ESRB president believes AO ratings are “good for the system”

Tuesday, 10 April 2012 14:03 GMT By Stephany Nunneley

ESRB president Patricia Vance has told Gamasutra she believes AO ratings are “good for the system” and that she wishes elected officials would stop trying to pass bills aimed at limiting the sale of video games – something she equates with “frivolous lawsuits”.

The problem with AO ratings, according to Vance, is its public association with sexual content; however, many violent games receive and AO rating as well until the publisher cuts content in order to get an M for Mature rating. You all may recall Manhunt 2 was handed such a rating until content was cut for consoles. The PC release still carried the AO rating though.

“You know up to this point most people associate AO with sexual content. We’ve actually assigned AO ratings for violent content as well; it’s just that most of the time that product gets edited or changed in order to warrant an M rating, so you never see it in the market,” Vance explained.

“It’s very possible that there will be greater acceptance of an AO rating going forward. And by the way, I think that would be a good thing for the system. It’s very frustrating that publishers can’t release AO product, in many cases.”

With so many violent games being released, many lawmakers and elected officials have been pushing for regulation, especially when with the sale of said content to minors – measures the Supreme Court of the United States continue to deny.

Vance is of the opinion such bills are akin to “frivolous lawsuits” and with the FTC on the ESRB’s side in the ratings game, as well as the Supreme Court siding with the medium as “a form of speech”, she hopes the waste of time and tax payer dollars eventually ceases.

“The Federal Trade Commission praises our system; they’re big supporters of ours,” she said. “They were very enthusiastic about the rating system that we just announced. They are very savvy about the market – savvier than most people probably give them credit for. And every couple of years they issue a report to Congress on the marketing of violent entertainment to children; they’re going to continue to do that for the foreseeable future.

“So there’s still going to be a watchdog on the industry in terms of how responsibly it rates product. Comprehensively they display those ratings and how they advertise their product, and then of course making sure that certain product that’s not intended for a young audience isn’t inappropriately targeted to a young audience, those kinds of things. The government’s not going to stop doing that. [laughs]

“Hopefully the Supreme Court will reduce the number of those sorts of what I would consider to be frivolous laws. The courts are pretty clear now on the fact that video games are considered a form of speech, just equal to film, TV, books, et cetera. So I think that’s really positive for the industry and obviously for what we do. But you know politics are politics, and elected officials, or those who are running for elected office, tend to get a lot of complicity when they speak about violent video games.”

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