rating system is perfect and no parental control tool is foolproof  Rating and content-labeling efforts are not an exact science; rating art is not like solving mathematical equations  But ratings and parental control tools need not be perfect to be preferable to government regulation  That is particularly true because of the First Amendment values at stake here  Moreover, private ratings and controls have many advantages over government regulation… 29
  • 30. Advantages of Private Ratings & Controls vs. Government Regs Private Ratings & Controls Government Regulation Can be tailored to “One-size-fits-all” household needs / values Immediately effective Usually retroactive (+ lengthy legal challenges follow) Entirely Constitutional Often Unconstitutional Less prone to special “Heckler’s veto” problem is interest influence pervasive 30
  • 31. Future issues (1) renewed push for universal media ratings? or just… (2) Oversight of ESRB by Congress or non-profit / academic groups? (3) More FTC oversight of retailer enforcement?  FTC already conducts secret shopper surveys + report (4) Mandatory age verification for MMOGs & online activities? (5) Mandatory parental controls defaults (i.e, controls forced “ON” out of box, requiring parents to opt out of controls) (6) What happens when “AO” games hit consoles? (7) What about virtual reality games?  Star Trek’s “holo-deck” is coming to your living room!  Already seeing more tactile devices coming to market 31
  • 32. Appendix: The forgotten role of Household Media Rules 32
  • 33. Household Media Rules = Any non-technical method of controlling media consumption  A frequently overlooked part of the parental controls story  In many ways, household efforts represent the most important steps that most parents can take in dealing with potentially objectionable content or teaching their children how to be sensible, savvy media consumers, and…  To the extent that many households never take advantage of technical controls, it is likely because they rely instead on informal household media rules  In a nutshell… Parents are parenting! 33
  • 34. Taxonomy of Household Media Rules 1) “Where” Rules Pew survey: 74% of homes with teenagers have their computers in an “open family area” 2) “When and How Much” Rules Pew survey: 59% of parents limit the amount of time their children can spend playing video games and 69 percent limit how much time their children can spend online 3) “Under What Condition” Rules 4) “What” Rules Pew survey: 67% of parents already have rules for the kinds of video games they can play 34
  • 35. Regardless of other issues or disagreements, we all need to think about how video games fit into a “balanced media diet” 35
  • 36. The Media Food Pyramid: The Importance of a Balanced Media Diet 36