In a major announcement, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) has changed the rating assigned to the game The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion from T (Teen 13+) to M (Mature 17+), following the revelation of a topless game skin contained within the game.
According to the ESRB itself: "The content causing the ESRB to change the rating involves more detailed depictions of blood and gore than were considered in the original rating, as well as the presence of a locked-out art file or “skin” that, if accessed through a thirdparty modification to the PC version of the game, allows the user to play with topless versions of female characters."
The statement continued: "In line with its mission to inform consumers about the age-suitability and content of computer and video games, this ESRB Parent Advisory has been issued to ensure that parents who have purchased this game are immediately notified of the rating change. Parents should also know that a patch for the PC version of the game that disables access to the file with the topless skin will be made available shortly."
“Parents across the country depend on ESRB ratings every day to make sensible choices about the games they bring home for their families,” said ESRB president Patricia Vance. “Rating changes are extraordinarily rare, but if ever one does occur, ESRB recognizes that parents must be made aware of the change as quickly as possible so they are certain to have the most current and accurate information.”
The game will retain its current content descriptors for Violence, Blood and Gore, Sexual Themes, Language, and Use of Alcohol, and the PC version will carry an additional content descriptor for Nudity until it can be re-mastered and released with the topless skin removed. The locked-out content is inaccessible on the Xbox 360 version of the game.
The ESRB also commented: "It is increasingly important for parents to realize that PC games can be altered through the use of downloadable programs created by other players called “mods” (short for modification), which are broadly available on the Internet and can change the content of a game. Since players create them, it is impossible for ESRB or any rating service to consider them in assigning a rating. However, some mods can alter a game in ways that may not be appropriate for younger players and may be inconsistent with the ESRB rating, so parents should be aware of their existence and, as always, do their best to monitor their child’s gameplay."
Oblivion is co-published by Bethesda and publisher Take-Two Interactive, the latter of which also published Rockstar North's Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, another notably re-rated game, due to sex-related scenes unlockable using code changes.
Gamasutra will have more on this breaking story as soon as possible - according to online reports, some retailers such as Circuit City are in the process of removing Oblivion from their shelves entirely, presumably until rating modifications can be made.