While working on a yet to be fully evolved article on ESRB ratings
I had a quick chat with ESRB president Patricia Vance. Video game ratings can be somewhat confusing for parents who aren't too familiar with the ratings system and who aren't involved in their kids games. I wanted to know from Ms. Vance what she felt were the responsibilities were from different parties (including her own organization) but she stayed pretty PC with me, which I expected. Here's an excerpt from the interview.
1. What exactly does the ESRB do? Do you feel its effective? If so, how? If its not as effective as it should be, what would make it more effective? What powers do you feel the ESRB should have that it doesn't?
PV: The ESRB's main function is assigning age and content ratings to virtually every game sold at retail in the U.S. and Canada. Beyond that, the ESRB ratings are supported by a strong enforcement system that we administer, as well as the Advertising Review Council (ARC), which monitors print, online and television media to ensure that game publishers adhere to industry-adopted marketing and advertising guidelines. The true measure of the effectiveness of a rating system is whether or not consumers trust and use it, and consumer research shows that 83% of parents are aware of ESRB ratings, and three in four check the ratings regularly when buying games for their children. In fact, a survey of 1,000 parents conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that 53% of parents find the ESRB ratings "very useful" (the highest among the various rating systems). Overall usefulness exceeded 90% in that survey, so I think that the ESRB rating system is remarkably effective in terms of serving the needs of parents.
2. What is the role of parents/game manufactures/the ESRB/retailers and even kids when it comes to picking out games with appropriate content?
PV: The role of ESRB is to provide parents with reliable information with which to make an educated purchase decision, and that is precisely what we do for each of the more than 1,000 titles we rate each year. Parents should then be sure to take advantage of that information and consider it when choosing which games they find to be appropriate for their families. The industry has really done a remarkable job implementing an effective and powerful rating system, and retailers also continue their strong support for ESRB ratings, whether through displaying signs in their stores that educate consumers about the ratings, training their store associates about ratings or improving the enforcement of their store policies not to sell M-rated games to those under 17 (which the FTC has measured now occurs 65% of the time at national retailers). In fact, earlier this year the ESRB created the ESRB Retail Council (ERC), which has furthered the commitment of several major retailers on these issues.
3. Is it fair to compare the ESRB to the MPAA?
PV: In some ways I suppose, but the ESRB system does have some advantages. For example, the ESRB ratings are more prominently displayed on both the front and back of game packaging, and that visibility is important in terms of providing parents with clear and easy to find information. Additionally, our content descriptors are standardized and clearly defined on our website. We have over 30 years of catching up to do with the MPAA in terms of awareness, and at 83% awareness of ESRB ratings among parents, the gap is closing quickly.
4. Why do violent games get so much more press than violent movies?
PV: If I had to speculate, I'd have to say it's likely due in part to the fact that video games are the newer of the two and as a result are perhaps not as understood as a medium as are films. Another reason may be the misperceptions that persist about games, that they’re all intended for kids. Many people don’t realize that the average age of a gamer today is actually 33, so it’s not surprising that just like movies and TV shows, games are created for a diverse audience of all ages. So when you consider some of the games in the Mature category and couple them with the misperception that these games are created for kids, the issue tends to appear compelling. It’s worth noting that M-rated games only represent about 12% of the games we rate each year; the E for Everyone category is still by far the biggest.
5. Why have politicians latched on to games as a focus point?
PV: Sounds like a good question for you to ask some of those politicians.