Letter to the ESRB

This morning I tried giving the ESRB some feedback of their recent change to the rating of Oblivion from Teen to Mature. Unfortunately, the form on the ESRB site only allows you to type up to 500 letters, a ridiculous constraint. I went ahead and sent them a note anyway, but here’s the letter that I wanted to send.

I think you’ve made a big mistake with the re-rating of Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.  I’ve played the PC version for more than 50 hours and haven’t encountered any content that should qualify it as “Mature”.

Here’s how your website defines Mature:
Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.

Let’s see… intense violence.  No, not really.  Sure, it contains violence, but it’s not really so intense that a teen shouldn’t be able to play.  Starcraft is far more intense and contains longer durations of violence, but is rated Teen.

Blood and gore.  I have seen blood, but it’s not particularly gory.  The wounds aren’t realistic, and blood doesn’t flow out of bodies.  Sure, there’s a brief mist of blood in the air when you hit someone, but it’s very realistic — more like a hint of blood.  Probably the goriest thing I’ve seen so far have been the bloody handprints on the doors in the Arena.  I can’t imagine how a teen would be troubled by the hints of blood in this game.

Let’s get strong language out of the way.  There is none.  That’s all there is to it.

Sexual content gets trickier.  The game itself doesn’t seem to have any sexual content — certainly none that I’ve seen or heard about.  You specifically state that Oblivion contains nudity.  Again, I haven’t seen or heard any.  From the rumors I’ve read, you’re counting modder’s content in the game.  Yes Oblivion can be modified so that when characters are undressed they’re nude.  It doesn’t come like this standard, and the XBox 360 can’t even be modded.  Most importantly, nudity doesn’t equal sexual.  It’s a good thing you guys don’t rate coloring books.  Who knows what people might draw between the lines!

I’m not too worried about Bethesda or Elder Scrolls.  I doubt this will hurt their sales too much, and the added publicity might even help.  I’m more worried about you.  You’ve just lost huge amounts of credibility as far as I’m concerned.  Based on the blog posts I’ve seen, I’m sure most gamers feel the same way that I do.  You’ve really gone overboard here.  The only way to regain any credibility would be to admit you made a mistake a reverse the rating change.

Aaron McBride