Occasionally we'll see stories where video games and religion collide, where a game might feature religion or a country might ban certain games if deemed religiously offensive. For instance, one of my favorite stories includes one from last year about how a company hired a group to protest Dante's Inferno, paying them to hold signs such as "Hell is not a Video Game" and "Trade in Your PlayStation for a PrayStation." Believable, right?
Now we have a case where a group is trying to rate games for an entire religious body. Kotaku, a video game blog in the Gawker network, posts this interesting tidbit about how a group in the Middle East has launched a ratings system for games based on the tenets of the Islamic faith.
This makes it a world first, a system aimed at transcending national borders and laws and appealing directly to the parents and guardians of Muslims all over the world, regardless of which country they live in or which laws they live under.
The ratings body is called the Entertainment Software Rating Association, and "rates the content of...games based on parameters such as violence, promoting tobacco or drugs, sexual diversity [and] nudity", according to a release issued by the group. As a result, "the rating system is designed based on the culture, society and the special values of Islam".
What's unclear is how these ratings will differ from the Entertainment Software Rating Board. For instance, when I look at the back of Mass Effect 2, it says that it's rated Mature for blood, drug reference, sexual content, strong language and violence. The post's author Luke Plunkett notes this and explains how it might differ.
"The approach of Islam is based on Human being innateness "Al Fitra", and the most important innate trends are truth, virtue, benevolence, excellence tendency, innovation and creativity" he told attendants at the Dubai World Game Expo yesterday. "That's why we made sure that ESRA team are proficient in these areas; Religion, Psychopathology, Educational psychology, Social psychology, Sociology of the family, Family Sociology, Emotional Psychology, Family therapy and Educational technology."
As a freshly-launched initiative, there's little other information on ESRA, though you'd imagine that it will mainly operate as an online reference for Muslim parents. That said, if ESRA ratings can be printed off on stickers and handed out to retailers in the relevant regions, there's no reason it couldn't also be used on game boxes not just in Islamic countries, but in any area there would be enough Muslim customers to make it worth their while.
The National, a government-owned newspaper in Abu Dhabi, published a report with a few examples of how it will assess the minimum age for each game: 6, 12, 15, 18 or 25.
Several games have fallen foul of regional moral standards in recent years. The Grand Theft Auto series, for example, was banned because it depicted prostitution, gambling and alcohol.
Dr Minaei said there were games that depicted Muslims as terrorists, while others were frightening for younger players.
He said the top age bracket was necessary because "there is a difference between an 18-year-old Muslim and a 25-year-old". The latter, he said, "is more than likely married and some games are more suitable towards married people".
After a little searching, it appears that the Entertainment Software Rating Association has been around for a few years now as the governmental rating system used in Iran. So is this group trying to branch out beyond Iran and become the definitive ratings system for all of Islam? Perhaps other reporters might do a little digging and find out whether this might have any impact on the gaming industry.
Cultures are sensitive to games, so occasionally you might see a game altered for a specific context. For instance, the use of the name "brahmin" was banned in India from Fallout 3. A few years ago, millions of copies of a game called Little Big Planet were withdrawn from warehouses after portions of the Koran were found in the accompanying music. As tmatt previously noted, "It does appear that ideas, yes, and beliefs, often have consequences--even in the digital world of virtual reality."