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So I Scrapped a Tomodachi Life Feature, But Wanted to Share This Anyway

In light of The Sims 4 and Tomodachi Life, it seemed like a good time to ask ratings organizations to explain their policies on LGBT content in games. It's all good news.

When Nintendo said it wouldn't alter Tomodachi Life to support homosexual relationships for its release outside of Japan, one question I heard was whether the game's rating was a consideration. The sales potential of a game rated "E" versus "T" could be massive for a mainstream-focused game like Tomodachi Life.

I'd been working on a larger Tomodachi Life piece last week that I axed after Nintendo released a statement last Friday. The angle no longer made any sense. But yesterday, news broke via Ars Technica that The Sims 4 had received an 18+ rating in Russia because of law 436-FZ, otherwise known as "On Protection of Children from Information Harmful to Their Health and Development."

It's not explicitly clear The Sims 4 received its rating because the game allows homosexual relationships, but the game was released with lower ratings in other countries. Russia has been criticized for its treatment of LGBT individuals, and 436-FZ was amended in 2013 to have "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships" to be considered as offending content.

EA has since told Polygon it will not be altering the game's content in Russia.

But while researching my Tomodachi Piece, I asked several worldwide games rating organizations if the inclusion of homosexuality would impact a game's rating. It seemed like a good moment to have this on-the-record from everyone. This included the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (United States), Pan European Game Information (Europe), and Computer Entertainment Rating Organization (Japan).

CERO did not return my request, but I found no evidence it takes homosexuality into consideration.

Here's what the ESRB said:

"ESRB’s ratings criteria do not distinguish between heterosexual and same-sex content when it comes to addressing sexuality in games. Assuming no other changes were made to the game, the ESRB rating assignment would not be impacted."

A few years back, a report surfaced that Natsume had removed same sex relationships from Harvest Moon over fears the rating would increase.

And here's what PEGI told me:

"No, this type of in-game content wouldn’t have altered the rating. PEGI doesn't take peoples sexual preferences into consideration when examining a game. We cannot judge who or why a character/human chooses to love. We look at the content of a game, not the context. There are a few questions in our questionnaire that deal with sex or nudity (Q4, 14, 15, 25, and 35). But as you can see, there’s no distinction between homo- or heterosexual contact/relationships.

The questionnaire is designed to be a top-down questionnaire. This means that as soon as there is any content in the game that could be inappropriate to a specific age group, the game automatically receives the rating for that age category.

For example: If a game contains violence that is rated as 16 but it also contains fear (7), it will only get the 16 violence content descriptor and not the fear descriptor."

If you'd like to read through the PEGI questionnaire referenced in the statement, it's featured below.

A few other notes:

  • It's interesting how nuanced the PEGI answer was compared to the ESRB, no?
  • There was minor lapse in moderation of the Tomodachi Life post from last Friday. I should have stuck around to help out--it was bound to be contentious. Our moderators are fantastic, but Friday evening is a tough time for people to carve out free time. I'll be around to check out this one. Stay frosty.
  • Joystiq has the story of how The Sims supported homosexual relationships in the first place. It's remarkably uninteresting, and I mean that in the best way possible. It makes you wonder about Tomodachi Life.
  • Would people be interested in the scraps of interesting info that come out of features that never end up getting published? That's partly where Interview Dumptruck came from. Let me know.
Patrick Klepek on Google+
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Posted by BreakfastKing

Great to see that the ESRB doesn't treat sex content different based on preference.

And I would love to see the scraps on the cutting room floor. I eat up all that behind the scenes shit. Even if it doesn't fit organically with a proper story, just seeing some raw-ass facts would be awesome.

Edited by AMyggen

Good stuff, Patrick. There's really no evidence that I can find of games being rated more harshly because of LGBT characters in the US, which is a good thing. There's a ton of indications that that's happening in the movie industry though, especially when it comes to sex. But that's another story.

With that said I'm never looking at this comment section again. See ya!

Posted by spaghet3

It's interesting how the video game industry is actually further ahead in this area than the policy makers of most states and countries.

Edited by HatKing

Fucking awesome. I wish we would see more good news type stuff hitting the media circuit in this industry. We're all too fucking cynical, and it really makes things a drag for everybody.

Great work, Patrick.

Edited by conmulligan

It's a pity you didn't get a response from CERO, it would've been interesting to see what they came back with. Still, good stuff!

Posted by TDot

Unfortunately reports from the movie rating industry are a bit more vague as it's really down to a group of a few childless middle class people from LA along with a priest and a rabbi for some reason. Often-times homosexual content gets rated higher for no applicable reason.

Posted by Wandrecanada

I think I'm fine with a piece that describes the reaction to the Nintendo statement (which this was) rather than the article that speaks to artefacts of the past. While it's sometimes interesting to know how the sausage gets made it's the cooked and prepared version you want most.

Posted by FMinus

You forgot to ask the USK (Unterhaltungssoftware Selbstkontrolle), considering they are the only ones who actually put games on index for Germany and Austria or in other words have harsher ratings, i.e. blood must be green and no swastikas and similar stuff. Would like to hear from them on that matter, however I would imagine it's pretty much the same as PEGI.

Edited by smithz2

Hey Patrick,

I really like this format because it is just there to convey information, and is a really quick read. I would love to see more articles like this on the site: short but information rich. Keep up the great work!

Posted by PurpleSpandex

@tdot: Its changed since that documentary, but its still shrouded in secrecy.

Edited by Hassun

Good news everyone!

Posted by Wraxend

Sad that CERO didn't get back to ya as I was most curious to here from them. Anyways nice read Patrick, I want to see more stuff like this being featured on GB aswell.

Edited by cabrit_sans_cor

I don't trust the ESRB's statement farther than I can throw it.

America still has an overall negative view of homosexuality. It's better than it used to be, but homophobia hasn't gone away. It's just gotten more covert.

Posted by YukoAsho

I'm not surprised that PEGI was more detailed in their answer. Considering all the descriptors they have, I'm surprised it wasn't longer. ESRB ratings always seemed more to the point and less bloated.

Fucking seriously, a "fear" descriptor? What's that even mean, that the game might have a few jump scares for the kiddies? What, so Luigi's Mansion has a 7 but would have been a 3 otherwise?

Anyway, it's great to see that neither ESRB nor PEGI have any distinction between heterosexual and homosexual content. I'd have liked to hear from OFLC (Australia's and New Zealand's) and am saddened that CERO didn't return your comment.

Posted by TurboMan

I'm actually kind of surprised... good on em.

Posted by sonicrift

I was most interested in what CERO would have to say. That's a real shame.

Posted by FMinus

@yukoasho said:

I'm not surprised that PEGI was more detailed in their answer. Considering all the descriptors they have, I'm surprised it wasn't longer. ESRB ratings always seemed more to the point and less bloated.

Fucking seriously, a "fear" descriptor? What's that even mean, that the game might have a few jump scares for the kiddies? What, so Luigi's Mansion has a 7 but would have been a 3 otherwise?

Anyway, it's great to see that neither ESRB nor PEGI have any distinction between heterosexual and homosexual content. I'd have liked to hear from OFLC (Australia's and New Zealand's) and am saddened that CERO didn't return your comment.

Don't underestimate fear of something, and while it's not something me and you consider worth mentioning there are people who would want to know if a game has scare elements and such.

Posted by Dan_CiTi

Great job here Patrick, classy, even if this sort of article is inherently not that slick. Really strong, straight-forward research too. I'm glad the games ratings boards are pretty good about these things. The way it works in films seems to be reasonably worse.

Posted by SgtSphynx

It is really good to hear that it sexual orientation doesn't affect ratings.

Also, @patrickklepek, do you really think that users are going to say "no" to more content? Personally, I think that anything that is interesting or informative, even if it doesn't warrant a larger article, should be put out there. So, please so continue to publish these tidbits.

Edited by joshwent

Great little read Patrick, thanks! It's disappointing that these questions even have to still be asked, but nonetheless wonderful to see these ratings boards taking a strong stand in terms of not differentiating between certain relationships.

As others have mentioned, reading this instantly drew my thoughts away to the MPAA, which doesn't specifically explain their ratings in any clear way, and has more or less been shown to generally give harsher ratings to films featuring intimacy from any kind of non straight relationship, as well as even just hetero women experiencing sexual pleasure.

Though it has a ton of flaws, and tries (and fails) to become a weird kind of Michael Moore detective story, I recommend This Film is Not Yet Rated if anyone's curious about those lovely repressive fools.

Edited by edgeCrusher

It's obviously hearsay, since I do not represent CERO, but I believe they treat sexuality similarly to the ESRB. They have a designator icon for "sexual content" which they have needed to modify to include both of the same symbol for certain games.

The story goes that the producer of said title was very proud of that fact. Sorry, I don't recall the name of the game. It was one of the thousands of dating sim games they've put out in Japan over the last 10 years.

Posted by fartlord

Video games lmao

Posted by freakin9

Common sense should tell you this is the case.

I'll leave it at that.

Edited by joshwent

...do you really think that users are going to say "no" to more content? Personally, I think that anything that is interesting or informative, even if it doesn't warrant a larger article, should be put out there. So, please so continue to publish these tidbits.

Great point! In light of these relentless threads complaining about their perceived lack of content on Giant Bomb, just publish whatever you have. If it's not the most engaging stuff, the worst that could happen is just that it won't get a ton of views.

But also, I'm sure some arbitrary or not totally relevant scraps from Patrick's research might turn out to be uniquely interesting.

Posted by sommer.derek@gmail.com

This is a great piece, very interesting to see these answers, I somehow assumed it might actually change a rating as stupid as that would be. Equality for all its seems in terms of ratings. Thanks for the info Patrick

Posted by Cathryn

Thanks for posting, Patrick. I was really curious about all this after listening to the morning show where you mentioned you'd contacted the ratings agencies, so I'm glad you decided to make the information available!

I'd definitely be interested in anything you happen to turn up that doesn't get used elsewhere.

Edited by hughesie27

I'm glad I live in a progressive country whose government and the majority of its population are accepting of same sex relationships.

I am however embarrassed that it has taken until just this year to make same sex marriages (not civil partnerships) legal.

And yeah Patrick, I wanna read more of this sorta stuff. In fact, I'd love to see a video explaining just how you go about researching and developing a piece of your journalism in general.

Posted by mtfikhan

Yup. More stories that make you think about games in a new light.

Posted by Cogzwell

It's good the sims is more inclusive about its relationship structure, but it's especially nice they do it in a way that is intrinsically impacting to the game itself. I'm not sure how deep Tomodachi life goes but when a game gets into family structure, depicting life, and complex relationships its decision to not be just hetero normative is just so much more vital.

I'm also glad to see both ratings boards involved here seem to be in agreement, and I'd like to think I can behold them to their word. In context where a game would already be T or M it's probably a non issue to them, but I'd hope that even when getting into the lower age ratings they abide by their standards regardless of any personal gripes. I can't imagine a game would get a higher rating just for showing (non-romantically) a same sex couple or same gender parent couple, but when trying to think of an example none came to mind, so I guess frankly I'd like to just say I want to see that. No standards for non-binary characters yet either.

Posted by Existence

Would people be interested in the scraps of interesting info that come out of features that never end up getting published?

Absolutely!

Call it Scoops' Scraps!

(I'm sorry, that's a terrible name)

Posted by Tomba_be

I'd be interested to read the cancelled piece reworked as the story of how Nintendo changed their mind. Japanese companies in general and Nintendo specifically have always had the reputation to be very conservative and not prone to change what they think "works". From violently attacking YouTube to weird oversexualized female characters and religiously sticking to existing franchises. Large parts of the internet have already campaigned against SEGA, Nintendo,... to make them change their ways and business practices but have met with little success. But in a couple of days Nintendo turned around completely. I'm very curious how that came about so quickly and some inside information on that would be very interesting to read.

Posted by Yummylee

@existence said:

Would people be interested in the scraps of interesting info that come out of features that never end up getting published?

Absolutely!

Call it Scoops' Scraps!

(I'm sorry, that's a terrible name)

Eh, I like it. Though they also maybe shouldn't oversaturate Patrick features with too many alliterative titles centred around his Scoops nickname, or it'll start to look too gimmicky.

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Posted by Pezen

Good read, glad the two responses you got were as good as I had hoped. And I would definitely be interested in info dumps from scrapped articles.

Also, Russia, what's going on? Do you need to talk? I feel like you've been acting out lately and we're all worried about you. I mean, being the bad guy in all those movies back in the day was probably fun and all, but come on. Let someone else have the stage for a little while.

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Posted by AlexanderSheen

Good read! And I actually mean it this time.

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Edited by YukoAsho

@fminus said:

@yukoasho said:

I'm not surprised that PEGI was more detailed in their answer. Considering all the descriptors they have, I'm surprised it wasn't longer. ESRB ratings always seemed more to the point and less bloated.

Fucking seriously, a "fear" descriptor? What's that even mean, that the game might have a few jump scares for the kiddies? What, so Luigi's Mansion has a 7 but would have been a 3 otherwise?

Anyway, it's great to see that neither ESRB nor PEGI have any distinction between heterosexual and homosexual content. I'd have liked to hear from OFLC (Australia's and New Zealand's) and am saddened that CERO didn't return your comment.

Don't underestimate fear of something, and while it's not something me and you consider worth mentioning there are people who would want to know if a game has scare elements and such.

I can get that, I suppose. It just seems odd that decidedly harmless games (like the aforementioned Luigi's Mansion series) can be bumped up higher for things like that.

Then again, PEGI's 3 rating actually counts for something, whereas EC is really only used for edutainment and effectively sets the ESRB baseline at 6, so I guess it balances out in ways.

@joshwent - Are we surprised? The film industry in the US still practices whitewashing. Of course the MPAA's view on sexuality would be behind every other entertainment medium.

Posted by quirkwood

It appears Australian Classification (formerly OFLC) also has no references to homosexuality. Which is weird because our government has taken some serious steps backwards with regards to it's social policy lately (mostly to do with "boat people" though, "the gays").

Posted by Necrotron

Glad you went ahead and posted this article rather than just shelving it. I think it's still a relevant discussion.

Posted by Itwongo

Neat!

Posted by GrantHeaslip

@patrickklepek: The ESRB rates games sold in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, not just the United States.

Posted by MooseyMcMan

Damn Russians!

But good on the ESRB and Pegi for having some common sense about this stuff.

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Posted by cthomer5000

<>

Edited by MonkeyKing1969

Great to see that the ESRB doesn't treat sex content different based on preference.

Well, that is if you believe them. And, I have to say I tend to not believe them since as Americans they can be very screwy about such things. The best I can hope for is that questions like Patrick's get to the right ears. I should hope someone tells the raters at ESRB that sexual orientation is off the table for up-checking a game to the next rating.

Posted by Redhorn

I like this article a lot, Patrick! Thank you.

I would definitely like to see more of your "scraps" like this. I loved seeing the questionnaires, full direct quotes, and other raw data for myself. I just love inside baseball.

Posted by Slag

Thanks for sharing that Patrick! That was really interesting!

Posted by alwaysbebombing

Just more justification for my hardcore Sims fanhood.

Edited by mrcraggle

@yukoasho said:

@fminus said:

@yukoasho said:

I'm not surprised that PEGI was more detailed in their answer. Considering all the descriptors they have, I'm surprised it wasn't longer. ESRB ratings always seemed more to the point and less bloated.

Fucking seriously, a "fear" descriptor? What's that even mean, that the game might have a few jump scares for the kiddies? What, so Luigi's Mansion has a 7 but would have been a 3 otherwise?

Anyway, it's great to see that neither ESRB nor PEGI have any distinction between heterosexual and homosexual content. I'd have liked to hear from OFLC (Australia's and New Zealand's) and am saddened that CERO didn't return your comment.

Don't underestimate fear of something, and while it's not something me and you consider worth mentioning there are people who would want to know if a game has scare elements and such.

I can get that, I suppose. It just seems odd that decidedly harmless games (like the aforementioned Luigi's Mansion series) can be bumped up higher for things like that.

Then again, PEGI's 3 rating actually counts for something, whereas EC is really only used for edutainment and effectively sets the ESRB baseline at 6, so I guess it balances out in ways.

@joshwent - Are we surprised? The film industry in the US still practices whitewashing. Of course the MPAA's view on sexuality would be behind every other entertainment medium.

Let's actually use Luigi's Mansion for the 3DS as an example of where PEGI and the ESRB differ in their information and what's more useful to parents.

PEGI:

Luigi's Mansion 2

Nintendo of Europe GmbH

The content of this game is suitable for persons aged 7 years and over only.

It contains: Pictures or sounds likely to be scary to young children

This game allows the player to interact with other players ONLINE

System: Nintendo 3DS

Genre: Action

Releasedate: 2013-03-28

ESRB:

Luigi's Mansion Dark Moon
Platform: Nintendo 3DS

Rating Category:

Everyone Rating Symbol
Content Descriptors: Crude Humor, Mild Cartoon Violence

Other:

  • Includes online features that may expose players to unrated user-generated content (Nintendo 3DS)

Rating Summary: This is an adventure game in which Luigi searches for “Dark Moon” pieces around several haunted locales. Players use a vacuum to suck up objects, manipulate scenery, and capture ghosts. Players can fire seeds at plant creatures, set off 'cartoony' explosions, and shoot spiked balls at enemies; characters whoop or squeal in a whimsical manner when they take damage. One sequence depicts a large monster that emits flatulent sounds and balls of slime at Luigi.

In this instance, the ESRB did a much better job of explaining not only what was contained within the game but also a description of a particular scene that stands out.

Posted by Bunny_Fire

pity you didn't ask the Australian classification board it would be interesting to know what there view on classification was regarding same sex relationships... Actually scrap that the Sims 3 works fine here so I guess it would be the same

Posted by garnsr

Doesn't a gay couple bring sex into a game, where a straight couple doesn't? Parents don't question how they have to explain to a kid seeing a man and woman together, but a common reason I hear for not having gay couples in public is that straight parents have to explain what's going on there. I'd guess that a sexual situation involving whatever group would be treated as a sexual situation by the raters, but just having a gay couple not even having sex might be called a sexual situation in the ratings, just because it's not a common enough experience to most people right now to not bring up sex.

Edited by LazyEkans

@fminus said:

You forgot to ask the USK (Unterhaltungssoftware Selbstkontrolle), considering they are the only ones who actually put games on index for Germany and Austria or in other words have harsher ratings, i.e. blood must be green and no swastikas and similar stuff. Would like to hear from them on that matter, however I would imagine it's pretty much the same as PEGI.

Someone totally should do that. If someone wanted to really go deep they could, say, go to this Wikipedia article and see there are a bunch of different rating boards for video games in different countries. PEGI is actually really interesting, seeing as they cover many cultures/nations. Anyone had contact with CERO, or Japanese companies in general, that knows if there is a different way to write an email? The only thing I can think of is sending it in Japanese. If it wasn't obvious, I'm shooting off emails to various countries' video game rating boards. Great bits, Scoops.

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