back in 1994, there was a lot of concern in the united states about the amount of violence in video games. granted, this was the age of the super nintendo and sega genesis, where everything still looked like pixelated cartoons ad the concept of what reflected “realism” was primitive and limited. it was during the high time of mortal kombat and doom, both of which brought a new level of 16-bit gore to consoles and pc’s across america. it was this environment that gave rise to the entertainment software rating board, or ESRB for short. their job was to look at software and give it an age appropriate rating based on the content of that software. they came out a few different bands in the ratings spectrum, more or less mirroring the movie rating system that was already in effect: E (everyone, “G” or “PG”), T (teen, “PG-13”), M (mature, “R”), and AO (adults only, “NC-17”). There have been a few additions since then like EC and KA, but the first three are the ones that make up the ratings on most games in the united states. i’ve only really seen AO-rated games on certain director’s cuts or re-releases, like the PC uncut release of indigo prophecy (fahrenheit, for my outside-of-north-america readers). and i agree with the system. i think there’s enough distinction between different types of games that it makes sense to parents. i personally think there’s a lot of M-rated games young kids shouldn’t be playing. but that of course is up to the parents’ discretion.
take a trip down under and you’ll find that in australia the rules are a little bit different. they established their ratings system back in the 80’s, with the most restrictive rating being MA15+, which seemed fairly logical. back then they didn’t really need anything higher, because no reasonable person would make a case that the mario brothers would drive children to violent killing sprees and still be taken seriously for every word that came out of their mouth. except michael atkinson, south australian attorney general, who was the only australian AG holding out for the addition of a higher rating in their system. every game that came out after that that were found too harsh for an MA15+ rating were refused a rating outright. and a game refused a rating is a game banned for sale. he led this charge for banning games instead of coming up with some sort of 18+ rating for them, and caught a lot of flak from many angles for doing so. even their movie ratings have R18+ and X18+ ratings. providing, lets say, questionable reasoning for banning certain games, he even at one point said that “i feel that my family and i are more at risk from gamers than we are from the outlaw motorcycle gangs who also hate me and are running a candidate against me.” no joke. gamepolitics has that story from just this past february. granted, he claims a gamer slipped a threating note under his door at 2AM one morning, but other stuff he’s said, like seeing fake people does make me file him on more of the paranoid side, so who really knows.
but now he’s gone. atkinson stepped down as attorney general in march of this year (he’s still in parliament though), at which point gamers rejoiced, and looked forward to the day where they wouldn’t be restricted to games the rest of the world is enjoying, and that their wishes would be fulfilled at todays meeting of the standing committee of attorneys-general. but alas, no luck. the AG for western australia said he needed to consult his cabinet, and another AG had just started his job and didn’t think he was in a position to make a decision. so they wait for a verdict until the next meeting, in 2011.