- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 2, 2005

Some children under 10 will have to plead extra-hard with their parents when fresh copies of “Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat,” and “Nightmare Before Christmas: Oogie’s Revenge,” reach the shelves this month.

The two video games are unsuitable for them under the new E10+ rating announced yesterday by the Entertainment and Software Rating Board, the gaming industry’s self-regulatory body.

The new rating, which stands for Everyone 10 and older, tries to flag subtle hints of violence, offensive language and sexual themes, among others, that are unsuitable for children under 10. It was introduced because the board’s E and T ratings, were deemed inadequate.

“The development between ages 6 and 13 is, from a development standpoint, quite broad,” said Patricia Vance, president of the ratings board. “We felt it was important to create it because the rating system is of greatest use to parents of children aged 15 and under.”

The new ratings were created because technology has drastically changed video games.

“What has driven this is that there are more details in the games,” said Dr. Ralph Lopez, consultant to the board and author of “The Teen Health Book: A Parent’s Guide to Adolescent Health and Well-Being.”

“For example, when you see ‘The Matrix’ [video game released in 1999], you can’t figure out what Keanu Reeves is doing, and what the computer graphics are doing; that same detail is now in computer games.”

The gaming industry appointed the ratings board in 1994. The board has thus far created five rating categories: EC — Early Childhood, Teen — for ages 13 and older, Adults only — for ages 18 and older, Everyone, Mature — for 17 and older, plus a Rating Pending — for games that are waiting for the final rating. E10+ is the sixth rating.

The ratings will not be applied to games that have already been released. However, if old E-rated games are re-released as new editions, the board will re-evaluate them.

The ratings are meant to advise parents and include any of the applicable 32 content descriptions on the pack. The descriptions range from “Alcohol References” to “Use of Tobacco.”

Ms. Vance insisted the ratings were effective, based on a poll conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates and paid for by the board.

“Awareness of the ratings is at 78 percent among parents with kids who play video games,” said Ms. Vance. “Interestingly, 78 percent of the parents [who are buying for games their children] follow the ratings.”

Ms. Vance said she is confident the new rating will work because it covers very young children who normally cannot buy video games themselves.

Several parental groups stress that the board should adopt different ratings.

“Of course there is going to be confusion. … We have to have universality, an R-rated movie is demonstrably different from an R-rated game, while a Mature-rated game may be appropriate for both adults and children,” said Pamela Eakes, founder of Mothers Against Violence in America.

Others argue that the ratings should have a different spin.

“We want parents to have as much information as possible,” said Patti Miller, director of children and media outreach at Children Now, an advocacy group. “We feel content-based ratings are essential. … Some parents are concerned about violence, others are concerned about content based on suggestive situations.”

Ms. Vance said the board was satisfied with its content ratings.

“The system is not there to make decisions for parents,” said Ms. Vance. “The important thing about ratings is to deliver information in a very concise fashion. … The content descriptions [on the package of every game] do an adequate job.”

Critics argue the ratings are actually self-serving, as they represent the gaming companies instead of the public.

“I am sure there is some science behind it,” said Dr. Donald Shifrin, a chairman for the American Academy of Pediatricians. “We are looking at a situation where if you put a tuxedo on a pig it is still a pig.”

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