Op Ed: Did EA Mislead the Electronic Software Rating Board?

by Alphaville Herald on 14/01/04 at 10:26 pm

by J

A question that has been much discussed in the Alphaville Herald in recent weeks is how to deal with minors in the dynamic context of The Sims Online. More specifically, how on earth did TSO get a rating of “T” for teen (suitable for children aged 13) despite all the adult content, ranging from cyber-brothels (including brothels run by minors), to easily accessible BDSM content, to adults seeking out children for cybersex? To find out, I made a phone call to ESRB, the Electronic Software Rating Board, to get the scoop on the rating process for games and specifically with The Sims Online.

The rating process it not as complex as you might have guessed, despite the “32 descriptors” that ESRB advertises. The council uses what it calls “the rating pool” as their criteria for judging games. The rating pool is merely a group of freelance individuals that ESRB hires and trains in the art of rating games. ESRB says that (theoretically) they have no ties to the game entertainment industry and that they remain anonymous. There are three individuals who review the game (possibly more reviewers if ESRB so chooses, but three is the minimum) and they must come to a consensus on what the game should be rated.

ESRB’s policy is to rate the game *before* it has been released and distributed. They do not return to the game once people have started playing to see if the rating should be changed. This timing of the game rating process is important to note, especially in the instance of MMORPGs, because the content of the game obviously changes with the players who shape it. In my opinion, it would seem impossible to rate it accurately since one cannot guess who the players will be or what direction the game will take.

Of course, ESRB has developed a solution to this dilemma. They ask all game publishers, like Electronic Arts, to submit the MOST EXTREME CONTENT THAT COULD BE ACHIEVED. Now, I doubt that Electronic Arts said, “Well, there’s a chance that child cyber-prostitution and bondage, discipline sadomasochism communities will be some of the extreme content.” My guess is that they probably said, “Look, here’s our fantastic profanity filter that doesn’t even allow you to say ‘buttocks,’ so the most extreme thing you can do is “kiss hotly” and lay in a “love bed.” EA probably knew that some of these things would happen in the game, but why speculate too much about the most extreme content when it will sacrifice image and sales.

ESRB is wiser than this, of course. They know that the material will be manipulated in ways that they do not want to think about, so they have a scapegoat. They put a little disclaimer on the box by underneath the big “T”. It reads (get out your magnifying glass), “Game experience may change during online play.” As I was told about this warning, ” This is intended to provide parents with the knowledge of what may occur in the game.” I am glad that ESRB was so specific with the warning. Now that parents know that the “game experience may change” they are fully aware that their entreprenuearing son might be starting up his own cyber-brothel in his bedroom down the hall.

So, if you’re still wondering why The Sims Online is rated “Teen,” let me summarize. Three people played the game before it was released. They probably shook hands with a few EA/Maxis employees and maybe they laid in “love bed” for a few minutes. They probably tried to type a few swear words or converse about a few infamous dictators, but the profanity filter stopped it. So, they decided the game was harmless and said anyone above thirteen can play it. They probably figured that people would find ways to have cyber sex, so just in case, they put a small, vague warning on the box to cover their rating credibility. Once they all agreed on the rating, they were done and they moved on the next game.

This might sound like a little harsh on ESRB. In general, I believe they have developed a fairly efficient system for rating most games. However, when it comes to online roleplaying games, such as TSO, I think there is still much to be learned on the part of ESRB. I would like to praise ESRB for constantly watching and monitoring the game industry. They also strongly encourage feedback from consumers on their consumer hotline. At this point, they have not reassessed The Sims Online since it was first rated, but they are listening and willing to make changes with consumer concerns. I want to encourage anyone reading this thread to follow the link to the ESRB hotline and voice your complaint. It might the most effective way to get changes made in TSO.

35 Responses to “Op Ed: Did EA Mislead the Electronic Software Rating Board?”

  1. RB

    Jan 14th, 2004

    It’s quite simple really. TSO was rated on it’s game content (cartoonish eye candy only) and not on it’s player content. (what really matters)
    What the ESRB should do with massive virtual worlds is come back like every 3 months and review there ratings. MMORPG’s cannot be rated the traditional way and the ESRB is foolish to think this. Of course there will be nothing offensive before realese, cause no one is there. lol.

    This all has to do with EA making shitloads of cash too, if the rating was higher, less people would buy it.

    - RB

  2. Lola

    Jan 15th, 2004

    Ok, so the reviewers return, they determine TSO deserves a mature rating, and the rating on the box changes.. then what? How does this affect people already playing?

    Another important point, discussing game rating changes…I am 21 years old. I am helping my mother to raise my 9 year old brother. Often times, she will be willing to let him buy or rent any game, because A) The game rating system is so vague and also a new thing to older adults. B) Based on the assumption that if my brother has heard of a game, it must be targeting towards 9 year olds. I am not saying this is the best way to go about things, but she has me, as a younger authority figure, to step in and tell her which games he shouldn’t be playing, because I know more about games. I don’t think a mature rating would be all that much of a deterrent, to say, a 14 or 15 year old, or their parents.

    So is a Mature rating a step in a good direction, or would it be more profanity filter nonsense?

  3. RB

    Jan 15th, 2004

    It’s either an MA15+ rating (or the yank equivelant) or an adults only server where no one can be banned or suspended for what they say or do. barring of course obvious bad things like scams, and other kinds of stealing.

    But either way it all comes to money and being greedy.

    Speaking of whatever you think about EA and thier mums the word policy on anything nasty going on in TSO, go vote at my poll :)


    - RB

  4. KDDX

    Jan 15th, 2004

    i don’t belive it! i found this site through megagames.com, and i find a small game riddled with paedophiles, prostitution, and even organised crime! Then why isn’t there anything happening to stop it? or watch it?
    I’m going to notify FBI relations and file a report on Sims Online to see if it can be re-done or watched… stay tuned for my big event!

    KDDX (aka J@mes)

  5. Tory

    Jan 15th, 2004

    The problem that I see here is that you’re not actually asking the ESRB to rate the game a second time, you’re asking them to come in and rate the PLAYERS. Game experience may change, not because of who plays, but because of the new content consistently filtering into the game.

    The problem here is not the rating of the game, but the people who choose to step outside that rating and try to create the adult game they wanted this to be. Who’s to day that if they did reevaluate that they wouldn’t go through the same steps as they did before, coming in, picking a random lot, fooling around in a love tub and trying to swear through the filter.

    The GAME is appropriate for teenagers. It really is. It’s the imaginations of the players that walk or cross the line into a mature area. If someone comes across a house that has open chat orgies and everyone is encouraged to use a clothing patch (or required to swim into the lot) it has no bearing on the rating of the game. If no one reports this, there is no way to alert anyone that this is occurring, and if this house does get reported, people are going to claim that their civil rights were violated.

    What I”m really trying to get at here is that you can’t rate PEOPLE and you can’t try to intuit what lengths they will go to to make the game their own.

    Maxis responsibility here is to ensure that the content is appropriate for teens, they’ve done that. They applied the chat filter and they have a reporting system for people who break the ToS.

    All that said, I’ve followed the thread on the Stratics message board about petitioning. People dont’ know what the hell they’re doing with it. They go into game and petition on someone they heard was a scammer. Then, when they get back a Not Enough Evidence report, they think that’s ridiculous, but guess what, your word is not evidence. What few cases I have heard of when there was a legitamate concern that was not addressed gets brought to the attention of Maxis and – get this – taken care of.

    Once again, what you’re asking for in this article is for the ESRB to rate the players of the game. At that point, it doesn’t matter WHAT the rating of any online game is, there will always be adults who decide they don’t want kids around and will go out of their way to create, not content, but situations that would move the game into an M rating.

    If that ever actually happened, the teen market would be lost, and without those players the MMOG industry would fall.


  6. Your Mother

    Jan 15th, 2004

    Get a fucking life douchebag and do something more worthwile then writing about a crappy online video game.

  7. Maria LaVeaux

    Jan 15th, 2004

    Personally I believe that the ESRB ratings are much like the old, and now seldom used Comics Code for Comic books.
    Self imposed by the industry for Public Relations sake, and lacking in any real impact on the content.
    This system of self policing was originally adopted to Keep Governmental interference out of the Comics publishing industry. To my eyes, the same applies here.
    I have yet to be in an electronics store where teens purchase these games and see a clerk check the rating before vending the game, or telling a young person they cannot purchase it Due to a Mature rating.
    Ratings are there to tell “Concerned” parents that the industry is Babysitting their child for them, and not to worry, but they always seem to stop short where sales will be impacted.
    I am one of those who engages in adult activity in TSO, and i Fully agree that this game perhaps should have had a Higher rating, For all the Good it would acomplish.
    The Question asked was, “Did EA Mislead the Electronic Software Rating Board”?
    My answer, No.
    In my opinion, it is the Board that has Misled the public as to it’s effectiveness in the Industry, and it’s impact on software developement.


  8. Cocoanut

    Jan 15th, 2004

    I tend to agree with Maria.

    I have studied the ratings, and concluded that the ESRB rating for the game is actually less strict than the EA rules for the game.

    If you look at the definition of “T” rating on the ESRB site, and the definitions of the words in that definition, you will see that mild and strong language and sexual content IS allowed. EA, however, makes more stringent rules about language.

    If you give this some study, you will see that some of the EA rules are even more stringent than what would be applied to games rated with “E” for everyone, and that the rating for age 6 and under would be more akin to what EA tries to enforce, as far as player behavior is concerned.

    However, the ESRB ratings pertain to content only, not to what the players do with it. As for what the players do with it, EA errs on the side of too much strictness in their rules (esp. as apply to speech) rather than too little.

    In any case, EA has in no way misled the ESRB.

    If you’re going to get all excited about what goes on in this T-rated game, take a look at the rest of the world. The FCC has ruled that the F-word is perfectly ok at any time of day or night on the major networks, so long as it has been used as an adjective. Look at ANY TV and tell me there is much of anything there to protect children, much less teens.

    While you’re at it, do a study of movie ratings. Go see the movies with these ratings. The crassest ones with the least redeeming qualities are those rated PG-13. Go see practically anything but a PG-13 movie and you will find a more honest movie of better quality. Go see a PG-13 and you will find sex, nudity, and bad language thrown in for effect only, and to draw the teens.

    Take a look at some of the magazines aimed for teens. Until recently (the tide seems to have turned a bit), those meant for adolescent girls have assumed they are engaged in heavy sexual activity, and given detailed instructions about same. Then there’s music, MTV, videos.

    And if that’s not enough, go stand in the hallway of any middle school or high school. Interview the students. Try to figure out what – if anything – they don’t already know, haven’t already seen; and many have already engaged in it themselves.

    My point is not that they should not have heard this stuff, or should not have been exposed to it. The fact is, they have, and long before TSO came along. That horse has already left the barn. My point is that the rating – based on game content, not player activity – is appropriate, and that EA hasn’t misled anyone.

    To get a better persective about games that are truly adult, and appropriately rated as such, check out Sociolotron or Rose, and probably others I don’t know about.


  9. RB

    Jan 15th, 2004

    Rubbish. TSO is clearly an adult game. the low rating is only there so EA makes more cash. TSO is not suitable for young people, unless they are locked in thier own house 24/7. lol.

    - RB

  10. Cocoanut

    Jan 15th, 2004

    Have you studied the ESRB ratings and the TSO TOS, RB, and you still think that?


  11. Maria LaVeaux

    Jan 15th, 2004

    I am in complete agreement with you.

    So, Just how does one go about “Protecting” a Youth that probably has more sexual knowledge than a 35 year old? I am sure half the things they know are beyond most of our experience (Wel,,, perhaps not mine, but that is a different thread. lol.).

    My original observation stands, Ratings are simply a bromide to calm a Panicy adult population.


  12. Dyerbrook

    Jan 15th, 2004

    I don’t at all favor this idea that “because everyone’s doing it, it’s OK.” I don’t know what kind of community you live in, but even living in the heart of NYC, I make sure the kids for whom I’m responsible have organized activities afterschool and often pick them up myself, and I can’t imagine letting them roam around to experience all the things you seem to almost take pride in having been experienced by your kids — yes take pride, because you want to be able to prove you’re a good parent and that they come through unscathed even though expose to all these things. I don’t buy that approach. Just because there’s one article in The Washington Post about high school girls being lesbians doesn’t mean this is really the widespread thing that the media thinks it is. There are entire swatches of America that don’t live with this “horse is out of the barn door” attitude, not to mention entire countries of the world.

    And I thought we were supposed to be making a kind of utopia online, a kind of ideal world, or at least a world we could take a hand to shaping so that it won’t have the evils of the real world. I talked to some teenagers last night about the current newspaper articles about TSO, and one of them said that he didn’t bother to cyber on TSO because why do a simulation when you could do it in real life? But still, what he does in real life isn’t BDSM. He thought these articles were “all lies” because they didn’t reflect what most of the teens do in the game. Having been in the game for a year, I’d have to agree with him.

    Ugh. Once again, we’re hearing from Maria the theory of the non-innocent child, the teenager like the 35-year-old, and I find that frankly repulsive, because it sets up a proposition whereby players can do anything they want, and don’t have to be responsible, because the kids are all bad. I don’t believe they are all bad and I don’t think we should be contributing to the deliquency of minors in any event.

    I’ll bet that Maxis never imagined they’d be taken over by BDSM–who would? They didn’t prepare for it. Maybe they have some spot-checkers to make there there isn’t child porn going on but it’s probably more likely that they wait for petitions to come from players.

  13. Cocoanut

    Jan 15th, 2004

    I didn’t say they all DO all this stuff. I said they are all exposed to it.


  14. toy

    Jan 15th, 2004

    ummmmmmmm Dyerbrook…. your repeating Yourself once again :)

    toy would simply ask You one question and only one…… who appointed You the TSO saviour? as far as TSO being a utopia OMG….. is TSO Your first online experience? Do You honestly believe the same exact things dont go on in other online commkunities…. from the hack and slash onesto the mild ones? toy would say wake up…. its time now to get out a bit and discover the world :)

    jashi Va toy

  15. J

    Jan 15th, 2004

    I would like to make a couple additions to my article because I gave the ESRB too much credit. The three game raters do not actually PLAY the game. Nope, they never touched The Sims Online. Here is what ESRB explains on their website:

    “To get a game certified with an ESRB rating, publishers fill out a detailed questionnaire explaining exactly what’s in the game, and submit it to ESRB along with actual videotaped footage of the game, showing the most extreme content and an accurate representation of the context and product as a whole.”

    That’s right. EA filled out a standardized questionnaire and the raters watched a video tour of The Sims Online. Now, TSO is a very complex game. So, either this was VERY long video or VERY incomplete one. But don’t take my word for it, if you want to read the ESRB explanation for yourself, you can access it in the FAQ (http://www.esrb.com/esrbratings_faqs.asp).

    I’d also like to note that the game raters come from a diverse cross-section of the United States. Well… or at least anyone that can make to midtown Manhatten 1-4 times a month. I wonder if there are a lot of freelance parents with this kind of time and flexibility??? I would assume they should be since that’s who the rating are intended to inform! As a matter in fact, you can apply for as job as a game rater on their website(http://www.esrb.com/newslinks.asp?id=17&ann=4)!!! But don’t worry if you’re not a parent, the website says that experience with children is not a requirement!

  16. RB

    Jan 15th, 2004

    Aha! More evidence that EA could have easily misled them and not had a thing noticed. The fact the raters don’t even have to play the game is a HUGE flaw. The company can send in any kind of video footage they want. Showing only reasonable things.

    - RB

  17. Otto

    Jan 16th, 2004

    Be prepared for ALOT Of people coming here.

    You guys just made Drudge

  18. Kelli

    Jan 16th, 2004

    I’m not sure that it’s even appropriate to rate online games because the developers, unless they decide to act like policemen, really can’t control what is happening there — it is the participants who control it. The whole concept is that the experience is more open-ended than a non-online game, and therefore by definition you cannot really predict what is going to happen up-front.

    The caveat to this, it seems to me, is that the degree to which you can state, up front, what the experience will be like is directly proprortional to the degree you will be willing to police what is happening in the game. In other words, if Maxis knew that they were not going to police the game seriously beyond the profanity filter, and were going to allow cyber-brothels and strip joints, BDSM dungeons and the like to proliferate in the game, then I think that the up-front rating is somewhat misleading, because Maxis must have known that, given the demographic that the non-online version of The Sims appeals to, these kinds of things would at least be tried in the online game. And, of course, at this point Maxis knows exactly what is happening in TSO and hasn’t really done much of anything to stop it — which, to me at least, basically means (1) Maxis doesn’t really care what the rating on the game says at this point because it knows that things inconsistent with that rating are taking place frequently in the game and (2) Maxis doesn’t want to stop these things from taking place because many of the longer-term subscribers of TSO are precisely the folks who are participating in these kinds of things in the game — IOW, it keeps people coming back and keeps the subscription fees flowing for what was, by all accounts, a commercially disappointing release for Maxis.

    The other TSO-like online games are not, AFAIK, rated. Games like Second Life, There, etc. do not have ratings and have the same potential for similar things happening. They don’t have the subscriber base that TSO does, and they don’t distribute the game through retail outlets like TSO, but they present the same kinds of issues in terms of open gameplay environment, mature themes being present, etc.

    Honestly, I don’t know how to prevent this from happening without the folks running the servers really limiting the gameplay. ISTM that many of the participants in these virtual worlds are much more likely to have these kinds of alternative things feature in their gameplay because that is why they want to play in an alternative world to begin with — IOW, it’s what attracts a fair number of participants to this genre of game. So for the developers and server-runners to try to edit out this material from the game would probably cost them a good deal of the customer base — which is obviously not attractive.

  19. Lady Julianna

    Jan 16th, 2004

    Be careful my friends. Here is another thought. EA is struggling with TSO; I don’t believe it is profitable. If this continues for long enough, they will kill the game. If you force BDSM players out of the game, and there are a lot of us, you could well cause the game to be shut down. The loss of our player accounts would be significant.

    You do not have to be exposed to us. Just do not visit our homes, stay out of Rose Thorn Gardens. You can put us on ignore and it will be as if we do not exist. You would not see a word we typed, and we could not interact with you, even to tag you.

    The solution is very simple. If you are exposed to us, it is only because you choose to be.

  20. Kelli

    Jan 16th, 2004

    Hello Lady Juliana –

    i agree with Your post, and i do think it is probably one of the main reasons why Maxis has not done anything with the BDSM activities in TSO. And i also agree that W/we should all live and let live and if there are those in the game who do not like BDSM, just stay away from BDSM and the BDSMers. my only point was that i think that the ratings issue is really a non-issue, because i don’t think it’s really feasible to rate an online game in advance of its launch.


  21. Maria LaVeaux

    Jan 16th, 2004

    In furtherance of My Lady Julianna’s post, Rose/Thorn Gardens comprises approximatly 75 to 100 active houses.with an average of 5 residents per house. Ballpark figures, say,,, 350 players. We are one of four neighborhoods, the others are smaller, so,, add maybe 150 additional players.

    So,, people, would ask that approximatly 500 accounts be terminated from TSO or so altered that the players would abandon the game volentarily………………………

    Given Maxis, appearant problem keeping numbers up in TSO, what do you think the net result would be of such a significant hit to membership??

    Now,, the same reasoning used to classify us as undesirable would also apply to approximatly quadruple the number of “Romance” lots operating among other things, Strip clubs, Brothels, and Porno movie studios.
    Several homes of similar description exist in the entertainment catagory. and other property catagories.

    (For those statistical pureists, my figures are based on a rapid volume count, along with a random sampling of the lots theme and contents. I am VERY sure if one would take the time for a more thorough survey, there would be FAR more accurate numbers obtained. Mine are ballpark figures only.)

    Am i the only one who see’s the Monitary impracticality to Maxis of such a sweeping change in the Status Quo?

    This is all of course, completely off thread, but i added it for perspective.

    Did Maxis Mislead the ESRB?
    I think we are all agreed that the ESRB has so many deficiencies in operation, and application that it is, for all purposes, as good as not existing at all.Their Inability to grasp the possibilities in a game like TSO is hardly the fault of Maxis. Provide them with ten times as much information, and i still doubt they would, with the tools chosen, be able to properly evaluate it.
    Should TSO have been rated for adults?
    Again,, for all the good ratings would do,, yes. but as i stated in a previous post, the ratings have little impact on point of sale distribution. Ask any parent, “Would you Buy for your teen a Mature rated game? I think Most, but not all would say No. but ask the following questions as well:
    How many Computer and video games does your teen have?
    What are their titles?
    Are they all rated by the ESRB?
    What are their ratings?
    and most importantly,,,,,
    Did you buy them all for your teen?

    I Doubt they would be able to accuratly answer these questions. I think, IF they tell the truth, you will find they are almost completely unaware of their teens game playing habits.
    SO,, where is the effectiveness of the ESRB rating now?

    Saying the game should have a different rating is a good topic for debate but, it isn’t likely to happen, and it really wouldn’t have an impact if it did.


  22. Urizenus

    Jan 16th, 2004

    >You guys just made Drudge

    Oh oh.

  23. RB

    Jan 16th, 2004

    What is Drudge? =)

    - RB

  24. Bob

    Jan 17th, 2004

    I see that you are making some serious accusations here, but do you have any proof to back this up? You say that Maxis intentionall mislead the ESRB into giving them a T rating rather than M rating. Yet, you have nothing to prove for it except for supposition and speculation mixed with some cynicism. Outside of that, your article proves nothing.

    Now, let’s consider the “T” Rating. Why is it rated T? The game is already labeled for “mature sexual themes” and “violence”. But how bad is it? Consider the following questions.

    1) Is there nudity in the game? Yes, but it’s pixilated at worst. Yes, I am aware of a patch out there which can remove the pixilation, and perhaps a few skins giving the appearance of nudity, but that really doesn’t count as you are going outside of the game.

    2) Is there death in the game? No, at least not the last I checked.

    3) Is there violence? Yes. But it’s mostly cartoonish. Fights happen in a dust cloud, there would be some slapping or fighting, but nothing on the scale of say, Mortal Kombat or perhaps Street Fighter. There is no blood in the game, or dismemberment. It’s all in a cartoon like fashion.

    The fact is that most games rated M or AO are rated that for two reasons. First is extreme violence (lots of blood, dismemberment, etc.) or expicit sexual contact (realistic nudity, actual sexual intercourse, etc.) The Sims Online has neither of that.

    Half of what DOES go on is mostly in the player’s imagination. No one really recieves a blowjob in The Sims Online. No one really strips naked and have sexual intercourse (of course, the love bed is about closest there, but again, you never SEE anything). And no one really dies in the game (worst case scenario is that the motives get really low, but then the sim just whines about it).

    So, tell me again why this game should be rated M or AO?

  25. Urizenus

    Jan 17th, 2004

    I’ll bring these questions to the attention of J, but I gather his point is that the ESRB rating system is designed for a static environment without dynamic and unpredictable agents like human beings in them. The problem is not the love beds by themselves, the problem is what people type when in those love beds. If a culture emerges in which properties are advertised as brothels or BDSM dungeons, well then we have to think about whether a new kind of rating system isn’t called for. EA was asked to provide an example of the worst that could be done with the tools at hand. Well, we know that cyber-brothels are possible. Was this possibility presented to the ESRB? J didn’t say it wasn’t. He was asking whether they did. Note the question mark in the title of his article.

  26. Kelli

    Jan 17th, 2004

    I agree with the good Professor. I think that online games should either go unrated (like some of the non-retail ones do like There or Second Life) or they should get a special rating of “OL”, because that’s about all you can say about what is going to happen there. I think it is great that all this fun stuff is happening, but I also think that the ratings are misleading and really don’t apply well to online games.


  27. RB

    Jan 18th, 2004

    I agree with kelli. Traditional ratings do not apply to online games. A new one such as your “OL” are good. or perhaps “OLMG” for online multiplayer game. and the warning can be something like: Game experiance can and may change drastically over time. Player assumes all risk as to what they are exposed too.

    Makes people take responsibility for themselves, and frees up the game company from any crap as they have stated it’s a free world, and it’s up to you where you go and what you see. not them. it’s WIN-WIN. =)

    - RB

  28. Aadomm

    Jan 18th, 2004

    …and you made slashdot again too. Hope you got a decent server.

  29. Brandy

    Jan 18th, 2004

    A friend of mine found this website and told me to read it. I have been playing TSO since before it launched in the good ‘ol Tester days. I’ve read many of the comments here and I must confess that I think it would be a hard thing to tackle but young children should not be playing in the same land as adults.

    Most of my reasons for this are directly related to the paraphilia subject and the people that fall under that category. I am not trying to classify people but do 13 year olds need to be exposed to BDSM content? Should a 13 year old be following around a 35 year old man calling him Master? I think not.

    What it boils down to is that often times parents are not paying attention to the “online” world in which their child might be caught up in. You cannot protect them from everything however you can do your best to avoid putting them in situations they are not mature enough to deal with. Kids play in chatrooms on something as simple as yahoo and all it takes is creating an ID and an adult can once again prey on children. Perhaps this is more of a parenting challenge than anything.

    This might make some of you laugh or see the reality in all of this… It amused me because it’s so very true!


    It’s a short film called The Parlor.

    Chrysler actually promotes a film festival for short films etc. Interesting stuff if you choose to creat an account there.

    Have a great evening!

  30. Mistress Maria LaVeaux

    Jan 19th, 2004


    “Most of my reasons for this are directly related to the paraphilia subject and the people that fall under that category. I am not trying to classify people but do 13 year olds need to be exposed to BDSM content? Should a 13 year old be following around a 35 year old man calling him Master? I think not.”

    I believe the word you are Groping for is “Pedophelia”.

    But, I understand your point, and you are quite right.


  31. Catseye

    Jan 20th, 2004

    Unfortunally what we are missing is the fact that ratings only affect the honest kids out there.. they are exposed to more than just sex in real life look at all the Highschool shootings over the past few years… then look at them laying the blame on tv games etc instead of laying the blame on the parents for not taking the time to be involved in their kids lives… yes my friends we must take responsibility over that which WE can control… Why Should I have to be a parent/guardian to your kid?

    it is not the Lots that are the issue here it is not the lifestyle of what we take on in game that is the issue.. it is the laziness of people that is the issue here.. we are too lazy to question who we are interacting with… if a man is with a 13 year old that is wrong because the man and 13 old allow it to happen.. will imposing drastic changes in game stop this? nope might slow it down some until they switch to AIM ICQ Yahoo….

    As a former mass player online in game public rep I was in charge of training others in game to handle customer complaints and issues with the game.. we had a age guideline.. this was verified by sending in a drivers liscense copy to the headquarters before being accepted into the program.. after I had left the program I found out that alot of those I trained were under age for the program.. how did they get in then? simple they borrowed their Sisters Brother Mom Dad drivers liscense and copied it and sent it in..

    Making an Adult server will only be the same thing it will not fix the problem.. age restrictions are soo easy to get around after all how many of the 13 year olds playing TSO use their own credit cards? they dont and it is standard pratice to use CC info as proof of age in sex sites… reason kids do not use it as such is because parents would notice a charge from xxx girls guys in the nudes… the ONLY way to protect kids is to teach them and those that interact with them that it is wrong to do sexual activity and that is the parents job not ours… course we can pull the plug on TSO and then they will find another avenue to explore…

  32. Khan

    Jan 23rd, 2004

    ESRB is an ineffectual joke that, at best, serves as a guidline. Be a responsible parent and watch your children and what they do, ask them questions.
    Here’s how my son’s friend explained the ratings to his mother.
    M= Mega Hard, T= Tough, E= Easy
    She believed this until she was told otherwise by an adult.
    Here’s something else to think about. Since the rampant success of Grand Theft Auto more console based games have opted for the ‘M’ rating, whether they had content to warrant it or not. One case in point, DOA Beach Volleyball. I looked long and hard for some adult content and was saddened to find none.
    You can make He-Man and Barbie have sex, does that make them adult toys?
    And finally be responsible for yourself


    Feb 2nd, 2004

    I looked at the box again yesterday in the context of another discussion we are having in anotehr thread about these issues, and noticed that, at least on my box, the rating specifically says “Mature Sexual Themes” in the clarifying, or detail, box next to the “T” rating, and, in addition, contains the usual disclaimer for online games that the game experience may differ once online.

    If you go to http://www.esrb.com, there are definitions of what their terms mean. “Mature Sexual Themes” is defined to mean “provocative material, possibly including partial nudity”. Well, we know that TSO’s graphics don’t seriously contain partial nudity, so the reference must have been to “provocative material”, which seems to me to be an appropriate descriptor for the game as it is played. Interestingly, the general definition for the “T” rating does not include “mature sexual themes” but merely “suggestive themes”, which is defined to me “mild provocative reference or themes”, while the general definition for the “M” rating does include the reference to “mature sexual themes”, and the “A” rating is reserved for “graphic depictions of sex and/or violence”.

    Taken in this context, it seems to me that a few points may be gleaned:

    First, it seems that the disclosure on the box is appropriate. The reference to “mature sexual themes” is pretty direct and also missing from almost any other “T” rating I have come across. I think that it goes a long way to warning folks. I suspect that the reason that TSO did not get the M rating was because of the tameness of the graphics, which do not contain any graphical nudity or partial nudity, and nothing more physically stirring than kissing, which was also available in the offline version of the game. My guess is that the ESRB went with the T rating because the graphics were tame, but added the (for T strange) caveat relating to mature sexual themes to highlight that, in connection with the online nature of the game, there may be mature sexual themes discussed, but that is it. In light of all of that, the rating on the box does not seem inappropriate to me or inconsistent with how other games have been rated.

    When I look at the most common “M” games I am aware of, I am often puzzled at the rating. GTA is probably the least puzzling, given that the game itself is horrificly violent in a wanton and graphic manner, and the depictions of sex — almost all of which involve prostitution — are more graphic than in any other commercially distributed game I have seen. BMX XXX got its M rating because it decided to reward players with video clips from strip joints in NYC — classy(?!?), and it deserved the M for this (and seems to have been chasing the M rating). DOA Volleyball doesn’t seem to deserve the M rating unless pixelated portrayals of anime-style women in bathing suits is a mature sexual theme — don’t really see the difference between that and the SI swimsuit issue, to be honest, but in light of all of this it makes me think that the esrb is really interested in the GRAPHICS more than anything else, and, at least in the sexual area, the more revealing and/or suggestive that they are, the more likely you will get an “M” rating. This probably explains wht TSO did not receive anything more than a “T” — the graphics are tame — but nevertheless earned the odd reference to “mature sexual themes” anyway.

    I think that the fact of the matter is that online games are difficult to predict. Let’s look at Star Wars Galaxies, for example. One wouldn’t think that issues similar to those decried here for TSO would also present themselves there, but the cantinas — especially in the new player-designed cities — present an interesting counterpoint. For the most part what happens there is very straightforward — entertainers dance and play music and the fighter types are healed of mental wounds. But every now and then, something more happens — a fighter finds a particular entertainer attractive and may proposition her, if you will, for an exchange of services in return for a hefty tip, if you know what I mean. I’m not saying that this is common, but it isn’t unheard of either, and it wasn’t what Sony intended for the game, but nevertheless it is possible with the technology and so it happens. That’s an example of saying that experience may differ in online play. In an online environment where people are free to exchange notes and messages in public and private, there isn’t really any way to control what they are saying to each other. If it is the case that every game that offers this possibility is problematic because of the potential for X-rated talk to occur, then we should perhaps be discussing a separate rating for online games in general, something like “OL” or the like.

    A related issue arises when considering games that are not distributed retail. Second Life and There, for example, are not distributed in retail outlets but only over the internet, and therefore they have *no* rating. What to do with these? DO we mandate that they also be rated? Second Life does not *feature* nudity, but it is possible. There are areas of the game that are “PG” and areas that are “mature”, but there is no policing system to keep people *out* of mature areas — rather it is designed to let people know if they do not wish to go to those areas where more mature content is permitted — like clubs with pixelated exotic dancers, shops featuring pornographic artwork, fetish clothing and the like. “There” does not feature this kind of thing graphically, but has mature content in any case, including BDSM clubs, escort services auctions and the like. And, in fact, the only game I have ever seen that I would say hands down deserved the “A” rating — ‘Sociolotron’, which I didn’t find very compelling as a game, btw — ironically doesn’t get any rating because it is distributed online. Although Sociolotron attempts to restrict itself to 21+ by bank account verification, Second Life and There do not do this and are essentially open fields which, at least in the case of SL, contain much more graphical content by far than TSO. What do we do about these kinds of non-retail games and virtual worlds? They aren’t subject to the esrb’s ratings system, but yet they attract many of the same people to them because they are, in concept, similar.


  34. Helen

    Feb 22nd, 2004

    Why does the Rating system on games allow a E game to get away with saying HIS name in vain? It’s the newest Spider-man game. I was outraged! If you rent it the guard says “oh,- my back”. What’s up with that?

  35. Urizenus

    Feb 22nd, 2004

    Dunno. If J is still around and reading the thread he could maybe check into what the “E” rating allows and doesn’t. I think J has a contact at ESRB.

Leave a Reply