Seeking Truth in Video Game Ratings

I have a new open-access, peer-reviewed article up at the International Journal of Communication, titled “Seeking Truth in Video Game Ratings: Content Considerations for Media Regulation.” This study presents a detailed look at the processes and reform proposals for video game content rating and regulation in the U.S. It’s a follow-up to a paper I presented at the National Communication Association 2007 conference, which I described here some months ago.

The core of the project was an analysis of just about every bill proposed at the state and federal level, between 1999 and 2006, which proposed some sort of regulatory intervention. This analysis suggested that politicians have been approaching games as if they were just like movies, but devoid of cultural value and especially dangerous in their effects by virtue of being more interactive. Operating under this understanding, the game rating process probably seems woefully inadequate—but as anybody who has played a video game in the last several years can tell you, that’s not exactly how games work. I avoid the the tricky and sometimes misleading concept of “interactivity” in favor of explaining a few formal properties of games that make rating their content worthy of being approached differently from movies. Ultimately, I explain how the video game industry has come under disproportionate scrutiny relative to other media industries with regard to its content rating processes, but some minor adjustments to that process (and other means of regulating games besides legislation) may still be worth considering. I conclude with a number of “practical alternatives” to state-mandated regulatory reform, including resources that parents might find useful and the game industry might consider expanding upon.

In writing this, I knew I was kind of skirting or replicating existing theoretical paradigms of how games are played (notably Espen Aarseth’s theories of games as “ergodic”). My hope, though, was to write something that would be equally approachable by media researchers, policy wonks, industry insiders, parents, and gamers alike. This is a somewhat time-sensitive issue, too, as some states—including my own home ground of Massachusetts—are still pursuing unsound and uninformed game-restriction legislation at the cost of taxpayers. Because of these reasons, I wanted to make sure this article got into an open-access journal, not sealed up in something that only a small group of specialists and scholars would ever see.

The writing style (especially the analysis of legislation and ratings processes, before the “Theoretical and Practical Considerations” section) is, I must admit, a bit dry compared to my tone here on Geek Studies. And, because IJOC has no real printing overhead, this is probably about twice as long as most peer-reviewed papers. Still, I think the review process helped me fashion a much more clear and precise argument.

IJOC offers the ability to comment directly on its site for articles, and I’d be happy to engage in discussion there. If you’d rather comment anonymously and without registering with an email address, however, I’d be just as interested to field feedback and criticisms here on the blog, so please feel free to let loose.

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