The Blur Loophole

Via GamePolitics, we learn that the National Institute on Media and the Family have just released their 12th Annual Video Game Report Card. Much like every other anti-freedom lobby out there, they have invented a new so-called loophole out something that isn’t forbidden.

Rather than admit that its current procedures fail to prohibit children and youth from accessing adult content, the ESRB suggested that people who hack into games like Manhunt 2 are committing a crime. According to the ESRB, it is illegal to use Manhunt 2 for anything but its intended use. Besides, the ratings board has to rate more than 1,000 games a year; the ESRB simply doesn’t have time to look at a game’s code.

This argument is nonsense. M-rated games, officially anctioned for 17-year-olds and widely available to much younger children, should not contain easily unblurable or unlockable AO-rated adult content, “blurred” or not. The ratings procedures should take into account not only all the official content of regular gameplay, but all of the code on the discs. Under the current system, the ESRB fails to discourage hackers and makes adult
content all the more enticing to children in its right-under-their-noses secrecy.

It seems that the software manufacturers behind the ESRB are trying to get around their own rules. In the past, we have commended the software makers for creating an entity, the ESRB, to hold themselves accountable. It’s time to close loopholes in the ratings procedures to ensure that game makers are living up to the responsibility they have claimed to accept.

And just like every other anti-freedom lobby, they either have no idea what they’re talking about, or are intentionally misrepresenting the facts to promote their agenda.

First off, there is no “Adults Only” content in Manhunt 2. To get the M rating, Rockstar removed the plier castration, and a couple of other executions. Everything else was seen by the ESRB, and rated accordingly.

Second, given the dynamic nature of games, one cannot simply remove the “blurred” content. It isn’t like a movie or painting where the scene is permanently altered upon production. All content in a game is rendered on the fly. If you removed all the violent content from Manhunt 2, there wouldn’t be a game there anymore.

Third, it doesn’t really matter what’s removed or how well anything is “locked.” Anyone with the ability to mod any “blurred” material can hack in pretty much whatever they like. If one were inclined to do so, one could tweak innocent, existing assets in Barbie Horse Adventures, and make it into a bestiality sim. Again, games are rendered on the fly, and by prodding the code, you can make it do lots of things the developers never intended.

Likewise, I can spot at least a dozen obscene words which could be “unlocked” by highlighting letters in the portion of the NIMF report quoted above. Why aren’t they trying to close the “letter cloud” and “consonant and vowels” loophole?

Fourth, umm, how is it “nonsense” that the ESRB doesn’t have time to look at every game’s code? It takes a team of game developers years to write the code for one game. It takes modders on the outside years to understand the code in one game. Even with a community of thousands of people at GTAforums who have been modding the GTA3D series for like seven years, we still don’t know everything about San Andreas.

Were the ESRB to review every line of code and every asset in a game, it would probably take about 100,000 years for them to rate six months worth of game releases. Even then, as I’ve said above, modders can easily rearrange content however they like, or simply add their own.