A California Senator from San Francisco showed he really doesn't understand the video game industry, saying in an interview about the pending Supreme Court case on a CA violent video game law that the current age-rating system is "rather biased."
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Democrat Leland Yee has issue with the fact that ESRB operates itself from money paid by video game publishers. That kind of relationship, he contends, is suspect at best.
"Clearly, they're not going to legitimately and appropriately place any markings on any video games, because it's in the interest of the video [game] industry to sell as many video games as possible," said Yee.
Yee goes on to talk about the ESRB's "AO" rating, essentially the video game equivalent of the movie industry's NC-17 rating, a death knell of a rating because retailers refuse to stock AO games, and none of the consoles will offer licenses to a game with an AO rating. That leaves the only distribution option for AO games as a PC game sold online or at no-name retailers.
"You never heard of an AO rating whatsoever, because that would limit your market share," opined Yee. However, what he doesn't realize is that games do receive AO ratings from time to time. If they do, the publishers will almost always go back and re-program their games to get a more favorable M rating. You never hear about these games, because the ESRB does not publish these ratings if the publisher chooses to change the game.
And yes, although publishers pay money to the ESRB to have their games rated, the ESRB is under strict scrutiny from third-party agencies to ensure it operates with fair and unbiased treatment.
It's going to be difficult to eliminate all bias. Every industry goes through this - people at the ESRB no doubt develop publisher relationships over the years and may look at some submissions without the same critical eye as first-time submitters, but I think most gamers and people familiar with the ESRB would be unlikely to have the same cynical attitude as Senator Yee.
He's trying to get some negative attitudes into the public mindset before the potentially landmark Supreme Court case begins its hearing. That case will determine whether a newly passed California law is constitutional. The law would require retailers to put special packaging on games that have overly offensive violent content, effectively going over the heads of the widely respected ESRB rating system and its existing relationships with retailers.
Every single similar case that has gone before the Supreme Court has been struck down, citing First Amendment rights. However, the Court makeup is considerably different now than it was during the last time such a case was heard. It's now more left-leaning, so anything is up for grabs. A victory for California in this case would be a huge defeat for gamers and the entire industry as it would have a cascading effect on every single major publisher in the world.
Hopefully the Supreme Court justices will be more informed about the ESRB than Senator Yee.
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