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"He adds, get this, 'Perhaps that explains why [Slowe] was sent on that dangerous mission...' You know, that dangerous mission that no one knew at the time would be dangerous. That mission that Slowe's dad specifically lobbied for Slowe to get. Slowe says nothing during this exchange, preferring to let his daddy make him sound like the fresh-off-the-cross saint he's not."
     -Sam, Suikoden IV Part 2

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03.20.03 :: Rating System: Good or Bad?

The opinions in this letters column aren't necessarily those of Jeanne Rubbo, owner of Even so, Jeanne owns *us* and has locked us in a dark closet with Tidus and Rinoa until we think of something funny. HELP! In the meantime, send in your comments, queries, whining, flames, spam, opinions, facts, opinions that you think are facts, and general idiocy to

Welcome, reading faithful to this week's mailbag. Last week, depressed as we were over the paucity of on-topic letters, we gave you quite a homework assignment on the ESRB ratings system. Most of you came through in gold-star winning style. Let's see what our readers out there in Internet Land have to say about someone else labeling the games you buy, shall we? Oh, and LC, fighting the hobgoblins of the Monster Cold Master wishes to inform you that she was feeling pretty happy on her medication when she penned her answers. So, some slack cutting will be in order, unless you'd like AG to be angry and haul out the Masamune. You really don't want that. She's got terrible aim.

Ratings in the UK
Greetings once again from the UK :-)

Ratings for games is just bollox. There I've said it.

Not living in the US, I don't know to what extent (or even how) the ESRB ratings system work. However I can 'string a few thoughts 'together' about our own watchdog called the BBFC. Those horrific letters stand for the British Board of *FILM* Classification. Did you spot the odd word out, I'll give you a clue *FILM*. These arseholes are not happy with censoring all our films (in case anyone is in any doubt we are the most censored country in Europe) they want to mess with our games as well. Piss me off they do.

I can't think off hand of any games that have been banned, but I can show you their latest decisions page notice anything, predominance of higher rating no...check out other pages, they're all the same.

Personally I think it's all unnecessary, for every report that identifies violence induced by computer games, there is another to debunk it. I have children myself, they play most games, all are well adjusted and don't copy the games they play. A simple case of parenting really. Shame those in 'power' can't leave parenting to parents really.

So there you have it, hopefully this was interesting to you.

All the best


I think it's really interesting that the same body in the UK watchdogs film and games. I can see where that would suck, given what you've said, but I find it a lot more heartening than, say, a kids' toy watchdog committee rating them. Gives the whole videogame thing an iota more legitimacy to the world at large, ya?

I'm also glad to hear there are gamer parents out there educating their children in the way of gaming. It sure beats parents who think any videogames, be they Resident Evil or DDR, are the same. I'm guessing parents like you will become more common as kids who grew up with games are now having kids of their own. That means fewer Joe Liebermanns in the world! Yay!


Hullo Simon,

I'm with LC on this one. I would feel much better having the film board overseeing the games than say the Coalition of Angry Soccer Moms Against Fun or something. Then again, you could have a body like the judges of the Oscars looking over our games. They'd all be arty, depressing, or like Titanic. It makes a bunch of bluenoses looking over your games seem tame in comparison, doesn't it?

Good on you for introducing your kids to the wide, wonderful world of gaming, by the way. My own Dad did the same for me when I was just a nipper when he brought me home the Atari 2600 console. His encouragement made me what I am today.

Wait a minute. Maybe that's not the best example. Never mind.


Ratings in other media
I hate ratings!

My hatred of ratings dates back to the early 60's when the "Comics Code" - a self imposed "rating" system gutted the comic book industry, turning Batman from a true crime detective into a grotesque parody who hung with Bat Hound and Bat Mite and Batwoman and Batgirl collecting giant pennies and stuff like that. It gave us Little Lulu and Casper. The seal of code approval on the cover virtually guaranteed that you were going to get twenty pages of dreck even a grade-schooler couldn't stomach for your dime! Fortunately the Code crumbled and the comics industry went into a new golden age and then managed to nearly self-destruct under an overload of chrome foil multiple cover marketing tricks.

The whole Comics Code was the result of some Congressmen and Senators deciding that comic books were the root of all evil and that little Johnny was going to turn into a Sexual Deviant Mass Murdering Pot Smoking Commie Freak if he read comics! In other words, without any facts at all to back up their case, our Illustrious Leaders wasted a whole sheep load of tax dollars foaming at the mouth about evil comics, getting their names in the papers and hopefully garnering a whole lot of votes.

Well, guess what? The comic book publishing industry consulted their lawyers and the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. Nobody knows why they did this, because they then showed all the backbone of a wet Kleenex and cut out any blood, gore, sex, violence, story, plot or intelligence from their books and came up with the idea of the Code stamp. What a bunch of Tiduses!!!

You may wonder where I am going with this rant (unless I am being as transparent as I think I am).... suddenly, we have Little Johnny taking guns to school and shooting all the bullies who picked on him and maybe one or two of the teachers who never lifted a finger to stop the hazing on the way out. We got fanatics driving trucks of fertilizer into government office buildings and flying airplanes into towers. The economy went into the toilet the very minute Bush Lite took office. And what is the answer? What is the evil that caused all this grief and misery?

According to the nightly news (which also has all the backbone of a wet Kleenex) and a bunch of self-serving Congressmen on a vote hunt (is this starting to sound familiar?) the Root of All Evil is violent video games! So the game industry self-imposes a rating system (sound familiar???). Okay, I can see how Mr. and Mrs. Pothead who stick Brat Jr. in front of the Playstation in lieu of a family life might need some help to determine that "Charles Manson's Porntastic Dance Revolutathon" might not be an appropriate game for Brat Jr. And, by God, they need some help to realize that something with the words "Combat" and "Mortal" in the title just might be violent... but for the love of Pete, am I the only one out there who is in danger of succumbing to an overload of deja vu???

I've seen it before, and if the gaming industry goes the way of the comics, the ratings thing will lead to more and more games being dumbed down for the masses, cleaned up, edited, or not released. It is already starting. First, BMXXX, everybody's candidate for the worst game idea ever, gets censored. Then Xenosaga gets altered so the bad guy puts his hand into the air instead of up little Momo's shift. And now some game that was really hyped - the one with the girl with a really big hammer - gets yanked so the game designers can dumb it down for the mass audience.

The future does not bode well.... Out of desperation, I am going to lock myself in a dark room and play with Bat Mite until I go blind or grow hair on my hands or something....

Not being any sort of comic book guru, I hadn't really thought about this. But it seems like a valid enough point--whatever's popular with the kiddies suddenly becomes All That Is Wrong with the Universe? and the guv'ment feels the need to do something about it. And since it's an entire medium, it makes it that much easier to regulate! As opposed to, for example, pro wrestling, which is blasted by the same critics for setting bad examples for children, but it's much harder to control, since it doesn't come in simple, $45 packages.

However, the ratings still allow, as much as the guv'ment doesn't like it--for the envelope to be pushed. There's still a nude code in DoA Extreme Beach Volleyball. It reminds me of the film ratings system. Filmmakers are constantly leaving this and that out of their films so it can make the cut from R to PG-13, which has ruined many a potentially funny movie. But there are certain filmmakers--like Kevin Smith--who just don't care. They know their movies are going to make bank regardless of the rating, so they go balls to the wall on the R-rated stuff. The same thing is happening (less often) in gaming, like with DoA Volleyball.



Having once had a brother-in-law heavily involved in comic books, as well as watching all the Kevin Smith movies and being something of a history buff, I do remember learning about the institution of the Comics Code. And you bring up a good point. They are strikingly similar. Fortunately, after comics became more of a collector's/niche market, the Code stopped mattering as much, and it never mattered in the so-called "underground" comics available. Do you really think Neil Gaiman worried much about the Code when he worked on the first Sandman comic? (that would be "graphic novel" for the fanboys out there) And so it will be with gaming. Yes, there might be some larger companies that will edit some of their games for broader market appeal and a "better" ESRB rating, but there will always be companies out there like Rockstar who will do what they please regardless of the ratings, and make a crap-load of money while they do it. More power to them, I say.


Don't judge a game by its cover
I told you I would write. I can even hear your screams of joy all the way over here. Stop laughing; I can! Anyway, on to the topic:

In my opinion, rating video games isn't completely necessary, but still a little helpful to the parents when choosing a game for their younglings. It would be a pity to go off and buy Metal Gear Solid 2 for your child only to find out the content wasn't something you wanted them to see until they reached puberty at least (and probably not even then). Likewise, it helps some teenagers figure out what games they may want. You wouldn't want to buy something that has all the joys of watching Blues Clues fifty times a day, would you? I mean, sure, with some games it's easy to tell the content by looking at the cover, but covers can be deceiving. And if all else fails, the ratings make the game industry look somewhat important.


Thanks for finally writing, Ry. As for judging the game by its cover, I don't know. Imagine a mother walking into the Wal-Mart electronics department with her 8-year-old son. Imagine the boy running to the videogame section and pressing his nose against the glass case, staring with open lust at a copy of Super Smash Bros. Melee. "Mommy, mommy, get me this!" the boy cries. The pimply Wal-Mart employee opens the case at the mother's request and hands her a copy. Oh, this looks dandy! It's got Mario and Yoshi and Kirby and other harmless, asexual characters! Surely her son can have some good, clean fun with this. She ignores the rating (Teen, for those of you who don't know) and buys it. Later she sees her son using Kirby's giant mallet to whack poor Link and Ness over the head. "Oh my God, the VIOLENCE!" she screams, and burns the game before writing to her Congressman. A mild example (with a seriously overreacting parent), but it certainly happens.


What took you so long, Ry? We don't eat letter writers for lunch, at least not usually. Letter writers taste like chicken, and I've always been fonder of a good steak anyway.

I agree that the ratings system gives non-gaming parents a baseline to judge their game purchases on. Sometimes they're not always clear on their assessments, as QF will soon illustrate, but something is better than nothing when you don't know what li'l Johnny's screaming for in video game section of the Toys-R-Us catalog. Another hidden irony in the ratings system is that parents really have no one but themselves to blame with the game they bought isn't to their taste. It's not like the rating and potential issues weren't clearly labeled on the box when it was purchased. Any parent who decries the downfall of their children due to video game violence had better think long and hard on that before they go to their congressman or form an asinine coalition to stop something they haven't fully researched. Note to the parents out there: Not all video games are made for your precious kidlets, nor are most gamers 14-years-old. If you get one you don't like, most stores have a return policy. Use it, and shut up. Speaking as someone well into her adult years, you have no rights to tell me what games I can and cannot play. The rating system is there for a reason. If you don't take the time to use it to your advantage, don't expect someone else fix your lack of diligence.


Suggestive themes
All hail the Mailbag Divas!

Ah, the IDSA. Those who place that little square on every game box (or case, whatever) to let the Concerned Parents know whether or not Mega Mutilation III will have adverse effects on impressionable lil' Junior. Not that they would notice the rating on the box, or the brief comment accompanying it: most non-gamer adults only realize how violent the game really is when it's playing on their TV screens.

There are two reasons why the rating does them no good:
- Even if they knew what it stands for, they'll buy it anyway just to please their kids. Granted, there are still parents who keep a hands-on approach on raising their offspring, but they aren't the ones calling for the burning of PS2 and X-BOX DVDs (the NGC mini-DVDs are safe because they're SO TINY AND CUTE!! ^_^).
- The rating criteria isn't quite all that. As I recall, Jeanne once did a "compare & contrast" between the rating criteria for FF7 and FF8, and the objectionable content found therein. To sum it up for those at home, FF8 got rated for "adult mischief" solely on the grounds of the more life-like models and the "naughty magazines", while FF7 got rated for "comic mischief" because of the super-deformed polygons, even though FF8 had nothing graver than VII's Honey Bee Inn.

I'll just leave it at that. Got some classes to attend now.

~Quartz Falcon

I hadn't thought of this, either, but now that I look, it's strange how these things are rated. For example, on the back of Skies of Arcadia Legends, there are warnings for "mild violence" and "suggestive themes," with a rating of Teen. I'm trying to think of the suggestive themes in Skies and I'm coming up blank, other than the phallic ships and Vigoro being a perv. But is all that worse than, as you said, the Honey Bee Inn incident in FFVII, which garners no such warning? Now I'm looking at Xenosaga, which warns of "blood and gore" (um, where?) and "violence," but no "suggestive themes" warning? (It's also rated Teen.) No suggestive themes, despite the presence of chaos, a character who looks like he's 12, but wears hot pants that leave just about NOTHING to the imagination. And the other two 12-year-old kids, one of whom (MOMO) has some disturbingly sexual undertones. Right, ESRB. Sure.

Seems a bit stupid.


QF, I do disagree that the ratings have no relevance. As I said, something's better than nothing. And, if taken in the more prudential light of our lawsuit happy society, they do serve a very important "CYA" function for the video game companies, for whatever good it did them in St. Louis with Judge Limbaugh. However, that judgment was more directed towards the retailers of games, rather than the makers, and was a moot point before the case was ever filed in the records.

But that's not to say that the ratings always make sense. The whole FFVII/FFVIII thing is a perfect example of that to my mind. Content is content, no matter if it's sprites or Nomura-perfected models in cracked-out wardrobes.







I don't even know how to respond to this, except to tell you to play Skies of Arcadia sometime. I'm sure your universe will come apart because there aren't any angsty characters, and you will wink out of existence due to this giant flaw in your above statement. But it's a good game, so what the hell.

Oh, and I had no idea it was the -translation- that was -dumb-. I thought Fei and Elly were just -dumb- because it's in their -character- to act like -idiots-. I wonder how everyone else came off fine, despite the -dumb translation-.



Whew, I'm glad I got that out of my system. You know, every now and then I just have this urge to forget everything I ever learned about grammar, spelling, and writing as a rational human being and I just have to let loose. Sure, it makes me look like a brain-dead 12-year-old on AOL, but that's all part of its charm I suppose. Then again, if another such spell should hit me soon, I too may address an all-caps email to a site's mailbag that posted a letter from someone who disliked Xenogears and tell them how much they suck. We should be glad that isn't going to happen. No one else could possibly be that stupid. Could they?


Well, there you have it. Most gamers who wrote in hate the ratings system, but we live with it because without it, we may not have the companies willing to make games more threatening that Tetris. And, love it or hate it, the ratings system isn't likely to be going anywhere for a long time. Sure, most of the people who really need it don't pay attention, but it's still there, like a judgmental maiden aunt with all the best intentions and the worst way of implementing them. For next week's fabulous mailbag of wonder, we want you to dig out the extra box of tissues you keep for "emergencies" and tell us all about your favorite game tear-jerking scene. Was it Aeris' untimely demise, or the end of PSO 4? Maybe Auron's departure from Spira made you tear up. (Or dissolve in a trembling heap 'o' denial, if you're AG) Tell us all about it no later than Saturday, March 22 at 8:00. We'll be waiting here with fresh hankies and a cup of tea for you.

AG and LC

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