The CEO of the parent company of PSVratings answers our questions about their new system to classify objectionable content in video games.
Last week, Current Attractions, a website that aims to guide parents in choosing entertainment suitable for their families, announced that its PSVratings system would be extended to video games as an alternative to the age-based, industry-enforced ESRB system. David G. Kinney, CEO of Current Attractions, was able to answer a few of our questions about this new ratings system, which arrives on the heels of of a recent National Institute on Media and the Family report critical of the ESRB system.
Planet GameCube: How many games currently have PSVratings?
David G. Kinney: PSVratings just began rating video games and has rated all of the most
popular games releases since November 1, 2004. We have a plan in place that
will enable us to rate all new releases as they become available by January
PGC: Do you expect PSVratings to appear on game boxes or elsewhere in the
retail space, or is it intended primarily for the Current Attractions
Kinney: We have every hope that we will be able to work in cooperation with game
manufacturers and distributors and afford the public the information
provided by the PSVratings system directly on product packaging. We would
like to work in cooperation with the industry to provide this information to
the public but, as you can see, we have met and continue to meet with
resistance from the industry. Despite public and political demand for
comprehensive, accurate and objective information such as that provided by
PSVratings, the industry insists that its ESRB ratings system in adequate to
the needs of the consuming public. I think we have done a good job of
presenting PSVratings to the government as an alternative to censorship, we
need to do a better job of making the public aware of PSVratings and other
independent ratings services and we need to turn our attention to retailers
to assist them in providing the consumer with what they want and provide
them with a level of protection against government sanctions to the extent
that an objective standard can do so.
PGC: How can various types of content be objectively assigned to your
Kinney: It is important to note that the colors of the PSVratings system are merely
a guideline. First, you start out with a list of everything and anything
anyone could possibly construe as profane, sexual or violent. Those are our
rules of which we have over 3,000. We also have added the ability to
distinguish between who did or said what to whom. That exponentially
increases the potential rule combinations to well over 10 million. So, you
see, it is extremely complex on the back end but, as you will see, extremely
simple for the consumer. Next, our Standards Board assigns a rating value
to each rule based upon the most up to date available research indicating
the potential for negative psychological or sociological impact on child
development (green may be offensive to some but has little or no potential
for negative psychological or sociological consequences, yellow likely,
red most assuredly). The combination of the rules and the ratings creates
the PSVratings Standard. Again, however, even ascribing these levels is
intended as a guideline. In the PSVratings system, Green does NOT mean Go,
Yellow does NOT mean Caution and Red does NOT mean STOP. The colors are a
guideline as to what content will be encountered in the media and are
summarized on the PSVratings Chart. Some parents think it is cute if their
3 year old uses the f-word. Our personal opinion of such parents
notwithstanding, they are free to choose media for their children that is
rated red for Profanity (as the f-word is in the PSVratings system). Our
auditors are trained to capture data and report it not interpret it. They
simply record what was said or done. Our data mappers map each instance
found in the context to the applicable rule or rules in the database. They
do not know the ratings, they are trained to know the rules. Once all of
the data has gone through the data validation and data integrity steps, the
proprietary software generates a PSVrating. That rating is based solely on
the data collected matched against the Standard developed by experts in the
impact of media on child development (PSVratings Standards Board). While we
are developing more, today the public has multiple views of the data:
Traffic light at-a-glance reference to the PSVratings Chart
PSVratings Chart Summary of the ratings levels of all content rated by the
PSVratings Details Detailed information about every profane, sexual or
violent word, action or activity including the context in which they are
PGC: Why do you believe parents are not heeding the ESRB's "Mature" label?
Kinney: I have no research that would enable me to answer this question with any
sense of certainty but I would venture to guess:
general age appropriateness
play the games
by the ESRB) that the ratings system exists or how to use it
video games. They have no idea about the amount of profanity, sex and
violence in today's games.
PGC: How can PSVratings do a better job of getting parents to notice or care
about a game¹s content?
Kinney: PSVratings, along with all members of the Independent Ratings Services
industry, has a vested interest in making parents aware of the impact media
is having on the development of our children. We are seeking to work with
the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), among others, in publicizing the
fact that, as per the AAP, media has replaced both school and the family as
the most dominant influence in the development of children. The average
American child spends 6 hours and 32 minutes per day with media more than
any other single activity other than sleeping. Again, I think you have to
consider that all other ratings systems offer an opinion as to
age-appropriateness. PSVratings is dedicated to providing the
comprehensive, accurate and objective information parents and all consumers
need to make informed entertainment purchase and rental decisions based upon
their own personal standards of suitability. It¹s a new concept that puts
the consumer totally in control and I believe that that will make the
PGC: In what way are PSVratings quantitative rather than qualitative, if there
are no numbers used in the labeling?
Kinney: PSVratings is quantitative in that it provides facts rather than opinions.
In the future, PSVratings will offer a comparative system that will enable
the consumer to compare familiar titles with unfamiliar titles to determine
the differences in the cumulative amount of profanity, sex and violence of
PGC: Are PSVratings based on information obtained while playing the game,
viewing footage of the games, or published information?
Kinney: PSVratings are based upon information obtained while playing the game.
PGC: Are game publishers in any way involved during the PSVratings process,
and do they have the option to appeal a rating?
Kinney: We would like game publishers to be involved to the extent of providing
screeners of their games so that we can provide the public with our ratings
prior to street date (actual date to be based upon agreement with the
publisher). It should be noted that PSV is more than a trademark. We own
two certification marks that enable us to certify the amount of profanity,
sex and violence in digital and print media. Through that certification
process, we would be happy to work with game publishers to provide them with
comprehensive information about what is in their games that generates a
given rating. There is no appeals process, per se, because there is no
subjectivity in the PSVratings system. The system simply reports what is in
the media being rated.
PGC: Would you support retail enforcement of PSVratings, if it became
Kinney: I conceived of the PSVratings system as a means to provide information as a
substitute for censorship. Age-based restrictions on access to certain
media is, in and of itself, while necessary, a form of censorship. It is
our preference that the ESRB continue to proscribe the age groups for which
their games are intended. We only seek to be that aspect of the ratings
that provides the consumer with the information they need to make informed
PGC: Thanks for your time.