ESRB gets descriptive

Ratings board now including paragraph write-ups detailing possible objectionable content, including some spoilers.

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The Entertainment Software Rating Board today rolled out the latest wrinkle to its North American industry-standard rating system. In response to critics and parents who have asked for more information about why games receive the ratings they do, the ESRB is introducing supplemental summaries available through its Web site for all games rated after July 1.

Depending on the title, the summaries could be hundreds of words long, with the stated goal being to "explain in objective terms the context and relevant content that factored into a game's ESRB rating assignment." Among the industry critics quoted as approving the measure in the board's press release were US Senators Hillary Clinton and Joe Lieberman, as well as National Institute on Media and the Family founder Dr. David Walsh.

In the ESRB's summary of Little Big Planet, which received an E for Everyone rating, the game is described as "an action adventure game set in a whimsical land filled with puppets and platforming puzzles. Players can create, customize, and guide their character through levels of platforms, enemies and hazards. Hazards include bombs, spiked vehicles, stampeding bulls, and even giant shoes. One ancillary character makes belching noises while talking to the player's character."

For more violent fare, the descriptions can become more detailed. In the summary for Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe (rated T for Teen), the ESRB wrote, "After an opponent is beaten twice, players can perform one of several finishing moves called 'fatalities' and 'brutalities.' Fatalities depict a variety of dramatic finishing moves including gunshots, stabbings and neck snaps. Female characters are depicted in revealing clothing with exaggerated breast proportions and movement. "

With Insomniac's M-for-Mature-rated Resistance 2, the summary notes, "Players must shoot their way through hordes of aliens, large-scale bosses and sometimes robots, using a variety of guns and grenades. Aliens and humans get blown up, torn apart, shot, impaled and killed in gushes of red blood and body parts... Characters use strong profanity (e.g., "f*ck" and "sh*t") during gameplay and cutscenes."

Consumers using the content descriptors to make decisions about games they will play themselves should be wary, however. The ESRB write-ups can also include details of plot twists and other spoilers. One line from the Resistance 2 write-up omitted in the quote above reveals a significant plot detail from a climactic moment of the game. Fallout 3 is another title with a key revelation included in the summary.

"The primary goal of our new rating summaries is to give further aid to parents in making informed game choices for their children," an ESRB representative told GameSpot. "The summaries highlight content that factored into to the rating assignment, and the intent is always to have them do so without needlessly revealing 'spoilers.'"

The ESRB's rating summaries can be found on its official Web site.

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