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Blood, sex and politics in video games: how censorship is done (or not)

Video series by Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab examines game ratings system.

MIT researcher Konstantin Mitgutsch, brilliant as he is, can't figure out how video games are rated. And that's saying something, given that Mitgutsch is a scientific board member of Europe's game-ratings group, Pan European Game Information (PEGI).

"Game content rating systems like the Entertainment Software Rating Board and PEGI were established to help educators and parents to make informed decisions on buying computer games," Mitgutsch says as an introduction to three videos he and colleagues at the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab are releasing about U.S. and European ratings systems. "But both groups have three core problems."

First, many parents confuse the game's rating with playability. The age suggested by the rating focuses on problematic content, not on the playability of a game. Second, Mitgutsch argues, the ratings are culturally and historically related: a game that was considered "shocking" in the 1990s might appear harmless today. And third, the game ratings focus strictly on the content and not the context of the game. This last problem is pivotal, as many problematic aspects in games make an appearance only when contaxtualized.

For the videos, GAMBIT researchers invited members of the local video game industry, academia and journalism to discuss various topics of game censorship — violence, sex and politics. Mitgutsch is incorporating this research into a report for PEGI suggesting changes to the European ratings system.

The first video in the series, "'Die!' Censoring Game Violence", was released on Monday, March 28, with the second, "'Behave', Censoring Game Sex" to follow on April 4. The series will finish with "'(REDACTED)', Censoring Game Politics" on April 11. Videos can be seen at the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab website:

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