Controversy Over Video Game Ratings

By Amy Clerkin and Michelle Boca

Violent video games has been getting into the hands of those that should not be playing them. While video game rating seems helpful, they can often be deceiving and is not fully accurate. When young children play games that are not suitable for them, they are exposed to a lot of violence as a result of playing those games. Because of this, parents are concerned about what their children is experiencing.


Video game ratings have been highly controversial and debated since the beginning. This became especially problematic when gamers discovered “cheat codes” that allows the player to access material that was above the rating. The Senate, spearheaded by NY Senator Hilary Clinton, began an investigation of RockStar Games, the developer of Grand Theft Auto. In a letter to the Federal Trade Commission, Clinton wrote, “We should all be deeply disturbed that a game which now permits the simulation of lewd sexual acts in an interactive format with highly realistic graphics has fallen into the hands of young people across the country.” Clinton enforced regulations pushing for more stringent enforcement policies to ensure that children couldn’t get their hands on adult rated games.

“The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is the organization responsible for rating video games. ”


The ESRB utilizes the following rating symbols which can be found on the front of a game box with content descriptors on the back of the box:

EC (Early Childhood) – content that is suitable for ages 3 and older; contains no material that parents would find inappropriate.

E (Everyone) – content that is suitable for ages 6 and older; may contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence.

E10+(Everyone 10 and older) – content that may be suitable for ages 10 and older; may contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language, and/or minimal suggestive themes.

T (Teen) – content that may be suitable for ages 13 and older; may contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood and/or infrequent use of strong language.

M (Mature) – content that may be suitable for ages 17 and older; may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content, and/or strong language.

AO (Adults Only) – content that should only be played by ages 18 and older; may contain prolonged scenes of intense violence and/or graphic sexual content and nudity.

This controversy affects everyday Americans who play video games but it directly affects those with children. Ensuring that video games are rated properly makes children safe.

maxresdefault.jpgGrand Theft Auto: San Andreas is rated M for mature which meant that the game was meant for ages 17 and up. Gamers discovered a code that allowed them to enter hidden areas of the game that was much more sexually explicit and was extremely violent. As a result, parents got worried. Questions such as “does the current video rating system work? Do video ratings actually inform parents as to the content of a game” have risen.

“Violent video games have been blamed for school shootings, increases in bullying, and violence towards women. Critics argue that these games desensitize players to violence, reward players for simulating violence, and teach children that violence is an acceptable way to resolve conflicts.”  An example of when a video game was blamed for a school shooting was the massacre of 13 people at Columbine High School in 1999. The two teenage shooters were revealed to be avid players to a shooting game called Wolfenstein 3D and Doom.

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Violence toward women is a big concern in violent video games. In Grand Theft Auto, women are portrayed as strippers and are treated badly. They are used for their bodies and the game also allows the player to kill prostitute and take their money. actual_1385081357

ESRB has been accused of not rating video games accurately enough for violence and other harsh related content. Critics have stated that “some games only received the M rating rather than the stricter AO rating because of the commercial effects of such a rating.” This means that if a video game was rated Adults Only, it would dramatically affect sales. With a Mature rating, more people can buy the video game thus more profit for the makers of said game. Video game publishers would edit a game in order to meet the requirements for the M rating.

Michigan Senator Fred Upton and another U.S Senator Sam Brownback placed bills to governmentally oversee on aspects of the ESRB rating process, and make it illegal for publishers to misrepresent the playable content of a video game to a ratings board; Upton proposed a bill known as the Video Game Decency Act, explaining that developers had “done an end-run around the process to deliver violent and pornographic material to our kids”, and that the bill would “[go] hand in hand with the mission of the industry’s own ratings system.”

The stated aim of the proposed legislation was “To prohibit deceptive acts and practices in the content rating and labeling of video games”.

Brownback proposed a bill known as the Truth in Video Game Rating Act, which would have also forced the ESRB to have full, hands-on access to games instead of just video footage, and have initiated a government study on the “effectiveness” of the organization and the possibility of forming a ratings organization independent from the video game industry.


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