Several days ago, we posted up an article themed interview with Harvard Associate Professor Kimberly Thompson who ran a recent study of "M" rated video games. Her study claimed that a number of games rated "M" by the game industry led Entertainment Software Ratings Board did not offer enough content descriptions of those on the back side of the box. The study was criticized by the head of the ESRB Patricia Vance who said in a statement, "Their philosophy would litter game packaging with descriptors for every type of content possibly encountered in a game, no matter how fleeting or insignificant the impact on the playing experience may be."
The Harvard study got us thinking on how another large visual entertainment industry puts content descriptions on their games, the movie and TV industry when they release products on DVD. Since starting in 1997, the DVD has shot up to become in only a few years to be the de facto way to release movie and TV shows, supplanting the VHS tape. Over 100 million DVD players have been sold since the DVD format launched and in 2005 sales of DVDs topped $15.7 billion, more than the $11.5 billion total sales of video and PC games for the same year and far more than the $8.8 billion movies took in at the box office in 2005. In short the DVD industry is massive. Yet in an informal survey we conducted earlier this week we found that in terms of ratings and content descriptions, the DVD industry doesn't do nearly as much as the ESRB when putting ratings or content descriptions on their boxes.
First, a little history lesson. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is made up of the seven largest motion picture studios in America and among other things is in charge of putting ratings on movies when they are sent out in theaters. The ratings system was put in place in 1968 and with a few changes over the years has stayed in place. With only a few exceptions over the years nearly every movie released in theaters in the US goes through the MPAA ratings system. The system has come under criticism by some in the movie industry, particularly movie directors who are sometimes forced to cut out content in order to receive a particular rating. However, the current ratings system is now generally a fact of life and there is little to no critical comments from lawmakers about the MPAA ratings system. The television ratings are a more recent development by the TV industry; they were put in place in 1997. Most of you have doubtless seen those big boxes at the start of every show with the rating and some content description letters. Those are part of the TV Parental Guidelines system and not only are they shown visually they are also supposed to work with the "V-chip" that are put inside most modern TV sets. Finally the ESRB ratings system was established in 1994 by the video and PC game industry after it came under attack by the US Congress for not labeling games with adult content.