Since it's 1994 inception, video games have been rated by in the US by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB).
But the ESRB was not the first rating scheme established in the US.
In the early 90s, moral guardians were up in arms due to
what they perceived as an obscenity outrage. Thie was sparked off by the video games Mortal Kombat and Night Trap from Sega, with its misleadingly lurid cover art suggesting that it was some kind of sleazy sex-themed game.
was escalated all the way to the US Senate.
A 1993 Senate hearing heard from the boss of Nintendo of America, Howard Lincoln who said:
And let me say that for the record, I want to state that Night Trap will never
appear on a Nintendo system. Obviously it would not pass our guidelines. This game ... which promotes violence against women, simply has no place in our society
The outcome of the hearing, threatened that if the video game publishers
did not crank out a rating system by 1994, one would be imposed by the U.S. government.
So, in response Sega of America quickly formed their own self-censorship committee: the Videogame Rating Council. It established 3 ratings:
GA - Appropriate for all audiences.
MA-13 - Mature audiences. Intended for ages 13 and up. Might contain more violence than GA games, mild blood, mild suggestive themes, etc.
MA-17 - Not intended for minors. The game might include
graphic violence, blood and gore, sexual content, profanity, etc.
The system lasted barely a year. The MA-13 came in for particular criticism as being mature seemed at odds with being 13 years old (being mature at 14 seems OK for TV though).
In 1994, the major video game publishers formed the trade association,
the Interactive Digital Software Association (predecessor to the Entertainment Software Association) which eventually came up with an industry-wide ratings system: the ESRB ratings, which we still use today.
Presumably responding to press concerns about violence in his just released classic movie The Maltese Falcon , Humphrey Bogart wrote an essay originally published on Oct. 31, 1941. He wrote eloquently in his opposition to censorship:
The blanket of censorship covers practically every country in the world these days, except our own. And, judging from the editorials, whenever the threat of censorship rears its head in this country, most of us seem agreed it is the
Number One enemy of a free democracy.
This is where my pet peeve comes in. While people are always quick to take up the cudgels against censorship of the press, or radio, any crackpot can advocate new forms of censorship for the
movies, and not a voice is lifted in protest. There's something illogical about this indifference to censorship of the movies. After all, it's just as much a medium of public expression as are the radio and newspapers.
My own type
of film has shown me how wrong and unfair advocates of censorship can be. For several years now, various groups have urged the banning of crime pictures on the ground that they influence youths to turn to crime. When Jimmy Walker was minority leader of
the New York legislature, there was a censorship fight on the floor of the House. A powerful group of pious bluenoses wanted to bar from circulation good books that dared to mention certain well-known facts of life. The bluenoses said the books were
indecent, bawdy, lascivious and would lead their young and innocent daughters astray. Jimmy stood the debate as long as he could, then he said, I have been around a good deal, but I have never heard of a woman's being seduced by a book. That killed the
I have never heard of any youngster going wrong, turning to crime, because of the movies. It simply isn't possible. Our relation to crime is, in a sense, the same as the prison warden's. We don't create it. We
deal with it after it has happened, and we always make the criminal look bad.
When I went to college, I studied under a professor of geology who wanted to make us understand how the different peoples of the world got the way they
are, their racial tendencies and characteristics, dark-skinned Africans and fair-haired Swedes. He cited geography and climate and food and opportunities, and he summed it all up with the phrase: We are what we are largely because we are where we are.
The proof of the argument can be found in the Uniform Crime Reports and the Department of Justice. The spot maps of cities show it. Not so long ago, I examined some maps showing juvenile delinquency, diptheria, tuberculosis
and murder quotients in a number of cities from New Orleans to Los Angeles. The maps all looked alike. Disease, crime and delinquency were invariably grouped in the same parts of the cities 204 in the slum districts. That is the cause of crime, not the
About ten years ago, I was a guest at a little dinner party in Hollywood, and my hostess' son, a boy of about nine, sat across the table from me. He was an obnoxious little brat. His manners were very bad. He was
hard-boiled, truculent and talked out of the side of his mouth. His mother finally whispered to me, Don't pay attention to him now, but he is your greatest admirer. He thinks you are wonderful, sees all your pictures, and he's acting for you.
That didn't make me happy. I made friends with the boy and took him over to the studio one day. We rode along in silence for a little while, and then he said, Say, Bogie, are you bad in this new picture? I had a good part in
the film, so I replied, Why, no, as a matter of fact, I think I'm pretty good.
Aw, nuts, said the kid. Don'tcha smack anybody down?
He felt better when I admitted I did put a couple of
guys on the spot, and his next suggestion was that we ought to stick up the First National Bank, and when he grew tired of that we talked about baseball. The boy turned out all right, in spite of me and my bad acting. He came from the right kind of home,
had the right kind of parents, and he attended the right kind of school. His environment was right, and no amount of motion pictures could have made a criminal of that boy. He could take the Cagneys and the Rafts and Bogie, or leave them alone. (He'd
better not miss my latest epic, The Gent From Frisco .)
Movies don't cause crime any more than prison wardens cause crime. It has been charged against the motion picture industry that we take a sympathetic attitude toward
gangsters, thugs, racketeers and criminals. I deny that. After the things that have happened to me and my fellow screen heavies, I don't see how they can say that. So many criminals get killed in The Maltese Falcon that there's a special announcement at
the end of the film saying, If any persons are alive in this picture, it is purely coincidental.
There are groups that would like us to show the criminal always outmatched, poorly armed, and all policemen a good six inches taller,
armed with tear gas and tommy guns, while the poor, dear, miserable rat of a gangster has to fight it out alone with only one measly little pistol. The object would be to de-glamorize the gangster.
That's all right, but it seems
to me they are asking us to go about it in the wrong way. It seems to me that disarming the gangster tends to add glamour rather than to remove it and, in some instances, even makes him seem gallant. What these critics forget is that the sympathies of
the crowd are always with the underdog.
It is better, I think, to deglamorize His Excellency the Rat as we do it at Warners, by showing him well-armed, with an up-to-date arsenal, with smokescreens for his automobile, expensive
short-wave radios and other good equipment for the art of murder and arson. When we show a criminal on the screen like that, there is no doubt in the mind of the weakest low-grade moron who the hero is. The hero is unquestionably your friend and mine,
I have dealt with only one phase of the attempt to impose censorship on the movies. It is the phase with which I am most familiar. But there are men who advocate even more dangerous types of film censorship, and if
America is to continue to have freedom of the press and radio, as well as every other type of freedom, these insidious enemies of freedom must be empathetically discouraged. Because once the movies are gagged, these men will move on to the other mediums
of public expression. We have seen it happen in other countries, and it can happen here.
In 1985, a group of Washington women hit back at strong language in lyrics of some of pop's biggest names. Now their parental advisory meddling -- and the 15 tracks they initially targeted -- have been turned into a riotous piece of musical revenge
First, I was stunned, then I got mad!" That's how Mary "Tipper" Gore -- wife of American senator Al Gore -- described the experience of buying Prince's mega-selling
Purple Rain album for her 11-year-old daughter, and listening to it with her. Mrs Gore's rage was triggered by the track Darling Nikki , which begins:
I knew a girl name Nikki Guess you could say she
was a sex fiend I met her in a hotel lobby Masturbating with a magazine.
Along with other wives of powerful American politicians, in 1985 Gore founded the PMRC -- Parents Music Resource Center -- to campaign for stronger
censorship in music. The initial list of songs they considered "most offensive" -- dubbed the Filthy 15 -- included some of pop's biggest names.
The Filthy 15
Prince: Darling Nikki
Sheena Easton:Sugar Walls
Judas Priest: Eat Me Alive
Vanity: Strap On Robbie Baby
Motley Crue: Bastard
AC/DC: Let Me Put My Love Into You
Twisted Sister: We're Not
Gonna Take It
Madonna: Dress You Up
WASP: Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)
Def Leppard: High n Dry (Saturday Night)
Mercyful Fate: Into the Coven
Black Sabbath: Trashed
Mary Jane Girls: In My House
Venom : Possessed
Cyndi Lauper: She Bop
The furore went to the Senate and on 19th September 1985, the Senate's Committee On Commerce, Science And Transportation held a hearing about the need to put warning labels on albums. The PMRC put forward their case and three musicians
Frank Zappa said, If it looks like censorship and it smells like censorship, it is censorship, no matter whose wife is talking about it. Dee Snider, lead singer of heavy metal band Twisted Sister, argued that it was a
straightforward infringement of civil liberties.
The third musician was John Denver. Snider recalled:
Gotta give John Denver credit. His testimony was one of the most scathing, because they fully expected -- he
was such a mom's, American pie, John Denver Christmas special, fresh-scrubbed guy -- that he would be on the side of censorship. When he brought up, 'I liken this to the Nazi book burnings,' you should've seen them start running for the hills. His
testimony was the most powerful in many ways.
Despite Denver's intervention, the PMRC got their way and "Parental advisory: explicit lyrics" stickers were introduced. However, it didn't necessarily work out the way they
wanted. Heavy metal bands on the list received a sales and publicity boost, and the sort of lyrics that followed in rock, rap and even country music suggests that the group were fighting a losing battle.