Gamesbeat spoke with ESRB president Patricia Vance on the eve of the board's two-decade anniversary. Vance said:
The American public is still very sensitive about sex, relatively sensitive about language, but has a
relatively high threshold for violence. Our ratings reflect that.
Other countries have different standards, which is what makes current international efforts by the ESRB so interesting. A collection of game rating organizations from
around the world have collected to create a single online questionnaire that developers can use to receive ratings from all regions at the same time.
The end rating is not the same, Vance says, because cultural norms are different in different
parts of the world. But a developer only has to apply once to get their ratings for this country, Brazil, Germany, and other parts of Europe. She said:
It's quite revolutionary. It gets nuanced. Our challenge was to
streamline the form. A lot of people made compromises. We're sensitive to each country's specific criteria.
The form, which is undergoing an update, asks developers to answer 10 basic questions, then opens up with more queries
depending on the answers to the first 10. Some questions are in the form for a specific country: the use of swastikas, for example, will affect a game's rating in Germany in a way it does not here. A game might be appropriate for wider audiences in other
markets than in the U.S. depending on sexual content. And different countries slice their audiences in different ways.
I don't think there would ever be a universal global rating, Vance said. Among other reasons, this country has the First
Amendment right to free speech, which is unique, she said. Governments run most other ratings agencies and have the right to censor content.
On 16th September, the Electronic Software Ratings Board for video and computer games will turn 20 years old.
The board was created as a response to parental 'outrage' against violent video games such as Mortal Kombat . It is thought to
be modelled on the success of the Motion Picture Association of America's ratings system.
Like the MPAA, the ESRB is a self-regulating body. It is not part of the United States government. It makes its own rules, and video game retailers and
publishers choose whether or not to abide by them.
But since almost every retailer in America will not sell an unrated game or a game rated for adults only, there's a sort of forced compliance that publishers push onto the developers creating
content for them. The same thing happens in the movie industry.
However the resulting cuts imposed on games to achieve the acceptable 17 rating (named M or Mature) are usually minimal. Developers cut out 30 seconds of probably unnecessary
violence, and the desired rating is given.
The Internet also offers a convenient way to bypass the ESRB altogether. If developers are that set in their vision, they can release the unaltered game online and sell it themselves. Sure, they won't get
big studio funding for development and marketing, but that's no different than movies, TV or the music industry.
Of course the compromise rating of 17 makes things a bit tricky for sexual content which would more naturally be rated 18. Hence as
with movies, sexual content has nowhere to fit in the 'acceptable' ratings and ends up getting censored. This leads to the effective situation where sexual themes are always rated more harshly than violence.
Monster Monpiece is a PlayStation Vita game set for US and European release in the spring. Developed by Compile Heart, it is a digital card battle game in which the player summons various monster girls onto the game's battlefields. Those girls
then fight the player's opponents.
While fairly innocent sounding, the controversy lay in how the girls power-up and become stronger. They do this by stripping through the use of in-game mechanics called First Crush Rub and Extreme Love .
However the artwork will be censored for US and European releases as revealed in a statement emailed from the game publisher:
We kept the same number of cards in the game as the original Japanese version, but
replaced some of the higher level Monster Girl images with the less exposed lower level versions of the corresponding Monster Girls due to some intense sexual imagery.
The number of censored cards is about 40 out of the
approximately 350 card images available in the game. This means that over 300 cards are left untouched from the original images. That said, each card that has had its image removed will still have the same number of levels for the player to increase, but
the higher level card images will be the same as the lower level, even though they have leveled up and have become more powerful.
This was a very difficult decision since we work very hard to satisfy our fans and want to bring the
same content being offered in Japan. However, Western society is not as lenient as that of Japan when sexual images are involved-especially images of humanoids that appear to be younger than a socially acceptable age. The borderline of what is acceptable
will always be extremely gray and vary from person to person, but as a responsible company working in the U.S., we had to make the difficult decision that we did. We sincerely apologize for those who do not agree with any level of censorship, but we
greatly appreciate your understanding with the decision we have made.
The ESRB has rated the cut version of Monster Monpiece as M for Mature in the USA.