A Universal Ratings System?

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"A Universal Ratings System?"

I’ve written before that I’ve got some level of sympathy for the folks whose job it is to fit our entertainment into ratings systems. It’s essentially impossible to both assign ratings that are responsive to community values and that avoid ratings creep — whether it’s standards language or the increasing acceptance of gay people and gay relationships (not to mention interracial ones), we can’t reconcile movie ratings across the whole time the medium’s existed, and ditto for television, music, and video games.

But I am intrigued by the concept of a universal ratings system, which GamePolitics says research indicates parents want:

The research, which gathered the responses of 2,300 adults from three different surveys found that most parents were generally satisfied with ratings related to television, movies, video games, music, and handheld devices. Nevertheless, a majority of surveyed felt there should be some sort of universal rating system for all media, including web sites, music CDs, and games played on handheld devices. Some parents also said that the differences in the ratings systems for different types of media were often inconsistent and confusing, though most complained about television ratings that didn’t properly convey what kinds of content a given program contained.

Given that I believe that parents should exercise discretion and make informed decisions about what their children are consuming, I’m all in favor of a system that gives them more detailed information in exchange for folks to stop calling for things to be censored. Obviously, different media forms have different dimensions, and a universal ratings system would have to account for that — if being the person who carries out an act in a video game adds intensity points to the rating, does that mean the identical murder in, say, Grand Theft Auto, would carry a higher rating than that murder portrayed on a small screen and with no interactivity on The Wire? Consistency has multiple dimensions. I also wonder how it would work — would raters catch assignments from all the different pools of media? And would we stick to a letter system, or have a more detailed description of what each piece of content contains?

This would be difficult to design and coordinate: there are a lot of factors to consider, and a lot of organizations to wrangle. But I think it’s a reasonable intriguing concept, and it merits some consideration. I’d love to know what the video game designers in comments think of this.

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