Factor 5's Julian Eggebrecht opened the GC Developers Conference with a bold keynote titled "No Sex, No Drugs and Little Rock & Roll" in which he expressed his concern over the self-enforced ratings system on video games, specifically certain events surrounding "bizarre" ESRB decisions.
Eggebrecht revealed his independent studio's difficulties trying to secure a Sony requested Teen rating for its PLAYSTATION 3 dragon game Lair. With a heavy amount of blood and gore, the game was altered to conform to the ESRB's sometimes impolitic ratings criteria. Even though the player can burn scores of human infantry to death, showing blood spraying from dragon wounds resulted in a Mature rating.
Similarly, gory moments of airborne creatures exploding in chunks was met with disapproval, forcing more compromising "hugely problematic" changes to Lair.And while some violence may be okay for M-rated software, sex in games is a definite no-no. Eggebrecht longed for a time when games can be taken seriously as an art form, not a "corruptive" medium like cinema, comic books and rock and roll music.
Games with intense graphic sex scenes—sometimes mixed with intense violence—were more than acceptable in movies like Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers and Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange and Eyes Wide Shut, clips from which Eggebrecht played on stage to underscore his point. But in games, portrayals of sex are strictly verboten. Eggebrecht said this policy "tends to show that games are not being seen even by our own ratings boards as an art form."
I later spoke to Eggebrecht and GDC president Jamil Moledina about Sin City and 300 creator Frank Miller's distaste for ratings systems, self-imposed or otherwise. He wrote in the early 90s that ratings systems inherently create restrictions on an artistic medium sometimes before any production on the work has even begun. While Miller's main concern at the time was for his medium, the comic book, it was becoming clear that his stance on the matter was becoming increasingly, and worryingly, appropriate for the gaming industry.
The Factor 5 president ended his keynote with a call for developers to push the genre's boundaries or suffer the consequences. He asked for his peers to "show me something that proves on all levels that games are indeed an artform . Push the violence, but also push the sex, and push it in an artistic way where it's not really gratuitous, but where it gets the brain going."