Virtually all developed countries currently assign age ratings to media products such as audio CDs, movies in theaters and on optical discs (DVDs and Blu-Rays), and video/computer games. Many people applaud age ratings systems. However, I often wonder if age-based ratings systems such as the ESRB and the MPAA do more harm than good.
First off, trying to determine what material is appropriate for what age groups makes the rating process infinitely more complicated. Secondly, parents all too often ignore age ratings. Last but not least, higher age ratings become more attractive to children (primarily males) who see media with higher age ratings as the cream of the crop and dismiss media with lower age ratings as "kiddie stuff".
Did you know that, in the United States, movies shown in public theaters were not assigned age ratings until 1968? Before then, Hollywood studios were governed by the "Motion Picture Production Code", which was written in 1934. It is also referred to as the "Hays Code". It was a lengthy and detailed document, but its application was simple: Either a movie passed or it failed. To make things easier, you could send a screenplay into the Hays Office before production started, and they would either approve or reject the screenplay. If the screenplay was rejected, they would leave notes as to what changes needed to be made for the screenplay to be approved. For example, when the Hays Office first read the screenplay for the Christmas classic "It's A Wonderful Life", they asked that the words "impotent", "dang", "jerk", "lousy", and the phrase "nuts to you" be eliminated from the dialogue.
The Motion Picture Production Code had the five following general guidelines for plot:
1. No plot or theme should definitely side with evil and against good.
2. Comedies and farces should not make fun of good, innocence, morality or justice.
3. No plot should be constructed as to leave the question of right or wrong in doubt or fogged.
4. No plot should by its treatment throw the sympathy of the audience with sin, crime, wrong-doing or evil.
5. No plot should present evil alluringly.
Click here to read the Motion Picture Production Code in its entirety.
Comic books were regulated in a similar manner between 1954 and 2000. Click here to read the complete text of the original Comics Code Authority guidelines from 1954.
Television also adhered to a Code Of Practices between 1951 and 1983. Click here to learn more about the U.S. Code Of Practices for television broadcasters.
What if video/computer games were governed by a similar code?
Someone has taken the time to answer that question, and done so by creating an "Interactive Entertainment Development Code", which was published in an online magazine called "Family Friendly Gaming". So, without further adieu, here is:
The Interactive Entertainment Development Code</u>
Part 1: Violence
A. Users should never be mandated, forced or required to commit violent acts in order to make progress or advance in a video/computer game.
B. When adversaries are defeated, they should immediately vanish/disappear.
C. Corpses/dead bodies should never be visible.
D. Violent acts outside the rules of real-world sporting events, such as making contact with other cars in auto racing or personal fouls in baseball, basketball, football, soccer, etc., should be discouraged.
E. Violence towards uninvolved innocent bystanders, such as harmless pedestrians on a city street, shall result in an instant "Game Over" penalty.
F. Violence towards law enforcement personnel, equipment, dogs or vehicles shall result in an instant "Game Over" penalty.
G. Users should never be able to engage in or observe amateur ear/body piercings, methods of torture, self-mutiliation, cannibalism, or executions.
Part 2: Human Sexuality
A. Users should never be able to engage in extramarital affairs, nor should they be able to marry more than one person.
B. Divorce should not be an option for user-controlled married couples.
C. Women's swimsuits should never show cleavage, midriffs, belly buttons, buttocks, or backs. Women should only be depicted wearing swimsuits in or around a swimming pool.
D. Women's skirts/pants should not show any skin above the kneecap.
E. Men should not be depicted shirtless unless they are in or around a swimming pool.
F. Men's shorts should not show any skin above the kneecap.
G. Neither men nor women should be depicted without any clothing under any circumstances.
H. Users should never be able to observe or engage in same-sex kissing.
I. Sexual activity should only occur between a husband and wife and it must never be shown on-screen, it should always take place behind closed doors.
J. Movements mimicking sexual activity such as "grinding" should never be shown on-screen, nor should users be rewarded for making such movements with their own bodies.
Part 3: Substance use and other vices
A. Users should never be able to engage in or observe the consumption of alcoholic beverages, tobacco products (cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco), or illegal drugs.
B. Users should never be able to engage in the selling, transport, or manufacturing of illegal drugs.
C. Logos for real-world alcoholic beverages and tobacco products must never be shown.
D. References to alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, or illegal drugs must never be included in jokes or in background music. They must be clearly relevant to gameplay.
E. Gambling must never be forced, mandated or required for game advancement or progress.
Part 4: Written and spoken language
A. Profane, obscene and offensive words must never be seen or heard by users.
B. References to God and Jesus Christ must always be reverent.
Part 5: Non-playable characters
A. Law enforcement personnel should always be treated with dignity and respect. Specficially, law enforcement officers should never be shown:
1. Ignoring a criminal action taking place within the range of their vision/hearing.
2. Accepting bribes
3. Planting, falsifying or tampering with evidence
B. Religious leaders such as bishops, priests, ministers, deacons, and chaplains should never be mocked, ridiculed or degraded. They should have a perfect and complete understanding of the Holy Bible, and they should never participate in or encourage sin or wrongdoing.
Part 6: Other issues/concerns
A. Users must never be forced to play as criminals or evil characters such as demons, witches, vampires, werewolves, or zombies.
B. Users should never be given instruction in lock-picking, safe-cracking, hot-wiring vehicles, smuggling, or bomb building.
C. Fortune-telling, palm-reading, astrology, seances, psychics, mediums, and occult symbols (including pentagrams and Ouija boards) should never be incorporated into video/computer games.
D. Local multiplayer and online multiplayer modes should have the equal customization options. If a game allows online multiplayer, it should also allow local multiplayer as well.
E. When referring to real-world people, products, locations, events, governments, organizations or corporations, developers should strive for factual accuracy.
Click here to read the online magazine where the "Interactive Entertainment Development Code" originated.
Have you taken the time to read all the guidelines? Good.
Do any of the guidelines seem unfair or oppressive? They shouldn't. If you see these guidelines as a threat to your job security, it indicates to me that you're not very competent in your craft. Instead of complaining and whining about how unfair the restrictions are, either educate yourself and learn how to write stories, draw comics, make movies or develop games that aren't dependent on excessive violence, sex, substance use, or vulgarity, or find another line of work. Many of the greatest films ever made in the 20th century were made between 1930 and 1968 within the parameters of the Motion Picture Production Code, such as:
-The Wizard Of Oz (1939)
-Gone With The Wind (1940)
-Citizen Kane (1941)
-It's A Wonderful Life (1946)
-Peter Pan (1953)
-Roman Holiday (1953)
-Rear Window (1954)
-The Ten Commandments (1956)
-Funny Face (1957)
-Mary Poppins (1964)
Have YOU seen any of those movies? If not, you should.
Most games that violate the guidelines of the "Interactive Entertainment Development Code" are too much like movies. If a game involves working through a linear sequence of events the same way an actor works through a screenplay, with only one possible conclusion, I'd rather watch the movie. It saves a lot of time and effort.
Here are some games that would comply with the guidelines of the "Interactive Game Development Code":
-The Forza Motorsport series
-The RollerCoaster Tycoon series
-The Nancy Drew series
-The Trackmania series
-The SimCity series
-The Madden NFL series
Maybe you see guidelines such as the Motion Picture Production Code as unnecessary relics of a mythical past. Maybe you're about to tell me stories about how you saw a bazillion R-rated movies or played hundreds of M-rated games when you were only six and you turned out just fine. Here's what I suggest you do instead. Learn more about the past. Start a friendly conversation with someone older than you, like your parents or grandparents, or nursing home residents. Read magazines or newspapers from the 1930s-1960s. Watch TV shows made between 1951 and 1983. I hope by doing so, instead of bemoaning the lack of color in photographs and movies, and mocking the outdated technology, architectural styles and fashions, you will learn that the latest is not always the greatest, that 99% of rules are to make your life and the lives of those around you happier and healthier, and that more wholesome media leads to a more wholesome society.
Here's an idea for a new game that I'd like to see that would comply with the Interactive Entertainment Development Code. Have you seen the Disney movie Tangled? Why not make a game featuring Flynn Rider and Rapunzel, who are the newly crowned King and Queen, in an open-ended economic simulation where they rule over the kingdom the same way you rule over your city in SimCity? You could remodel the castle, raise children, pass, repeal and adjust laws, build new structures, make trade agreements with other nations, and bestow honors upon your subjects. Just a thought.