The video game industry has faced a few political attacks recently: A violent video games tax earlier this month from Oklahoma legislator Fourkiller, and most notably, California’s push to ban violent video games last year. And while these actions may have flown under the banner of parental aid, what about the ESRB? In an attempt to make the video game ratings system more visible, the ESRB has teamed up with Penny Arcade once again on a new PSA campaign to alert more parents about ways to aid their video game decision-making process.
The campaign will be making its way online and through print in the spring through parenting and gaming media outlets. There will be three messages, drawn in the Penny Arcade-style, featuring caricatures based on real parents and gamers with different perspectives on ESRB ratings. There will be one PSA for using ratings to buy video games, how to check rating summaries for more game content detailsm and one on using the ESRB mobile app for decision making convenience while purchasing games in-store.
The three main stars of the ESRB campaign include a Navy wife with two teenagers from Lakeside, CA, a married father and his son from Lafayette, IN, and a devoted gamer from Los Angeles, CA. The stars were selected based on a “micro-essay” contests held on Facebook, where entrants described how valuable the ESRB ratings and resources were.
“Our new PSA campaign is designed to get the message to parents that there are tools they can sue to make informed choices about video games for their children and families, even beyond the rating on a game’s package,” said Patricia Vance, ESRB president. “We felt there was no one better to share insights about the ESRB ratings than real parents and gamers who use the ratings themselves.”
The Entertainment Software Rating Board is the non-profit, self regulatory (non-government) body that has been assigning age and content ratings for video games since 1994. According to the board’s commissioned study, conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates, at least 85 percent of parents with gamer children know of the ESRB ratings, and at least two-thirds of that number use the ratings regularly. According to a report by the FTC–which was cited in the recent California violent games case– the system allows the gaming industry to “[outpace] the movie and music industries,” through restrictions on target marketing mature products to children, by prominently disclosing rating information, and by restricting children’s access to mature-rated products at retail.
While the ESRB has managed the industry so far, the non-profit body will need to revamp the way it does things with the upcoming spike in rating needs. Gaming popularity is on the rise, and with the influx of social and mobile gamers, there’s talk of the rating process becoming automated and there being one global system for all games. The ESRB has already gone forward on the mobile-front last year by cutting down on the requirements needed for obtaining a rating. Globally, the new system would create one process for developers, taking into account different countries norms and particular laws when assigning ratings.
“There is a general buy in on the concept,” said Patricia Vance. “The devil is going to be in the details, like who funds it and what the questions (for the rating system) should be. They have to be nuanced enough to address the differences in cultural norms.”