The idea of the NC17 rating was to create a rating for more adult content that wasn't pornography. But ultimately, in America, any big movies these days are PG-13. R is a smaller proportion of films than it used to be, because they want to hit a broad audience.
GDF: Of course, of course, of course. But nevertheless, there are quite a lot of movies that are rated R, which, to me, is 16 at best. It's an M. I can understand that; it's a little difference. But, for me, it makes a big difference. And if R-rated movies would be NC17s, then it would hinder the distribution of these movies, and studios would probably tend to tone it down.
We don't tone it down in our industry, and a lot of people feel comfortable with the current rating systems. But in my mind, this is a mistake. We've been defensive on this issue for the past 15 years. We've backed down. We tried to save the most important thing, which was avoid banning at all costs.
But I think we've come to ratings that are far stricter than other mediums, and I think we ought to change this. We need to up our game. We need to stand up and start discussions about that.
Something people don't tend to think about is that you don't know what you're not seeing. In other words, if a film gets an R, you'll never know what they might have cut to reach the R -- what part of the director's intent might have been lost. Do you feel there is a similar effect in games?
GDF: Of course. I know that a lot of developers are cutting content. [They] are asked, or there are very long discussions about, what should be in it, what shouldn't be. Throughout the development of a relatively mature game, there are these discussions between the developer [and the publisher].
And most of the time the developer doesn't want to cut, because there is an intention behind what he's trying to do, and why. It's the publisher's role to make sure the game releases, and is not hindered in its distribution. So yeah, we have these discussions on a continuous basis.
The film industry -- the MPAA -- does take context into account.
Whereas the ratings boards for games, your view is that they don't?
GDF: It's arguably easier to watch a 90 minute movie in full, and give it a rating than a 10, 15, 20, 30 hour game and give it a rating. However, we should not [fail to] take context into account for games, simply because this is difficult to achieve. We should find a way. And there should be discussions all along, to be able to give the right rating to our games.
So the way it's processed today at the ESRB level, for instance, is that there is this questionnaire. And then you're asked to provide footage of the most violent scenes most of the time. And so, basically, the rating is given based on this questionnaire, plus the most violent scenes. Which doesn't necessarily mean you get the context each time, of these scenes, and you only see the most violent parts, so the assessment is only done on a partial element.
Again, it's probably impossible to watch all the games, and thoroughly see everything, but I think we should have criteria. I really don't see the difference between a movie and a game, and I really don't understand why we should be rated differently. So we have to change the criteria and we have to make sure that context is better taken into account.
As you said, it always comes up -- people say, "But it's interactive!" You said you've reviewed a lot of the serious literature on the subject, and not really seen any correlation.
GDF: There is nothing in serious medical literature that points to the fact that because it's interactive, it's different than linear media. It's not because it's interactive that it's more immersive, and that therefore any kind of violence exercised has a stronger impact on the individual. I couldn't find any literature on that proving this, and there isn't. There's been a lot of studies worldwide.
When I played Heavy Rain and came to the scene where you have to chose whether or not you're going to shoot the drug dealer, that had a major effect on me, but I don't think the effect was to promote violence.
GDF: "I want to kill someone!"
GDF: On the contrary, I think it touches you on an emotional level. It makes you think about what you do -- but that doesn't mean that you are going to, if you were even in real life in this situation, you would pull the trigger. Because it's very different. It's very different.
Heavy Rain is also very different, in the sense that many games are focused on combat. Heavy Rain is not. It encompasses a lot of activities that other games encompass, and a lot of activities that other games don't, right?
GDF: I surely do think that our industry also has to level up to a certain degree. I'm seeing it more and more. What I mean by that is that, more and more, even FPSes are narrative-driven to a certain degree. There is more and more story, there is more and more context, and I think we're slowly but surely going from an industry that was targeting teenagers with adult-rated content to an industry that is targeting adults with, it's not toned down content, but it's more contextually-driven content.
I was just interviewing the producer of Need for Speed: The Run, and he said "Our real drive for this iteration of the franchise is to create a story that is meaningful." That's certainly a big difference from even five years ago.
GDF: It seems to be the direction, I think. But I think it's simply because people in general want to understand what they're doing, actually. Who they are, and what they're doing. What's the purpose of being this soldier, or this driver, or this soccer player, at one point, maybe, and to relate to the character that they embody. And to understand what drives him or her, and interact in a more meaningful way with the other characters, and the environments, regardless of genre.