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The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) employs a team of full-time game raters to assign ratings to over 1000 video games each year. To protect the independence of the raters and the integrity of the rating process, the identities of the individuals who review the games and propose the ratings are kept secret.
This carefully selected group faces an extraordinary task: consistently hold each game to the guidelines of the ESRB system, and to confront new issues as they arise while also staying true to precedent. With a constantly-changing industry and the ebb and flow of the seasons, the group of six can assign ratings to 150 games a month during the rush up to the holiday season. As a key part of the ESRB rating process, no fewer than three raters review a DVD or videotape of the pertinent content in a game. This footage is prepared by the publisher.
Without a reputable ratings process, it's often said, the video game industry might well be prone to government intervention and regulation. Despite the video game industry's existing self-regulation of content, states continue to put forward bills or pass statutes which place limits on the sale and content of videogames. Thus far, almost all such bills have either failed to become law, or been struck down by the courts.
And even as the ESRB protects the industry from outside regulation, the very industry it was set up to aid can occasionally chafe under the rules. Look no further than the Adults Only (AO) rating that Rockstar's Manhunt 2 received earlier this year. The ESRB stood by its rating and its process, and ultimately the game received a rating of Mature (M) after changes were made to its content.
Given the importance of this process and the secrecy surrounding the ESRB raters, we felt it would be important to engage the ESRB and find out as much as we could about the raters and just how they make their determinations.
Since we couldn't
put our questions directly to the raters, the president of the ESRB,
Patricia E. Vance, agreed to field our questions instead.
Tell us a bit about the people who rate games. How many raters does the ESRB employ? How are they selected?
Patricia Vance: The ESRB has a staff of six full-time raters, and they're hired through a fairly straightforward interview process.
What kinds of things are
you looking for in the raters? Do they have to be gamers?
PV: We prefer raters who've
had experience with children, whether through their profession or by
being parents or caregivers themselves. We also want people who are
articulate and thoughtful, able to express and defend their opinions
about content, as well as people who are familiar with video games.
They don't have to be hardcore fans, but they should have experience
playing games, especially since part of their job is to test final product
after its release to confirm that the original submission materials
prepared by the publisher reflected the final product.
How diverse is your pool of raters?
PV: Our group of raters includes a mix of male and female, parents and non-parents, hardcore gamers and more casual gamers, younger and older. We recruit from the New York metropolitan area, which has one of the most culturally and socially diverse populations in the country.
How long have your raters been working at rating games?
PV: We just transitioned earlier this year from part-time to full-time raters, so our current group of raters has been rating games for less than a year, with the exception of one rater who had previous experience as a part-time rater. However, given that they're doing it full-time, they're gaining more experience and building expertise far more quickly than our part-time raters were able to.