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PSVratings Q&A

by the NWR Staff - December 6, 2004, 7:14 pm PST

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

1, 2005.

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

three-color system?

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 system

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:

  • Parents realize the industry-based ratings systems are an opinion of

    general age appropriateness

  • Many parents may believe their children to be "mature" enough to

    play the games

  • Many parents aren¹t even aware (despite a good deal of advertising

    by the ESRB) that the ratings system exists or how to use it

  • Many parents still think of Pong and Pac Man when they think of

    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

    technically possible?

    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

    entertainment choices.

    PGC: Thanks for your time.

    Discuss it in Talkback!

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