Age Ratings in Video Games

Video Games Step into the Limelight

Video games have grown from strength to strength over the last 20 years. Whereas the industry started out as something as a niche for hobbyists with cash to splash in the 1980s, games have steadily grown in importance and accessibility over time. Franchises have matured and grown solid fan bases and the children of the early days have grown older. These former gamers have often continued their hobby into adulthood, introducing their own children to games.

Pushing Boundaries

Games have evolved significantly over time into the diverse range of genres available today. Game developers are constantly seeking to break new boundaries with their titles, exciting fans old and new. Boundary pushing has become the ‘done thing’ in modern society and gaming has come under increasing scrutiny as a result. Parents and organizations around the world (such as Familles de France) have taken an interest in age ratings in games and the exposure of children to potentially violent or sexualized images, among other controversial themes. As a consequence, countries around the world follow a series of guidelines which help to protect children from scenes deemed unsuitable within their specific country or region.

Age Ratings and Censorship Galore

While age ratings in videogames are always a hot topic for debate, it is important to consider that what makes one country ‘tick’ doesn’t necessarily cause concern in another. These differences can vary significantly – in Germany, for example, there are stringent regulations on violence in videogames, whereas in the USA, nudity is a definite no-no. This isn’t exclusively a modern day phenomenon however. This dates way back to the glory days of the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. In 1994’s Streets of Rage 3 (Bare Knuckle III in Japan), censors were so concerned about nudity on show, that several characters (most notably bikini-clad/whip-wielding females), were given whole new clothing pallets for the US release.

Electra

Bare Knuckle III           Streets of Rage 3

Garnet/Soozie

Bare Knuckle III          Streets of Rage 3

Streets of Rage 3 was rated MA-13 by the Videogame Rating Council (VRC). The VRC was created by Sega of America in 1994 to rate all video games released for Sega consoles in the United States. Despite Streets of Rage 3 being granted a rating that made it suitable for ‘Mature Audiences’,  the game was still adapted for the US release. The VRC was phased out in 1994 when the whole American video game industry agreed to follow the ratings suggested by the Entertainment Software Rating Board ESRB, an independent body which has become the primary regulator for age ratings in the US.

The ESRB creates the age and content ratings for video games and apps in North and Latin America. In the US, one game in particular generated much publicity in recent years – for all the wrong reasons. Rated M by ESRB, 2004’s The Guy Game was banned in 2005 due to existing pornography laws. Containing digitalized images of topless females, one of the models featured in-game claimed to be underage (17) at the time of filming. The wide-spread media attention and lawsuit resulted in the game being banned.

Ratings – Around the World in ’18’ Days

In Latin America, other cultural sensitivities need to be considered. In Brazil, since 2002, video games are rated by the Department of Justice, Rating, Titles, and Qualification [Portuguese: Departamento de Justiça, Classificação, Títulos e Qualificação] (DEJUS). The ESRB system from the USA failed to take Brazilian cultural differences into account. With documentation left in English, ESRB was deemed unsuitable and replaced by DEJUS, which primarily analyzes the presence of sex, violence, and drugs in video games.

It’s not just the USA where sexualized images and content are issues in gaming. In Islamic countries, nudity and scenes of a sexual nature can impact the release of games. In Saudi Arabia, the PlayStation 3 exclusive Heavy Rain was banned due to nudity and a sex scene. Rated 18 in Europe by the Pan European Game Information (PEGI) system, the game concentrated on adult, ‘film noir’ elements and was thus deemed unsuitable for children. Game developers have become increasingly aware of the impact of age restrictions on games sales. Taking this into account, Heavy Rain’s French developers, Quantic Dream, released the France exclusive release Heavy Rain Edition Modifiée, to target younger audiences of gamers. Elsewhere in Europe, other sensitivities come into effect. In Germany, for example, games containing historical references to Adolf Hitler, swastika flags or Nazi related content have previously been listed as racist propaganda pieces. In July 2012, PEGI announced it had been officially designated as the exclusive age rating system for video games in the United Kingdom. Online games for European markets are often covered by a variation to the PEGI system known as PEGI Online.

Heading into the Far East, the style and content of video games in Asia can differ widely from those played in the West. Erotic games feature more predominantly in the Japanese gaming market and, as a result, two common rating systems are in place. The Computer Entertainment Rating Organization (CERO) rates games with an easy-to-use letter system which can reveal the nature of a game’s content quickly. Erotic games and those featuring dating simulations are covered by a different organization – the Ethics Organization of Computer Software (EOCS). This highlights how diverse games have become in Japan, where the industry has had time to develop and evolve to suit the needs of both the popular, and niche, consumer. In contrast, the process in South Korea is more linear. Ratings handed out by the Game Rating Board (GRB), created as recently as 2006, cover ages ranging from ‘All’ to ‘18’.

The differences in video game age rating organizations around the world is clearly evident with countries demanding specific guidelines relating to content that is culturally, linguistically, politically, and historically sensitive, and inclusive. It’s therefore vitally important for games developers and publishers to take age ratings into account when developing and localizing products for each specific target market.

James Norman, Copywriter, MO Group International

About MO Group International

MO Group International is a leading localization, translation and game testing provider. With linguistic expertise in over 40 different languages for every genre of game, MO Group International delivers high quality QA testing, community management, and localization services. Working on small-to-large-scale projects, MO Group International caters to the cultural and linguistic needs of both its clients and its customers. For more information, visit www.mogi-translations.com

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