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How the Rating System Fails—A Suggestion

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This is an editorial piece. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of, and should not be attributed to, Niche Gamer as an organization.

It was a weekend and I was at a party. It was a different type of party since it was held inside a classic video game store with the important factor of being open to anyone passing by. I was hanging out and talking with friends when the mother of another friend presents me this nice lady, who must have been in her 50’s. She wanted to talk to me, as she had some questions and also some ideas. It turns out that someone had told her I worked in video games, so for her I was the perfect person to talk to.

She asked one of the most common questions of concerned parents, or in this case grandparents, of what exactly I thought about kids playing these violent games like Call of Duty. I took it, as I always take it, personally. This is a common problem that exists in our video gaming society, parents and generally older people do not know that video games have ratings.

I gently explained the problem, and how games are rated. She didn’t believe it, as she has never seen such a rating. I pulled out from the shelves around me a random box (it was a Mega Drive/Genesis game from the ’90s) and showed her that even 20 years ago, they already had a rating system. Then I searched for some current Playstation game and showed how it improved and became standardized across Europe. I could see in her face that she was a bit embarrassed that she had never noticed the rating sticker before.

After some talks about the rating system and having more questions answered, she told me how she used to buy Sega games for her kids and that now she was buying them for her grandchildren. She was a bit happier to know that society was doing something about telling parents whether a video game was suitable for a younger audience or not, but then she told me it was a bit pointless because boys can just go into the stores and buy the games they want, anyway.

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No, I told her. Here in Portugal, and across most of Europe, stores are forbidden by law to sell video games to youngsters unless they are accompanied by a legal guardian. Of course, I had to tell her that this is a bit pointless since, just like her, most parents just ignore the rating and buy their 11 year old the latest Grand Theft Auto or whatever and are done with it.

She concurred, having done it herself. (From now on she won’t.) We talked a bit more about video game development and how somebody can study and work in this industry. She was extremely well informed and a very nice lady. She thanked me for the information and I returned to chatting with my friends at the party.

This is something that is not okay, and for the last years it has been bugging me: how can we get the message about video games not being just for kids more clearly to those who don’t understand what a video game is?

The rating system works, as it clearly defines an appropriate age for the video game, but I believe it ultimately fails since all video games are clustered together in an Xbox, Nintendo, or Playstation area. When uninformed parents go out and buy a video game, they just see it as a one thing. All video games are the same, and the only thing to be concerned about is whether the game works on their console.

There are a lot of things we could be doing in stores that we are not, at least in most of the stores in Europe. I don’t really know what happens in the USA, Japan, or Brazil, but I take it the same problem applies.

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A kids section

I have seen some stores that have a kids section. They usually put the books, comics, and all the other things for kids in this area. Why not video games?

An adult section

Everyone who is over 30 remembers that all video stores used to have an adult section. Sometimes it would be at the back, other times it was behind the counter but it existed among the other sections.

Why aren’t we separating video games by horror, action, puzzle, etc.? I don’t need to have access to only the latest games. Give me a selection of titles from some years ago, from now and with different prices. Stores would sell more if there was more information other than “Top5” or “New Games”.

What about an “awards” section with games from last years than won awards?

Are video games really so bland that we continually have them on sale all clumped together instead of keeping them in separate sections?

The rating system

Where is the information about PEGI, ESRB, USK, etc? We don’t need bigger stickers like the USK ones (which are atrociously big), we need a panel in the stores explaining that there is a rating system and parents should use it when choosing a video game. A big sign please. The stores won’t do it? Make it mandatory!

Locking a console

Kids are smart little monkeys. If they can’t get a parent to buy the game they want, they will try to get it themselves, borrowing from a friend or whatever. Most of us know that consoles possess the ability for parents to lock games out but are parents using this system? Alongside the rating system information, consoles should have a big sign talking about this.

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There are so many ideas and solutions that I really can’t believe that video game stores continue to work the way they do. And don’t tell me that we will continue to separate games by platform because that is the way it is. New multi-platform launches are already shown together with all platforms in one section in stores, so why not do the same for every other game?

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About

Filipe is the co-founder of Nerd Monkeys, a Portuguese company where he works developing videogames.



24 comments
  1. Nin
    Nin
    February 13, 2015 at 11:19 am

    >People not reading the description at all
    Sadly, this applies to anime, except worse since there isn’t an outright rating usually. While it’s not quite as bad as before, where tentacle hentai was mixed in with mainstream anime, there are times I had to stop my mom from traumatizing some little kid with some horror anime or giving a conservative Christian family shounen-ai (Kyou Kara Maoh is surprisingly wide spread in old anime stores now that I think about it.)

    Anyways, yeah, in the US, games are separated by console, unused and used, then alphabetical order, so it’s a pretty much the same thing.
    It’s also the same thing in the Philippines or maybe that’s just Manila.

    I think that at least for video game specialty stores, games should be organized by genre. All stores that sell video games should have posters explaining the rating system though, as movie theaters usually have the same thing in the US.

  2. MaidKillua
    MaidKillua
    February 13, 2015 at 11:21 am

    New releases are presented the way they are just to stand out more and sell more copies i’d assume. Used games could definitely be organised better though. Although where I live they never get good trade ins anyway because everyone here just plays COD and FIFA, I buy all my games on Amazon now

  3. dsadsada
    dsadsada
    February 13, 2015 at 11:33 am

    From a buyer’s perspective, I can see your point but from the store’s perspective, maybe not as much. There’s limited shelf space even in stores entirely dedicated to selling games like Gamestops and such or whatever the local store is.

    The first thing you want to know is if you can play a game on the device you want so sorting by console is the obvious first step. But my local ones just sort everything under it alphabetically by name and whether or not it’s got one of those special cases like the red PS3 cases. This is fine if you’re looking for a specific title but not if you’re looking for a specific genre.

    Trying to sort it by genre would be great but then you’d have a few titles under certain genres or some titles that don’t fit well in others.

    A Kid’s and Adult’s section sounds much more doable but rather than that, sorting by the rating system your country uses might be better. It will also make it easier for parents to know and understand what the rating system is and what it’s for. Likewise, having a poster to explain the rating system is a must. Bored parents can then spend their time reading it.

    But if you do want to sort by genre, there was a good idea from one store I saw back in the day. They had printed copies of the game’s covers inside a clear folder marked with the console the game was on. The contents were then separated by genre. Like shooters came first, then sports, then racing, then RPGs, etc. This saves up having to rearrange the shelves but allows customers to view the store’s selections by genre and by console.

  4. BeholdMyPower
    BeholdMyPower
    February 13, 2015 at 11:47 am

    “Where is the information about PEGI, ESRB, USK, etc? We don’t need bigger stickers like the USK ones (which are atrociously big), we need a panel in the stores explaining that there is a rating system and parents should use it when choosing a video game. A big sign please. The stores won’t do it? Make it mandatory!”

    I think this is the most reasonable suggestion, personally. Doesn’t force stores to shuffle around/fork out for more shelf space etc. Put the sign(s) in plain view, perhaps even make it the first thing customers see when they walk in.

  5. 7-D Sensei
    7-D Sensei
    February 13, 2015 at 12:13 pm

    I was playing conkers bad fur day and Manhunt games at the age of 11-13. Shoutouts to Mom & Dad for the Christmas presents.

  6. Eshu_Eleggua
    Eshu_Eleggua
    February 13, 2015 at 12:59 pm

    There was a practice in the US to show ESRB ads in game stores and the electronics section of big retailers. Unfortunately, that has changed in recent years. I only see a small sticker explaining the rating system and it is unnoticeable. I like the idea of having a kids section, but think it would be easier to have a kids section in each of the various consoles sections. It would limit the adults who have no idea about what they are buying from getting the wrong games for their console. The kids section could be the lower shelves and the mature games be kept at the top shelves.

  7. inquisitormcsagington
    inquisitormcsagington
    February 13, 2015 at 1:38 pm

    So your blaming your parents for your big titted flower fetish, huh?

  8. inquisitormcsagington
    inquisitormcsagington
    February 13, 2015 at 1:42 pm

    It’s strange-violence is, in of itself a terrible thing.
    Yet the degrees to which it is show are bafflingly clumped together.
    Allow me to explain-Halo3 is a 15 here in the UK. So is Silent Hill 2.
    In one the violence is constant, yet ineffectual-needles & plasma rifles zipping past and occasionally a cartoony spray of blood. The violence in SH2 is hard, and visceral.
    Both are rated 15-yet if an 8 year old wanted to play Halo, I’d be happy to.
    yet if he wanted to play SH I’d say no freaking way.

    And that’s before we get started on the subject of sex….

  9. PenguinPlayer
    PenguinPlayer
    February 13, 2015 at 2:04 pm

    Eh, I don’t see the big deal with kids playing violent games since I was playing San Andreas when I was young and I grew up to be a perfectly fine person. I hope.

    But every child is different and it is the parent’s job to decide if something is appropriate for their kids, I guess.

    More on-topic: Good luck reinforcing this here in Brazil, I would wager 80% of game sales are from Steam, where a rating isn’t always readily available and from pirate discs we sell in open markets and places like that. The ones that buy original copies usually buy them from the grey market where stuff is cheaper and regulations are the last thing on their mind.

  10. 33
    33
    February 13, 2015 at 2:50 pm

    “[H]ow can we get the message about video games not being just
    for kids more clearly to those who don’t understand what a video game
    is?”
    You would think the ultra violence and nudity in particular games would be a dead giveaway.

  11. Nonscpo
    Nonscpo
    February 13, 2015 at 6:00 pm

    I agree there should be an adult and a children sections, however if this done, I want pornographic games available at retail. Haha though I know that will never happen!

  12. Nonscpo
    Nonscpo
    February 13, 2015 at 6:03 pm

    But that’s too much work for parents!

  13. Alistair
    Alistair
    February 13, 2015 at 6:53 pm

    Yes sex in games are the norm in games God of war, GTA series, Saint row etc etc.

    & ECCHI games that getting thrash upon, do any of you know why NISA & SJWs are stupid fools of why CG had to be censored but senran wasn’t & both had qustionable underage lolis that don’t no way represent real life persons.

    What proof is needed then “set in hell” “fantasy setting” “drawings” & “tails” because the point was given we spanking girls & not animal looking girls right.

    The mind f-ING boggles.

  14. sanic
    sanic
    February 13, 2015 at 7:46 pm

    I thought about the whole game rating issue and came up with an innovative solution, just fucking allow AO games, the end, sell em under the counter like porno mags for all I care just give people the choice.

  15. Anonymous
    Anonymous
    February 13, 2015 at 8:43 pm

    Great piece, but most of the ways things could be improved would go against the economical benefit of either the stores or the publishers.

    If they had a large sign explaining that COD is “M” rated, and what an M rate implies, if COD adds had short warning in the end regarding the rating, of M rated games were separated from the other games, parents wouldn’t get them for their kids so much.

    And then there’s the matter of the ratings themselves not being very consistent and often being arbitrary and even outdated.

    I wonder if they’re useful at all in practical terms to anyone right now, besides serving as anti bad PR charms whenever the industry gets heat, so they can allude to the fact that the ratings exist.

  16. Kain Yusanagi
    Kain Yusanagi
    February 13, 2015 at 8:56 pm

    Don’t have it at the door. Have it at the counter. That way they must always see it when going to purchase a game, not chance get distracted. Plus, then the cashier can discuss specific points with the parents.

  17. patyos
    patyos
    February 14, 2015 at 11:55 am

    Just dont put rating system peeps gonna play whatever

  18. darke
    darke
    February 15, 2015 at 3:39 am

    Ah, yeah, I remember those days of anime. The local big chain electronics retailers (so dvds and such along with laptops/cameras/etc) look like they just bought “a couple of everything” to stock the shelves from the new anime wholesaler, and of course the shelf stockers weren’t quite paying attention and just tossed all the ‘cartoons’ in the same place.

    I still have a vivid memory of sorting a couple of series, Urotsukidoji and La Blue Girl, out of a mix of Disney titles and tossing them onto the top shelf; but there was a lot more violence-only mature titles that I had to shuffle as well. :?

  19. Ryan Barrett
    Ryan Barrett
    February 15, 2015 at 1:07 pm

    I agree with this, to an extent. Parents in the US are dumb, misinformed, and downright lazy. They’re also COMPLETELY unwilling to do the research. And then of course when people start getting hurt because they’re leaving their guns in an unlocked shed, they blame the media their children were exposed do – NEVER themselves.

    Parents in this nation are irresponsible because they were raised to be that way. Their parents were irresponsible and uneducated and the process loops on forever. There’s really no way to fix the problem 100%, but the #1 rule is always the best: EDUCATION.

    I honestly wish that Mature rated games weren’t allowed to be sold to minors or you’d get a citation – similar to when people get caught selling cigarettes or alcohol to minors, but it only takes you so far. Kids want something, and their parents get it for them. Simple as that.

  20. Fenrir007
    Fenrir007
    February 15, 2015 at 7:35 pm

    I think parents simply don’t care enough to be bothered to control what their kids are playing. It is funny, though, that they get so morally outraged when confronted with improper games for kids being played by their little rascals when they were the ones who abstained from doing this control in the first place.

    I can tell you how this works here in Brazil. No one cares about the classification. I think this is due to the fact that we have always been a pirate haven, and as you might have guessed, sellers of pirated CDs don’t really bother slapping a sticker on the box. This changed a little after the PS2 era, and many people have only original games from the past generation (and from this one, obviously, since there is no piracy outside of handhelds for them so far), but the legacy of not caring about the rating system remains. At least parents here are consistent, though – they don’t throw a temper tantrum once they see a more violent game being played by their kids.

    Stores also have no legal obligation to withhold the sale to a minor. The rating system is merely a suggestion, and it’s up to the parents to police their kids if they want to (and like I said, most don’t). The reasoning behind this is that the state should not meddle with the upbringing of our kids, nor should it work as a censoring body (this is written in the law itself that created the rating system).

    I am unsure on how this would work on games with extreme sexual content, though, as kids are barred from acquiring erotic material. Would this be classified as “erotic material” under the law despite being primarily a game? As a side note, it is also extremely easy to purchase erotic material, and to some extent even alcohol as a minor (especially if you are 15, 16 or so and look old enough – by the way, drinking age here is 18).

    Ended up rambling a bit, sorry about that. As for your suggestions, I’m with dsad when it comes to shelf space. It’s too hard to pidgeon hole most games nowadays to a single genre, and doing so can be more misleading than helpful. Also, some genres would have too few titles to justify its existence. As for the awards, I’m against it due to them not being consumer-friendly in the first place, not to mention certain awards being compromised from the inside. If a clueless parent wants to give a game to their kids, they should either:

    1- Ask the kid what games he wants to play. I don’t understand why this isn’t the standard. Ask the damn kid! He knows what he wants! The whole “surprise” thing is grossly overrated.

    2- Find out by asking his friends, looking at his steam, amazon or whatever wishlist to see what you should gift him (or just give him game store credit and let him pick it himself). If he has none of that, take note of the games he already has instead and give the list to the clerk in the game store and ask for his input. They are there to help you make a decision (though your mileage may vary…).

    Both options are better than relying on awards that might be rewarding friendship instead of merit.

    I’m also not a fan of making a kid section. The problem is that this might induce parents to only buy games from there to give it to their kids. It’s intuitive, after all, right? But then, what about games that have no age barrier, like Mario games? Do you put them in the kid section? But then, you are doing the game a disservice by branding it as a kid game. Mario might not be a good example since everyone knows it, though, even tech illiterate parents. How about Klonoa, instead? This has the potential of creating more trouble than its worth.

    I’m not opposed to a 18+ section, though, where games like Hatred and GTA could go.

    By the way, since you are portuguese, if you ever get curious about how things work in Brazil in regards to the classification system, you can read about it here:

    http://culturadigital.br/classind/sobre-2/perguntas-e-respostas/

    http://www.justica.gov.br/seus-direitos/classificacao/legislacao/portaria-mj-368-14.pdf

  21. Zanard Bell
    Zanard Bell
    February 16, 2015 at 11:39 pm

    I also have that same conversation whenever the subject of video games pops up in my home country. (The Philippines: by the way, nice name, Ms. Filipe Pina :>)

    I always tell ’em that they should be responsible for their children’s gaming habits and often cite the ESRB rating and studies about violence and gaming and I always see them dumbstruck by this. But just as with many things in my country, they’re more than happy to pass on the blame to something else.

    It’s sad, how in 20 years, Filipino parents can’t still even read the fine print well enough to be responsible adults.

  22. Game Guy
    Game Guy
    February 17, 2015 at 11:11 am

    This. We need to stop treating it like it’s a huge taboo thing and just let it happen. We didn’t get the rating to scare people into censoring their games, we got it so that they could be free to explore things without worry of the wrong audience getting it

  23. Duce Ralli
    Duce Ralli
    May 27, 2015 at 7:51 pm

    Been thinking of doing A Game Company and possibly a store (online like steam) and allowing all the stuff in. having it as a hidden tab to minor members while visible to the adults.

  24. Takua343
    Takua343
    May 29, 2015 at 3:10 am

    A good idea. Thats exactly what should be happening. Instead we have a rating that exists solely as a thing that isnt allowed to exist, its pointless