South Park: The Stick of Truth Proves the ESRB Is Broken
South Park: The Stick of Truth

I think Mr. Mackey would agree: “…drugs are bad…censorship is bad…but rating is not so bad…MKAY.”
 

On several occasions, you’ve heard me argue the merits of censorship (or rather the lack thereof). While I have some pretty strong feelings on the subject (given the practice is completely subjective and varies drastically from country to country), I’m about to make a statement that some may find hypocritical. While I find censorship to be a fairly negative thing in general, I don’t necessarily feel the same way regarding rating systems. While infringing on people’s personal rights is never acceptable in my book, having a top-layer reference regarding the nature of a product’s content is probably a good idea (and helpful to parents as well).

Not that there isn’t HUGE room for improvement!

Much like censorship, trying to rate something often depends on those in charge’s point of view. As opinions are as varied as snowflakes in winter, you will inevitably end up with some pretty un-even results. Take the recently released South Park: The Stick of Truth for example. This game garnered a “Mature Rating” when it ABSOLUTELY should have received an “Adults Only” label. While I can almost hear the rumble of keyboard keys being pounded in rage as you fill the comments box with a new found contempt for yours truly, at least hear me out. If you’ve played the game, you’d probably agree that a teenager (even at the age of 17) probably isn’t suited for what you see in a title like Stick of Truth. I’m no prude, but from the giant nut sacks to Nazi abortions (and a myriad of other controversial depictions), this is meant for adults. Period. 

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However, the problem with that statement is this: what constitutes an adult in this country is rather arbitrary.

18 is the accepted age we seemingly drew from a hat, as the cut off between the ESRB’s M rating and the AO is 17. Am I suggesting that a 17 year old is ill-equipped to view such a thing until the stroke of midnight on their 18th birthday? Certainly not. Studies have shown the brain doesn’t actually reach true “adult hood” until around age 25. Naturally, this leaves a huge window for you, the reader, to draw your own conclusions as to where Stick of Truth should fall, as I’m not recommending the content be cut in any way just to protect certain audiences. In fact, this was the exact issue the game’s creators faced overseas. I’m simply saying that we recognize who this title was truly intended for. Even Matt Stone admits that standards have become more progressive in our country. In a recent interview, he stated that what is depicted in ‘Truth would easily fly on today’s networks (also remarking the original South Park episodes from the late 90s would probably fit right in on Nickelodeon now).

South Park: The Stick of Truth

To me, the line between censorship vs. rating is fairly clear. While some content might not appeal to me personally, I feel that censorship as a whole is wrong. It’s difficult to justify telling one person they can’t express themself in certain artistic ways (providing it’s not resulting in harm) just because it doesn’t appeal to the tastes of another. However, while I support freedom of expression in just about every form, allowing me to know what I’m buying ahead of time isn’t the worst idea in the world either. I akin this to labeling certain foods as “diet” or “sugar free”, so diabetics can determine what is safe to eat and what isn’t. This is an example of rating. Removing all sweets from store shelves completely would be an example of censorship. See the difference?

Whether it’s South Park the cartoon, the movie or the video game, people deserve the right to make an informed decision. I think this is where revamping the rating system for better accuracy could benefit both artist and audience alike. Granted, the idea of rating anything for the purposes of pigeon-holing it into one category or another is a slippery slope, but what other method are we left with?

Do you have a better, more ingenious system? We’d certainly love to hear about it! Sound off in the comments below! You never know whose listening.

Jason Messer
Jason Messer
@J8sonMesser

Contributing Writer
Date: 03/12/2014

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