Rating Board (ESRB)

The Entertainment Software

Rating Board (ESRB) in the US, for example, “assigns the age and content ratings for video games and mobile apps, enforces advertising and marketing guidelines for the video game industry, and helps companies implement responsible online privacy practices” (www.esrb.org/index-js.jsp). As with pornography*, video games are vociferously defended on US First Amendment grounds – that is, as invoking rights to free speech. The US hence emphasizes such “self-regulating” approaches. The European counterpart, PEGI (Pan European Game Information), has developed an age-based rating system that is further refined by specific “content descriptors”: violence, bad language, fear, gambling, sex, drugs, discrimination – and, most recently “in-game purchases,” that is, a warning that a game includes the possibility of spending money within it (https://pegi.info/news/new-in-game-purchases-descriptor). Such “self-regulation” or “co-regulation” approaches thereby minimize governmental oversight in the (neoliberal) name of maximizing consumer choice and industry engagemen.

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Other countries and cultures take a stricter approach. For example, South Korea recognizes “game addiction” as a psychological problem, unlike the American Psychological Association, for example. Germany also takes game addiction seriously: one prominent psychology professor notes that the country has the strictest games regulation in the world as part of its approach to “youth media protection”. Japan, as a last example, is both famous for the diverse aesthetics brought to game design and (in)famous for games such as RapeLay that focus on sexual violence against women.

Violence, however, seems difficult to avoid. Indeed, it is arguably baked into not only a wide assortment of games – but within the surrounding industries, cultures, and technologies as well. In 2012, for example, Mia Consalvo called out what she identified as the “toxic gamer culture” – a hostility toward women gamers both offline (at conferences) and online, including harassment (and worse). All of this exploded into more public consciousness with the “#Gamergate” controversies of 2014, characterized as “a campaign of systematic harassment of female and minority game developers, journalists, and critics and their allies”. Massanari’s analysis is especially interesting, as it draws on a long- term ethnographic study of how various aspects of Reddit.com’s design and structure reflect, reinforce, and help amplify “anti-feminist and misogynistic activism”.

These broader considerations are analogous to the larger backgrounds and relationships we explored with regard to the Fairphone. A key ethical question here is whether we take a more individualistic and/or more relational approach to our ethical lives? As with the Fairphone, a more individualistic approach might well reduce the relevance and weight of these more global contexts: a more relational approach will at least raise questions regarding our consumption of what, some will otherwise argue, is “just a game.”

As with pornography*, out of all of this complexity we will take up only a small set of the central issues – specifically those that parallel the debates we have explored surrounding pornography* and sexbots.

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