The political wranglings over game ratings resurface as a presidential candidate outlines his suggestions for keeping game content suitably regulated. Meanwhile, Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh outlines a roadmap for peace within the games industry while pondering the possibility of a single format. However, more immediate optimism can be found in the news about game simulations that are helping US soldiers to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder upon returning home from Iraq.
Virtual treatment for US troops
A really encouraging application of immersive gaming environments here, with psychotherapists using real-time scene manipulation to help soldiers confront their trauma at as comfortable a level as possible. If the success of schemes like this is proven, one wonders where it may lead: perhaps the ultimate psychotherapy treatment will one day be to have personalised simulations custom-made to deal with specific disorders and neuroses. And it's hard to imagine the commercial opportunities of the self-help market being skipped over. Heck, if Silent Hill games had happier endings I'd say we were already halfway there.
Game Ratings Act Back on Table
Having always believed that a game must be played by those assessing its age rating, I suppose I ought to back Republican presidential hopeful Sam Brownback in resurrecting the Truth in Video Game Rating Act. But aside from the logistical impossibility of rating assessors playing through the entirety of a game before classification, I do get the feeling that those members of the public concerned with game content are unlikely to be overly distressed by specific scenes (as is often the case in movies) but more so by the gameplay in general. Anyone who thinks the taking of innocent life is reprehensible in a game is simply going to be against Grand Theft Auto from the word go. And would cutting the more extreme executions from Manhunt really make that game any more acceptable to its critics? Certainly all relevant content must be revealed to the ESRB prior to a game's classification, but I think deeper discussions about the minute-to-minute gameplay experience of a title are likely to wield more accurate ratings than simply spending time playing through every inch of it.
[UPDATE: ESRB Switching to Full-Time Raters.]
The Road to a Universal Platform
Despite the title alluding to the oft-mentioned and quickly dismissed idea of a single format for games, this feature is actually a short outline for how a videogame standards commission could help strengthen ties between various game developers and manufacturers. The idea being that a single format would only begin to be discussed as a possibility if such a commission was established and frequented by the major industry players. Though somewhat nebulous at present, it is tempting to think that a gaming industry body analogous to the Motion Picture Association or other mutually beneficial guilds would help build a more cohesive and less risky environment for game developers. Perhaps the closest such organization you could cite at present would be the Entertainment Software Association; and as we saw last week though Doug Lowenstein's farewell speech, they express as much disillusionment with the current state of the industry as anyone.