Entertainment Software Rating Board– what is it good for?



If the ESRB is so much of a barrier to the development of the gaming industry, why have it at all?


Censorship has always been a hot topic of debate in all corners of society – why? Mainly because it can be a conflict of interest when it concerns our civil rights: our right to “freedom of speech”. So it was unsurprising to hear the crew of Invisible Walls podcast engage in a frank discussion with their recent run in with the ESRB (episode 67)

Whilst certain journalists are careful not to elevate videogames alongside art, it seems plausible to see videogames create as much controversy as art itself. And it is the State’s fear surrounding the influence of gaming that lends the industry exposed to regulation.

This is clear when mainstream media jump on topics such as violence in video games. It could lead to misinterpretation by the broader community and from the media coverage, the ESRB feel compelled to act in order to meet their approval. Yet, this can have the opposite effect. The success story of the Grand Theft Auto franchisee might be argued to have been indirectly fueled by this issue. Sometimes bad PR is better then no PR.

Mr Shane Satterfield and Mr Marcus Beer were left bemused and sceptical upon recent demands made by the ESRB on their clip of Sony’s God of War 3 development walkthrough. Justifiably so – the question that IW left me was not why do we have the ESRB and other similar regulating bodies? But rather, do they know their role? Marcus Beer further explains “their justifying their money…we’re [ESRB] protecting the industry because somebody from fox news will see this and say Sony is corrupting the young – despite the fact that it’s [GOW3 dev. walkthrough] behind the age gate”.

Mr Beer’s comment resonates a claim that runs far deeper then censorship and vetting. It’s about the justification behind what and how decisions are made regarding censorship. As Mr Shane Sattersfield stated “come on the show…in all honesty, I just want to hear what they have to say”.

Censorship exists to clarify between moral and immoral topics, and thus removing the latter to ensure harmony and cohesion in society. Without censorship, we are left with a minefield of dangers. This is exemplified by the issues of child protection debates regarding chat forums. Schools in the Uk are expected to provide education to parents and young children about the new context of stranger danger in this ICT savvy world. 

In the debate surrounding censorship of video games, the interpretation of danger lies in the word “responsibility”.  Michael Moore’s documentary “Bowling for Columbine” explores the fog surrounding the debate of responsibility and certainly who is to blame for an individual’s action – The State or the Individual? 

The media influence or the personal experience of repression/ostracism? Despite no scientific evidence existing between violence in video games and violent behaviour in individuals, the fact that it has been made prominent has become a black mark on the gaming industry.

Ultimately, if we argue that the failings of our society is both social and individual, then surely the responsibility lies in the education of society regarding violence rather than a totalitarian approach of vetting out all violence in gaming.


The ESRB have a role made by parody. In its simplicity, it is difficult to enforce.

Just draw line between moral and immoral topics. But to who’s criteria?

If we take this angle, then surely it is beneficial and logical for the ESRB and the gaming industry to collectively create a set of criteria to help journalists, publishers, game developers etc to define what is acceptable and what isn’t. But alas by doing so, the counter argument would be the stifling of creative thoughts and expression.

The most favourable outcome would be one that empowers the consumer to make the choice. If all relevant information and vetting systems are provided, then the publisher/media have met their duty of care to society; it is the individual’s opportunity to then exercise their freedom of choice and accept responsibility over their choice.

morality, like art, means drawing a line someplace”

Oscar Wilde


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