Age restrictions are not the most pleasant thing to remember in the context of resonance tragedies with teenagers in the lead role. Fortunately, nothing like this has happened recently, which means that we can look into the question on a sober head.
We will tell in simple language about who and how gives out age ratings, whether these decisions are really completely objective and independent, and how restrictions will penetrate into the fully digital market of game distribution.
It is worth understanding that the age rating is not too cosmopolitan, and therefore in different parts of our planet has different criteria for assessing the content of games.
For example, the U.S. nonprofit and independent rating agency ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) is relatively calm about digital violence, but for the uncovered virtual women’s bulges and innuendoes will immediately punish the publisher deadly rating Adults Only.
The Germans quite calm to the nudity, but the blood and textures reminiscent of a swastika wrinkle heavily and molded on the boxes with disks sticker “18 +”. In fact, that’s why Germany has launched its own rating system USK (Unterhaltungssoftware Selbstkontrolle), different from Pan European Game Information (PEGI).
Australia and New Zealand especially hard with an age rating of games. You will not be able to play the good half of your library Steam in these countries, and for Postal 2 you can get up to 10 years in prison. However, no one has been imprisoned for playing there yet, so it is more likely just a scary thing, like spiders the size of a dog.
The Russian Age Rating System, which was adopted in 2012, copied European and American systems in general but did not do without reflecting the peculiarities of the mentality.
How are the ratings awarded?
The organizations are in some kind of a mirror-like legal field, above the commercial interests and a little far from political pressure. These are completely independent and existing for the sake of universal social happiness and protection of immature child psyche from virtual horrors.
Noclip once made a very curious documentary about ESRB. Evaluation commissions are guided solely by objective data, taking into account precedents, cultural and historical contexts, and even carefully hide their personal data, so that any gaming company could not even try to buy them.
However, if you examine the results of the ESRB, you can notice a suspiciously small number of games with a rating of Adults Only, which implies a limit on the age of 18 +. In the history of the American committee “AO”, only two games received this rating for violence. An old fighting game Thrill Kill and frankly man-hating indie top-down shooter Hatred. All other ESRB adult games were rated by adult rating Mature 17+.
Why is everyone afraid of the 18+ rating?
It would seem, why worry so much about the tiny audience of players, who already have 17, but not yet 18? It’s not about an extra audience at all, it`s about American (and not only) game retail stores. They simply do not have the right to display products from the category “for adults” on the open shop windows, which along with fun products from sex shops.
Despite the avalanche-like digitalization of everything, the main platform owners and game publishers are still heavily dependent on the sales of physical discs and cartridges. Digital sales of games for PlayStation 4 were 66% of the total even with the pandemic, which seems to be a lot, but no one dares to lose a third of the income.
Thus, the rating Adults Only would be a verdict for any big game in which the development budget and expected revenue from sales must be at least the same. GTA V could get this rating with naturalistic torture scenes, Resident Evil 2 with frighteningly realistic blood, and even The Witcher 3 with dismembering and nudity.
Rating commissions were born on the initiative and with the support of gaming companies. There are different cases. The German USK and the Australian ACB like to throw headaches on publishers with their sudden bans and restrictions, but the key commissions represented by ESRB and PEGI will try to smooth out the sharp angles, rather than put sticks in the wheels of the locomotives that generated them.
Future of age ratings
There is a very high probability that all of these commissions with brooding acronyms may well go to the dump of history very soon. Numbers, clouds, and fast internet will remove any physical media of entertainment content from the market, and it will be not necessary to meet the requirements of retail stores.
It should be understood that even now ratings from ESRB or PEGI are not a mandatory legal requirement for selling games. Strictly speaking, Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo can start selling the same physical copy through their own online retailers without any ratings on the box. It will only be sufficient to print your own age rating as a recommendation.
Already, there is no need to talk about any strict age control for the users of any entertainment application. Google Play and Steam do not evaluate or moderate the content of their own applications. Before publishing a game the developer is simply asked to honestly answer, whether his content corresponds to the age group, and then the case remains with the users. If there are complaints, the issued recommendation age rating will be reviewed, and the liar will be punished. Too many games are released on digital platforms every day to try to pre-moderate them in any way.
All responsibility for non-observance of age limits is shifting more and more from state institutions and gaming companies to users of entertainment content.