For Mature Audiences Only: Video Game Ratings The Entertainment Software Ratings Board assigns about 1,700 ratings a year to warn parents about sex, violence and language, among other things, in video games.
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For Mature Audiences Only: Video Game Ratings

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For Mature Audiences Only: Video Game Ratings

For Mature Audiences Only: Video Game Ratings

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

And it's time now for All Tech Considered.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: Graphic and realistic looking depictions of physical conflict may involve extreme and/or realistic blood, gore, weapons and depictions of human injury and death. That is just part of the rating for the latest video game blockbuster, "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2." In this game, players hunt down Russian ultranationalists using machine guns, sniper rifles, grenades and missiles.

(Soundbite of video game, "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2")

Unidentified Man #1: The world has been their battlefield. Everywhere you go (unintelligible) and sons, he comes out against you.

SIEGEL: Well, these days there seems to be no shortage of video games with blood and gore or screaming or all three and that got us wondering. We know how movies are rated and what the ratings mean but how are video games rated?

So, we asked Jesse Baker to find out.

JESSE BAKER: Jill Hing(ph) promised to buy her 15-year-old son the game "Dragon Age," for a good report card. But she was stopped by a sales clerk.

Ms. JILL HING: The person that was getting it for me behind the counter didn't want to hand it to me and he said, you realize that this game is very, very violent. There was a scene in it where the person was an assassin and killing just the general public. And I ended up not buying it for him.

BAKER: Hing says she has better control over the movies her two boys watch than their video games.

Ms. HING: I think it's harder to control what they play because they play for hours at a time. And I don't play them at all. So, I don't know how many things they're seeing.

BAKER: This is exactly why the Entertainment Software Rating Board was created 15 years ago. Patricia Vance is its president.

Ms. PATRICIA VANCE (President, Entertainment Software Rating Board): I think it became apparent to the industry that they needed a rating system to help parents distinguish between those games that were really intended for kids and those that weren't.

BAKER: Now, big-box stores will only sell games that have been rated and the publishers pay for the privilege. Each game is evaluated by a small group of anonymous raters who aren't allowed to talk to each other during the process. This is one of those raters playing the new "Batman" game.

(Soundbite of video games)

Unidentified Man #2: Ting, ting, ting, ting, ting. It's round two.

(Soundbite of gun shot)

BAKER: First, the raters review a package and DVD put together by the game's publisher with scenes illustrating the plots and any hidden tricks.

(Soundbite of video games)

Unidentified Man #3: Long night, Jim.

Unidentified Man #4: Joker invades city hall and holds the mayor hostage leaving it to me to juggle SWAT teams, the media and you.

BAKER: Each rater settles on one of six ratings and then compares notes to reach a consensus. It would take raters a month to play out all the possibilities. This way it enables the board to assign some 1,700 ratings a year. And they don't stop there. Vance says parents want more than just a rating on a box.

Ms. VANCE: They really want to know why it got that age rating and that's why the content descriptors are so important.

BAKER: Descriptors like simulated gambling, tobacco reference, blood and gore. The raters take it even a step further. They write summaries with examples of sex, violence and language found in the games. The detailed descriptions are available online and through a new iPhone application. And according to the Federal Trade Commission, the video game industry does a better job shielding kids from violence than the movie and music businesses.

For NPR News, I'm Jesse Baker.

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