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    ESRB Oblivious to the Gamers' Modding Paradise; Parents Oblivious to ESRB




          The ESRB - an organization that rates software into age categories - is doing a poor job popularizing itself, and game shops are not doing much to bring it to the attention of prospective buyers. Most parents don't know what the ESRB is, some barely even know that games are rated. Go into a Gamestop or EBgames store, and look at parents walking in with kids buying games like "Grand Theft Auto" or "Fiftycent's Get rich or die trying". These are the parents in derelict of duty. The duty to properly raising their child. Most, even if told by the cashier that the game is violent and that the rating is higher (often much higher) than the recommended rating for the child that's going to play it would buy it anyway.

          There's always been so called naughty material available, but games do make it interactive. By the way. I'm not going to say if it's good, bad or won't affect people - this is just concerning the ESRB. I wont bother getting into material which I believe is too subjectivly viewed.

          When Grand Theft Auto : San Andreas, shipped it was a clean game... sort of. You can run over policemen, beat emergency medical support with a bat, shoot old ladies, and have the run of a city. In short, you have fun. Its feel is that of an open ended game that while I did find pointless after a while, it's still fairly rich in gameplay.

          It's funny how long people are willing to spend on creating mods to adjust something. In this case though, it's the game designers and creators that included sex minigames (with clothes on...), and then disabled the content locking it off. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas really was "clean", in that this content was inaccessible. It required hackers changing a bit of code(literally) to allow the content to be seen, AND another hack to retexture models to make them appear naked. This required the effort of different parties. The original modder who unlocked the content, the next modder to alter/remove the clothing, and the final culprit - the owner of the game to install both these mods. A difficulty rating that's imo, higher than typing the words "sex" or "porn" in google. While the hack was simple, it should not matter. A more complex hack would only require more time for the modder. People create nude models all the time. The first Tomb Raider, Halflife 2, quake skins etc. This is more work than changing a bit, but it still requires the player to knowingly modify datafiles in order to see sexual material. If a person can download and install a mod, then you cannot prevent that person from downloading pornography.

          The console version differs in that no mod was necessary. A program that alters the save files (some work required, debatable if it needed an altered esrb rating there) enabled the naughty content, but there were also codes using cheat devices that enabled it - something that console gamers have fun with on a regular basis. Codes don't require work at all and are typically sought after and as such, the mature rating change can be easily justified here.

          Another extremely popular game has been re-addressed by the ESRB. Oblivion. Now, the elderscrolls series is extremely popular for modders. And naturally, there's a few mods out there to alter the clothing (just the top underwear) on females. Some of the mods are quite detailed - including better textures for breasts, with one taking off their tops. Can you honestly expect guys not to do this ;)

          The ESRB needs to understand what mods are - I don't think they play games enough to understand what a mod is. They need to realize that ANY game can be modded. Think about this. Would the ESRB change the rating of a pokemon battle game if there were a nude patch/mod for the pokemasters? Assume you see a view of the pokemon battling with the pokemasters in the background just outside the ring. A parent seeing a nude lady instructing her man-bear-pig to tackle the pikashlong is sure to freak out and complain - but this is in no way different from the child downloading pornography. It would require the player to download and install the patch, changing the game.

          Would they get away with doing that to pokemon? I think not - because the modder would be chastised for modding what is considered a children's game, never mind that the depth balance and stratagy appeal to teens as well (read: horny bandwidth hogging bipedals). It just seems too ludicrous. They would attack GTA's PC version, and get away with it, due to it's violence rating. But oblivion is so set in fantasy, there's little reason for this to be mature. It's interesting in the article that they also mention "excessive gore" first - which sounds like a scapegoat for the justification to ignore the fact that it's a mod. I believe it's easier for them to just raise ratings than for them to either understand what a mod is, or explain to parents that it's their own children that changed the game, making it pornographic.

          Should the ESRB reevaluate games? YES! In the case of console versions of GTA, the board should have been informed of all material accessible - including that accessible through cheat codes. If they are not, the game should be rerated (GTA:SA console). But they should also understand what mods are; that they cannot hold the game developer responsible for it, or take them into account when deciding on a rating. The moment a game is modded, it's no longer the same game. It's just not what the developer's shipped.

          Lets face it - not every parent has the time to play games they buy for kids - though every parent that does so should at least spend time with them while they're playing. If you cannot spend time with kids, you should not be raising them. If a parent ignores the rating on the box and buys the game for their young children, then it's the parent at fault. If a child downloads a nude patch/mod for a game, it's not a fault - that's a healthy curiousity ;) It's up to the parent to spend time with the kid so that he can see what he is doing, how he's acting, and put the game away if seen fit.

          I don't think that the modding community has to worry about any of this, but I do believe that this may affect sales of Oblivion. It's a beautiful game, that truly deserves that Teen rating. Mods or not. GTA creator Take Two Interactive suffered a loss of $28.8 million (see wiki article) partly because of the rerating. Oblivion creator Bethesda may have to endure losses because of the new rating which is just not right.

          Does this affect those of us above 17? I love the games put out by Bethesda. They're long, complex, fun and have great graphics at the time. If they make a loss because of the new rating it may take longer for the Elderscrolls 5 to be made. Unlike GTA which was changed from a 17+ to an 18+ game, a change from "Teen" to "Mature" results in a loss of 4 years of the game playing demographic - of course, that's assuming there's parents that are acually following the ratings. To those that end up not buying this for your kids because of it, I congratulate you for following the rating, even though it's not warranted. Pixelated orc boobies should only be seen when you're 17+.


    - Ryan Cipriani


    Sources :
    "hot coffee" mod : wikipedia
    Oblivion rating change : Reuters
    85yr old sues GTA:SA



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