Saturday, August 20, 2005

Rate Me, My Friend

In response to
a comment concerning a recent post, I have decided to give a breakdown on the current media ratings systems. A little compare and contrast.

Now, I'm far too lazy to spell out every single rating and analyze it. To be honest, I tried doing that and it just got far too tedious.

Instead I'm going to throw some links out there and let people go right to the source.

Here you go:

1. MPAA's Movie Ratings

2. ESRB's Videogame Ratings

3. TV Parental Guidelines Ratings System

4. A quick breakdown of some ratings systems

Note that music has no official ratings board, only those stylish "PARENTAL ADVISORY: EXPLICIT LYRICS" stickers that tell kids exactly which CDs they want.

Now, all of these ratings boards are completely voluntary for producers of media. However, without the rating your product will be rejected by most distributors. This is, again, part of a voluntary system.

A movie theater doesn't let children into R-rated films not because of the rating, but because most R-rated films have content that could see them prosecuted by a parent under obscenity/child protection laws. In other words, the rating is seen as a guideline that provides a good indicator of how retailers can protect themselves. So the retailers make sure they protect themselves.

A rating is, in fact, not meant as anything but the broadest suggestion for parents. Content indicators are the latest nods toward providing parents with what they need. In my own opinion they are one of the better methods.

Consider the problem here. Parents have trouble vetting content for their children, because there is SO much media out there. A simple rating does not work for them (though it does a fairly good job for retailers) because they need more information in order to determine their own particular idea of what is allowable.

Hence the content descriptors, which attempt to categorize content. But again, there can be some ambiguity with the descriptors. Fantasy violence? How is that different from cartoon violence?

Now, that's obviously not good enough for some parents. But what, then, is a good way, for them, of determining appropriate media? It simply isn't feasible for them to read/watch/play everything before their own children.

One good way, I feel, is with sites such as They provide in-depth content reviews based upon several categories, and they consider quantity as well as context. Looking at any movie you can immediately see bullet points of different scenes in their respective categories. Reading just a few of these should be sufficient for almost any parent to make a determination.

Videogames are a little trickier. They require a new way of looking at ratings. A koan: How many incidents of violence are there in GTA: San Andreas?

This site seems to do a pretty good job, though the reviews using their own system are sparse (they refer to after a few perfunctory reviews). This site, too (though I disagree with their idea that "violent media causes violence" has been proven). Here, too.

These independent sites represent, for me, the best kind of resource available to parents. Only by either 1) playing a game ourselves or 2) getting a broad sampling of how other people view the content can we make anything considered an informed decision.

The con side to those sites is that they all seem reactionary and censorial themselves. They represent the kind of people who feel that getting San Andreas out of stores completely is somehow a triumph, and not simply the mob restricting what's available (why not keep it behind the shelves? I know that Wal-Mart locks all their games away, so how hard is it for them to refuse sale to minors?).

A government censoring body is an absolutely despicable idea - we see how well they've done already determining which videogame elements deserve patents. We don't need centralization - we need collation from many different sources. We need specifics, we need information - not decrees.

And we need to realize that reacting to things with which we don't agree and/or understand by suppressing them is shallow and juvenile. Imposing your own values on everyone, marginalizing those who disagree, these are indications of a harsh ideology, one which really is inconsistent with any principles of freedom. Tolerance of opposing values does not beg or imply approval - it only asks for room to breathe.

End soapbox.

An anecdote:

Years ago, while I was still in high school, I convinced a friend of mine to sit down and watch Star Wars with me.

I saw her cringing through the entire film.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"Oh, nothing." She shook her head slightly. "It's just that it's so violent."

I looked up at the screen again. Sure enough, someone's getting singed by a laser bolt and flying backward.

I'd never noticed it before.

Or rather, I hadn't considered it.

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