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Q&A: PFF's Thierer Talks Ratings, Parental Controls For Games

As the Progress & Freedom Foundation releases a new report on parental controls for media, Gamasutra talks to senior fellow Adam Thierer on the subject, as he singles out the Xbox 360 for a "gold standard
As the Progress & Freedom Foundation releases a free new downloadable report on parental controls for media, Gamasutra talks to senior fellow Adam Thierer on how he thinks the game biz is getting rating and parental controls right. According to Thierer, who works at the Center for Digital Media Freedom at the Washington DC think tank, his new report "...provides a broad survey of everything on the market today that can help parents better manage media content, whether it be broadcast television, cable or satellite TV, music devices, mobile phones, video game consoles, the Internet, or social networking websites." Talking to Gamasutra, Thierer explains: "I have a keen interest in gaming issues [having authored a previous PDF paper on video game regulation]. I believe that game developers and players should enjoy the full protection of the First Amendment. At the same time, I recognize that not all games are appropriate for younger kids. I'm a big fan of the Resident Evil series, for example, but would not want my young kids to play it until they are much older." Thierer continues: "The good news is that the game industry has taken important steps to help empower parents to make these decisions for themselves and keep the government out of our hair. In fact, as I point out in the foundation's new book, although it is the newest of all industry content rating and labeling schemes, the video game industry's rating system [the ESRB] is in many ways the most sophisticated, descriptive, and effective ratings system ever devised by any major media sector in America." But how about the hardware-specific parental control systems to allow parents to block their children from accessing certain games without their knowledge? Thierer notes: "Microsoft deserves special recognition for its Xbox 360 controls. It offers a very parent-friendly "right-out-of-the-box" parental controls setup menu and has a very sophisticated set of controls that parents can use to tailor the gaming experience for their kids." Thierer continues: "Particularly impressive is the way parents can build the equivalent of a "buddy list" for their kids and allow them to play with only other children they know and trust. And parents can also allow online gaming but restrict the chat capabilities so others cannot talk to their children. That's very sophisticated. The PS3 and Wii offer similar controls, but the 360 really offers the gold standard of controls for parents." However he warns: "Of course, there will always be some game developers who push the envelope and create controversial games that lead some to call for government regulation of the gaming sector. But, when you think about it, there has always been people who create controversial content in every media sector, from books to movies to the Internet." Is the game industry actually handling this well, though? Thierer believes that the underlying controls for games are strong, and perhaps stronger than some other media: "What's great about the video game industry is that its rating system makes parents perfectly aware of what their kids might be getting themselves into. And its console controls make it easy to block those things that parents find troubling." Thierer concludes, on a positive note: "The entire industry also deserves a lot of credit for its educational and awareness efforts. The ESRB's efforts to build relationships with retailers to help enforce their ratings system at the point-of-sale is very important. And the ESRB has partnered with many third parties, such as the PTA to build parental awareness of the ratings system and console controls."

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