Got news? Islamic games rating system

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.”

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  • Jerry

    “the rating system is designed based on the culture, society and the special values of Islam”

    Since when is there “the” culture and society of Islam. And I wondered what are the “special values” of Islam. Based on ;your comment about this being an Iranian organization, I did some more searching and found http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Entertainment_Software_Rating_Association and then the Iranian web site itself http://www.ircg.ir/sn/pages/id/23/pt/full/lang/en So part of the answer is that the culture etc is the Iranian model as enforced by the current dictatorship.

    I think your question about the group branching out is really a comment on the story itself. The story did not present that, to me, critical fact of this being an Iranian initiative. And the story gave the impression that there is only one form of Islam with one set of criteria for judging things like video games and that makes that story badly off key. So I would have excoriated the story for being inaccurate and biased rather than asking the more polite questions you raised.

    And it’s also worth noting that there are Christian-based game review sites which I think would speak to many Christians who hold more traditional values around the world.

    • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

      Jerry, I think that’s a valid point. Without knowing much about the organization, I don’t know if it was necessarily inaccurate or biased, maybe less informative. It does appear that the group is Iranian backed, but it seems like the first company to attempt to build an Islamic system. So if an American company created a Christian version, would we fault the reporter if it didn’t suggest that it doesn’t include international Christians? I think including details about the company is very important, though the Kotaku report was a blog post (hence the suggestions for further reporting). Christian-game review sites might be worth noting though might feel extraneous since this is the first Islamic one. What I’d really like to know is whether these ratings really have an impact on whether entire countries ban or allow a game.

  • k012957

    Considering this is the Iranian model of Islam, then we also have to consider that it is the Iranian model of Islam that daily calls for “Death to Israel, Death to America”. So, I would suggest that this ESRA is merely a stalking horse to usurp the authority (what little there is) of the ESRB, and to bring Iranianism to more of the world.

    Thus, I would suggest that this is not a religious story, but a political story of international politics using religion as a tool for political ends.

    • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

      That could be the case, but aren’t religion and international politics often intertwined?


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