2004-03-19 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer
Notes On Consumer Affairs By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

Audrey PhefferAudrey Pheffer

It was not long ago that video games were nothing more than two lines and a dot. The goal was to hit the dot back to your opponent, hoping that he or she would miss and you would score a point. The computer age quickly progressed and the nature of video games changed along with technological ad vances. Today, video games depict more realism than ever before. It is easy to find games that portray building construction, social interactions, auto mo bile racing, various sport ing events, and even lifelike edu cational experiences. While some of these are beneficial, there is a downside to the technological capability to create vivid and seemingly real images; many games contain graphic expressions of violence, sexual themes, and drug and alcohol use.

If you want to monitor the video-game purchasing habits of your children or if you are buying a video game for someone but do not know how to determine if the game has content that may be distasteful or age-inappropriate, video games have a rating system that is similar to the system that is used in rating movies. Once you understand how to read the labels, you can become an informed consumer and quickly identify some of the content contained in a video game.

The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is a self-regulatory body that was established in 1994 by the Interactive Digital Software Associa tion (IDSA). ESRB independently applies and enforces ratings, advertising guidelines, and online privacy principles adopted by the gaming industry. The ESRB rates over 1,000 games per year.

Video game ratings have two parts: the rating symbol and the content descriptor. The rating symbol is found on the front of the game box and suggests the age-appropriate level of the game, whereas the content descriptor is found on the back of the game box and indicates elements in the game that may have triggered a particular rating or highlights possible images or concepts that may be of concern to the consumer. Content descriptors refer to educational and entertainment elements, humor, violence, sex, mild or strong language, substance abuse, gambling, and all other subject matter contained in the game.

At present, there are five rating symbols and over twenty-five different content descriptors that may appear on a game box. The rating symbols are: EC (Early Child hood) - content that may be suitable for ages three and older and contains no material that parents would find inappropriate; E (Everyone) - content that may be suitable for age six and older and may contain minimal violence, some comic mischief and/or mild language; T (Teen) - may be suitable for ages thirteen and older and may contain violent content, mild or strong language, and/or sug gestive themes; M (Ma ture) - may be suitable for ages seventeen and older and may contain mature sexual themes, more intense violence and/or strong language; AO (Adults Only) - content suitable only for adults and may in-clude graphic depictions of sex and/or violence and is not intended for persons under the age of eighteen; and RP (Rating Pending) - games that have been submitted to the ESRB and are awaiting final rating.

Video game ratings are a good starting point in monitoring the types
of video games your children play or
in determining whether or not a particular video game is one that you
are comfortable purchasing. However, many public interest groups and consumers complain that the system is inadequate. Currently, the Assembly is studying this issue. The rating system is a tool to help you make a quick decision regarding the appropriateness of a video game, but nothing can replace actually playing or watching the game being played. If you want more information about the voluntary standards set forth by the Enter tainment Soft ware Rating Board, visit its website at www.esrb.org.

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