As a new cultural carrier, games are not much different from their predecessors such as movies and books in terms of functionality. Since it has the function of accommodating and disseminating various things, it naturally also needs to be reviewed in accordance with the laws and regulations of the publishing area. Domestic players should not be unfamiliar with the modification or deletion of video game content according to different localities. In particular, the “harmony” methods in online games like “World of Warcraft” or “League of Legends” that have formal agents come in. These are events that have more or less triggered topical discussions.
And like some more adult-oriented stand-alone games, if you are “fortunate” to enter the country, you can’t hide it. For example, the wrench that disappeared in “BioShock”, or a certain RogueLike who was forced to “rebirth” because the word “death” could not appear in the title, and so on. Although some of the changes are inexplicable, at least it is clear that these are all compromises that have to be made based on national public opinion and cultural environment restrictions.
Of course, what most people should understand now is that this type of situation is not limited to our country. Even in Europe, the United States or Japan, where the game industry is mature, often due to a ban, certain games have to be deleted.
The most famous one here should be the “Entertainment Software Inspection Agency” (German: Unterhaltungssoftware Selbstkontrolle, generally abbreviated as USK). Although it is still quite a bit behind compared with our country, strict audit standards still make it famous in the global game market.
In addition to USK, currently several well-known game rating organizations in other countries are:
- American Entertainment Software Rating Board (Entertainment Software Rating Board, abbreviation: ESRB),
- Japan Computer Entertainment Rating Organization (Computer Entertainment Rating Organization, abbreviation: CERO),
- Pan European Game Information Organization (Pan European Game Information, abbreviation: PEGI).
- Australian Classification Council (Office of Film and Literature Classification, abbreviation: OFLC)
The above-mentioned companies have undertaken the review, evaluation, classification and management of electronic games in the corresponding regions. Generally speaking, they can directly decide whether a game can be listed, request the manufacturer to modify or delete the content, and finally rate it by users. Although our players may not have any direct contact with them, in fact, these rating agencies have a key influence in various senses.
This article mainly introduces North America, Japan and Germany-namely ESRB, CERO and USK these authoritative review institutions. In addition to the analysis of its general rules and characteristics, it can also be understood whether these areas with developed game industries really allow developers to “freely play” as we imagined.
The most common classification mark
Let’s start with the ESRB in North America. After all, as long as the packaging of most physical games we buy, the clear black and white English logo in the lower left corner should leave some impression even if it is not familiar.
ESRB’s main task is to evaluate and classify electronic entertainment software; its scope of functions covers markets such as the United States, Canada, and Mexico. For most of the commercial and some independent games sold in the above-mentioned markets, they have quite high management authority. But one thing to note is that ESRB is actually an organization independently created by the gaming industry. In other words, it was not actually established by the government or other official administrative organizations, but rather an institution created by the industry itself.
According to the content of the game, ESRB will divide it into various levels (that is, the black and white English logo on the box). They have been revised and added many times since their introduction in 1994, but generally speaking, you can simply use the following figure to understand their classification standards.
In addition to the grading of user age requirements in the figure, ESRB also contains dozens of more detailed “content description tags” to subdivide whether the work contains tobacco, alcohol, drugs, insulting language, or direct violence (the same There are levels). Finally, a rating is derived from these multiple audit criteria to determine which shelf the game can be placed on.
Although it is a non-governmental organization, the ESRB grading system is mandatory for manufacturers and retailers. Most stores must require customers to show their photo ID when purchasing games with ESRB’s highest age rating, and it is not allowed to store or list unrated games in the store.
Due to the remarkable results achieved over the years, ESRB is regarded as a successful and effective rating system. But it has also been facing many doubts and disputes. One aspect of it comes from the manufacturer-as mentioned above, potential underage users cannot buy due to ratings.
We often see works like “Cyberpunk 2077” or “Love for Him”, in order to promote the effect and emphasize “this game is very pornographic and adult~”. But the irony is that most publishers do not want their works to be put on the “AO (18 years and older)” shelves, because this will inevitably reduce potential users. Therefore, in the audit, they will actually compromise, leading to the so-called stimulating scenes are just scratching the edges. And the company will put pressure (or benefit) on the ESRB from time to time in exchange for a more relaxed user age classification.
Obviously, when you open one eye and close one eye more frequently, omissions will naturally appear. At this time, politicians and mainstream media will come to the door and criticize the lack of strictness. Especially after games like “Give Him Love”, such cases of deducting responsibility to ESRB ineffective management abound.
Another interesting common phenomenon is that ESRB manages grading, but in most cases, regardless of deletion. The reason why some imported games modify the content is often to avoid public opinion issues in North America. For example, content that involves religious elements, may infringe on women’s rights, or is suspected of racial discrimination, etc., will be modified in North America. They will not be purely determined by the manufacturers themselves in their review and grading standards.
Born under the pressure of public opinion
The United States was in a stage of rapid development in the 1990s, and the popular culture that was born in the 1970s and 1980s and was full of rebellious thoughts also had a more concentrated outbreak during this period. In this environment, many cultural products that were considered “excessive” at the time continue to emerge, which has also triggered criticism from many conservatives.
Like rock, B-rated movies, and comics, video games have always been the target of criticism from conservative politicians and mainstream media. Violent social issues, such as shootings, are often detained at the head of the game industry at every turn to divert people’s anger towards poor management by the government and educational institutions.
Take music as an example. At that time, musicians in North America had to face entanglements from the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC). Famous bands such as AC/DC are included in the “dirty songs” list. At a time when rock and defenders are arguing, video games are also facing a trend of more diversified content. Among them, it is inevitable that many more adult-oriented themes and expression techniques have appeared.
Finally, on December 9, 1993, the U.S. Senate “Government Affairs and Judicial Subcommittee” held a game called “Mortal Kombat”, “Midnight Trap” and “Fatal Gunfight” as the main goals. Hearing on “Video Game Violence”.
These three games have a certain degree of violent content, and all use real-life shooting technology. Therefore, to a large extent, the look and feel is indeed a bit more exciting compared to the games based on cartoon pixel dot matrix at that time.
Politicians, moral defenders, and parent groups at the hearing condemned the “electronic tumors” represented by these three games and believed that they were the root cause of all social problems in the United States. And the game companies that participated in the hearing were not very united. Nintendo, like Nintendo, stood on the side of mainstream public opinion at the time, criticizing the occurrence of such horrible pornographic content on Sega and other consoles, and said that their own consoles are absolutely not. A similar situation will occur.
In the end, the hearing did not impose any substantive punishment on the game company, but the senator’s request was also very simple: sensitive content in the game must be reduced.
But this kind of “warning” can bluff the senior staff of those big companies, but it can’t control the batches of young geeks emerging in the computer market. On the second day after the hearing, John Carmack and others uploaded “DooM” to the server for free download as if they had calculated the time. Obviously, a massive public criticism cannot stop the pace of change in the game industry. But this incident did give game companies the idea of establishing a grading system for game content.
At that time, Sega America actually had its own grading standard. They found that the average age of their users has always been 19-22 years old – they are already legal adults. Therefore, they adopted a set of so-called “Video Game Classification Committee (VRC)”, which divided their games into three age classes.
However, VRC does not define the so-called sensitive content, regardless of whether you are violent or erotic, or even Konami made a light gun for the game that looks almost exactly the same as Colt’s revolver and will not be marked on the packaging. However, although this VRC is vague and confusing, it can be regarded as the rudiment of a grading system. Therefore, the manufacturer decided to take inspiration from the community and create a more complete classification system.
In 1994, several North American third-party game manufacturers, including Nintendo and Sega, the two major hardware vendors at the time, Atari, EA, and 3DO, passed an agreement and agreed to establish a unified grading standard. They will add a logo on the released game packaging so that users can understand the sensitive content that will appear in the game.
In the nearly 30 years since its establishment, incidents such as “Don’t speak Russian” or “hot coffee” have proved that the ESRB grading system is not perfect. But at least it still successfully took root in the American game market. Whether it is a home computer or a computer platform, it needs to be reviewed by this institution. This also proves that a relatively complete and self-disciplined review system is indeed of considerable value to the healthy development of the industry and the market.
Compared with the US market’s “fix it”, the German USK is rooted in official investigations after all, so the establishment process is less dramatic than the ESRB. It is more often caught up in discussions about the intensity of the review.
Although from a general perspective, Germany is not very conservative in the introduction and exchange of cultural products. But after all, they were also one of the main culprits of World War II, so the official attitude towards Nazi-related matters has always been merciless.
First of all, this is naturally a good thing. Germany’s confession of Nazi history from top to bottom is much more sincere than another Axis power, Japan. Their national administrative law clearly states that it prohibits anyone from defending past Nazi behaviors and restricts the appearance of all Nazi-related cultural works.
It’s just that the Germans have adopted an evasive attitude toward preventing the spread of Nazi elements. Although this kind of “one pot end” can prevent all possibilities of awakening fascism again, it naturally makes those critical cultural works also banned. This naturally also includes video games.
Compared with other common audit organizations, the most critical difference of USK is that it is an entertainment product audit organization officially established by the German government. Compared with non-governmental organizations that are not very compulsory in terms of legal effect, USK, as a government-led department, naturally has more stringent management powers.
The organization’s review standards are completely set in accordance with the German “Child and Youth Protection Act” and have compulsory legal enforcement capabilities. All games released in Germany must be reviewed and rated by USK before they can be put on the shelves, and there is no right to refute its decision. They can even intervene in public exhibitions of game manufacturers. All game trials or demonstrations must be conducted in accordance with the rules established by USK.
Violence, sex, and drugs that are sensitive at the first hearing are naturally the USK’s key targets. Compared with other countries, the red line of “no Nazi-related content in the game” established at the time of creation is also extremely strict, and there has never been an online opening in more than a decade.
Of course, many games released in North America in the early years had similar situations. For example, Capcom’s FC version of “Bionic Commando” is a Japanese version of the German headquarters style story, also called “Hitler Resurrection”. But in the US version, the name was changed back, and the Nazi elements in the screen were also modified. The story of the fight with Hitler disappeared. But this kind of situation in the early years was mostly the spontaneous behavior of the manufacturer, which is fundamentally different from the one-size-fits-all operation in Germany.
Most people have heard that the opportunity for this review agency in Germany should have started with the cut-off of “German Headquarters 3D” and its subsequent works. As a game that has always been aggressive in style and features “hand-teared Nazis”, most of the works in the series have straightforward Nazi elements. Although they are all negative images without exception, USK can’t manage that much. After all, no Nazi is the only solution for them. As a result, the series of works are either directly banned from sale, or they are all modified from images to text.
Its starting point is good. But this kind of behavior, which is equivalent to covering one’s ears and stealing a bell, has been increasingly questioned by German society in recent years. So after “German Headquarters: The New Colossus” once again deleted the Nazi symbols and even shaved Hitler’s beard, public opinion finally turned to the video game side for a rare occasion. Some media said that this kind of censorship is a kind of conservative and incompetent bureaucracy. Not only does it fail to respect history and act as a warning, it also damages the attitude of self-reflection through cultural products.
Under the pressure of public opinion, USK finally gave it away. They sent relevant personnel to conduct market research and visited the Cologne Game Show to actively understand the form and influence of modern video games. This kind of sincere attitude is not just to behave. After a few years of this turmoil, USK finally decided to relax its review standards for games. Games like “German Headquarters: New Blood” and “Left Left 2”, which used to “step on the red line” due to content such as Nazis and violence, have to be released in Germany in a more complete manner.
Sometimes I conceal my ears and steal the bell
Although it is translated as “Computer Entertainment Classification”, Japan’s CERO function actually includes the review of home computers. It is called such a name because it belongs to the Computer Entertainment Suppliers Association (CESA), which is essentially a branch of the Japan Computer Software Association established in 1996.
CESA was established around 2002 and set up its headquarters in Tokyo, Japan, in December of the following year. In terms of institutional nature, like ESRB, they are non-profit voluntary organizations recognized by the government. The general grading standards of this institution are as follows-
In addition to the above five regular classifications, in April 2004, CERO also added 9 special content tips (sex and violence, etc.). Other works with special circumstances, such as demo version or educational software, and reference books that do not specify age groups, have three corresponding special grades.
According to the person in charge of the agency, their review method is generally composed of at least 5 testers. Determine the final level through their evaluation of the game content. The personnel involved in the rating are usually not related to the industry to ensure that there will be no backdoors during the rating.
Like most audit rating systems, CERO’s main problems are also focused on restricted-level games, especially Z-level games have always been controversial in Japan. Because in CERO’s classification, games with sex scenes like “The Last of Us: Act Two” or “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt” are all classified as “R18 Adult Butter”-even if their shots avoid explicitness Content, in fact, in the eyes of most people, it can only be regarded as a side ball.
But even if the game finally gets a Z rating, the Japanese version of these games will still delete a lot of content. For example, the sex scenes of “The Last of Us: Act Two” have been extensively edited, and the violent bleeding is far less than other language versions. Earlier, such as “Resident Evil 4” Japanese version Lyon will not be beheaded, etc., are typical cases of “harmony”.
In recent years, the review of game content in Japan has become more and more stringent. For example, Sony’s control of the content of the edge ball of console games has also caused a lot of controversy because the ratings are too strict compared to the content. And CERO’s rating method has also been quite challenged. Some works that were originally targeted at all ages may eventually be revised to 12 or even higher rating standards due to public opinion pressure.
But in fact, the so-called rating standards are generally ignored by Japanese players. In recent years, the Japanese government has promoted the “Youth Protection and Breeding Regulations” in various regions, requiring age screening of Z-level traffickers. However, many regular game shops are reluctant to sell games that have reached the D or Z level, because this so-called “adult game” has a dedicated location for sale. The positioning of works with this classification is rather vague in Japan, so some bosses will choose to avoid potential troubles.
Although these 18 banned games will not be sold to minors in person, in fact, there are many loopholes for Japanese players. For people who have been exposed to these works all the year round, the classification system can’t stop them. Under such a premise, CERO cuts and modifies the game, which naturally only affects the integrity of the work.
After further relaxing the review restrictions on the content of the work, the German Game Association publicly stated that “the key to allowing review agencies to re-enact the rules is not the pressure of public opinion, but the society itself understands that video games themselves are a cultural form; it With a form that cannot be achieved by traditional cultural carriers such as movies, it can touch young people even more, and realize that games can achieve something unique.”
Of course, the Germans did not change their anti-fascist stance and attitude because of USK’s compromise. Face up to history and integrate it into cultural works is not to call upon the Nazis or any aggressive behavior, but to better examine oneself and prevent it. This is the same for any country and any cultural form.
As the game industry continues to grow and develop, more and more countries and official institutions, even though these people may not have been exposed to video games at all, have gradually discovered that this new form of culture has an amazing social influence. It is no longer something that can be restricted by conservative and rigid rules, blindly castration can only make it gradually develop in a twisted direction. Instead of this, it is better to establish a healthy and comprehensive self-discipline system to allow developers, publishers and players to regulate the content they display.
Source: Bonfire Camp