Miriam Ruiz
random thoughts on technology and life











{March 17, 2008}   OpenRating Game Classification System

Some time ago I started developing a system to classify free games for Debian, based in Enrico’s DebTags. Up to now I’ve been able to develop a basic set of tags to classify the games, so it’s time to start tagging the games. I’d really like to get as much feedback as possible, especially from teachers, educators, parents and in general people that work with and study about children.

The idea is not to develop a fully exhaustive system with a thousand tags. I believe that parents and tutors must check themselves the games before letting their kids play with them, and supervise them while they do if they’re little. This does not try to be a replacement for parents, but a helper to let them have a rough idea about where to look at the games in the repositories according to their own criteria. Being exhaustive is thus not as a priority as keeping the system simple and easy enough.

I’ve designed the tags along 3 main lines:
1) Contents that might not be wanted by some parents, teachers or tutors.
2) Games too complex for some children’s cognitive and/or coordination skills
3) Educative contents and skills that the game might help to develop.

Right now some of the tags are already being used by GoPlay!, a system to find games in Debian, but it a very alpha state. The purpose is to make it configurable so that parents can decide which tags are important for them. I hope to achieve that in the next version of the program. I hope that the overall scheme can be understood, but I plan to write a rationale about it as soon as I can, as well as develop some examples so that they can be easily understood. I know that the tags might be a bit subjective and probably a bit culturally biased. The former is not avoidable, there will always be some kind of subjectivity in these kind of classification, so I won’t fight the impossible to achieve absolute objectiveness. I’m trying to compensate that by allowing parents and tutors decide the subjectivity they want to have by selecting and priorizing the tags.

About being multicultural, I cannot do that on my own, as I’m not that multicultural myself, so I won’t try to invent what other cultures might be worried about or not based on some fuzzy stereotypes I might have about them. If someone from a different culture steps forward and wants to help, they will be welcome. I prefer to rely on other people from different cultures help me to broaden the classification.

Feedback is of course welcome and encouraged.



Lee says:

“Religious Issues” as something you “may not want your child to see” is MUCH too vague. It needs to be moved out of that category, into it’s own. All games involving religion and complex philosophies/ideologies should have a general tag for that, as parents may not OR *MAY* want to encourage their kids to absorb such things. Then there should be a tag for each individual thought system involved in a game, in order to allow people to specifically include or exclude specific systems. THEN there should be religious intolerance, science, atheism, and similar tags.

IF you want to do it right, that is. At the very least, I think you need to replace that religious issues tag with two: “ideology”, and “religious intolerance”.



Lee says:

Oh, and I should say that, in general, I think this is a great idea, classifying games in such a way. I’d love to easily find exciting arcade games that don’t encourage violence, for example, or complex RPGs that take months to play and teach a language (Ultima encouraged learning runes), or something.

Some more thoughts: instead of just hard sex, realistic sex, etc., I’d rather see a relationships category where you can find out if a game encourages healthy, positive interactions, where people grow together, or negative interactions, where people support each others’ weaknesses with their strengths, or where they feed on each others needs/insecurities. I’d be much more worried by gentle sex by a manipulative person, than by hard sex involving two mature people who knew exactly how that would improve their emotional situation.



Miry says:

Lee, I do agree. At first I started to do a lot of subcategories for those religious matters. I thought about it a bit more, and I decided that the religion warning should be just that, a general warning, and parents should read the package description to find out more about it. This rating system is not a replacement for the program descriptions but just a quick index.

Thanks for the suggestion, how would you expand that tag in a simple way?



Miry says:

I like the suggestion about the relationship category. I must think carefully about how to handle that, but it is definitely a great idea!



Josh says:

Under violence::realistic, I see a big difference between “first person shooters in which the characters are designed to look as realistic”, “realistic car races in which the purpose is to act violently against other cars”, and “flight simulators with a violent goal such as bombing”. An FPS where you shoot a living being seems significantly different from the destruction of objects. Furthermore, I would classify “flight simulators with a violent goal such as bombing” under social::war, not violence::realistic, assuming the purpose of said bombing relates to war; you seem to automatically assume the bombing of populated areas.

What defines the difference between sexual::realistic and sexual::hard, and does the distinction need to exist?

Under “sexual”, you need a classification for “innuendo” or “suggestive themes”. Otherwise, many games will get classified as “sexual::none” simply because they don’t go so far as to include nudity.

Under language::insults, does this just mean things like “idiot” or “moron”?

language::bad-Words should become language::profanity. “Bad words” sounds childish. Furthermore, should this perhaps distinguish levels of profanity? Many people might have no objection to the occasional “cr.p” or perhaps “d.mn”, but would object strongly to one of the “seven dirty words”; on the other hand, some people would not want to hear the former either.

Under Language, you should have a category for “slurs” or “hate speech”, which forms a different category than “profanity”.

What do you mean by “religious expletives”? I can only think of one, and nowadays people often don’t even see it as related to religion.

I don’t understand your description of “verbal violence”. Do you just mean it as a variation on “insults”? “Verbal aggressions” can mean many things.

Under “relationship issues”, I don’t see “cooperation” versus “competition” as an issue of game *ratings*, just of what you can do in a game. A game might well leave players free to cooperate or compete as they see fit; how would you classify that? Also, can you define “domination” more clearly so it doesn’t just sound like the obvious result of “competition”; I assume you mean something more than your average game of Risk or Monopoly. :)

Also, I would encourage you to add an additional item under “relationship issues” related to the issue of violence: allowing or encouraging violence towards characters intended as the representation of another player. Many people might have no objection to violence against non-player characters, but would object to a game that allows a player to shoot at a character that ostensibly represents the player sitting next to them.

Under “discrimination”, why does it help to distinguish types of discrimination? Either you care about playing a game that includes discrimination or you don’t; why would you care about who it discriminates against? When making finer distinctions, always think about “would anyone actually want to treat games in one category as different from cames in another”. Under what circumstances would someone object to discrimination::sexism and not discrimination::racism?

Under social issues, your category of “religion” only mentions the case where it forms a “core and major part in the program”. What about classifying cases where it doesn’t form a “core and major part”, but the game still references religion?

Under social issues, your category “breaks social values” seems too narrowly focused on crime and violence; consider broadening it to any cases in which you play a character considered “evil”.

Related to that, I think many of your classifications need an “optional” variant, to address games which *allow* the player to take different actions with different consequences. For instance, some games let the player choose good or evil actions, and dole out consequences accordingly (or, for that matter, don’t). I actually consider these games more interesting than those that only allow the player to do “good”, and while I typically choose to follow the “good” path, I like that I had to actually *choose* to follow it.

Also, I think you should consider looking at the D&D alignment system as a more nuanced way of looking at things. Some games allow the player to play a “neutral good” character, which (among other things) means that the character might do the morally right thing by breaking laws and social conventions; many people use Robin Hood as the stereotypical example of a “neutral good” character. The same thing applies to any game which puts the player in the position of playing a “rebel” or “resistance” against an evil “empire”. This might well prove far less objectionable than allowing the player to play the other side of that conflict, though it certainly may require more ability to think critically about such issues.

In general, I think you need a category not just for whether the player or other characters in the game can choose to take negative actions, but whether those actions have consequences or not.

Under “cognitive skills”, consider dropping the ages you list. Those stages of cognition vary greatly between children, and anyone evaluating what category a child falls in should not take the incorrect shortcut of classifying by age; they should put some actual thought into evaluating the descriptions of the categories.

Finally, as a general thought, I think you need more details on certain classifications to make them more objective. I want a classification system where if ten honest people classify a game, they assign *exactly* the same categories. Otherwise, when different people classify a game, they may well make different classifications based on their own personal values and preferences. This can also cause a problem because people with a tendency to take the time to rate games often overlap rather heavily with people who have strong opinions on the acceptability of certain things embodied in the classifications.



Miry says:

Wow! Thanks Josh! That’s the kind of criticism I was looking for! I guess you’re right in most of the comments, I’ll be fixing them in the wiki page.

About cooperation and competition, tags are not exclusive, so it could have both of them. In case of risk, in which neither kind of relationship among players is especially encouraged, I would just not put any of those tags.

About religion tag, I wouldn’t use that tag if you’re playing a game and the building of a church appears in the background, for example. The purpose of the tag is to signal somehow to the parents that the game is promoting a certain set of religious values in some way, and they should check the game to see whether they agree or not with them.

What kind of category would you propose for the consequences? I don’t have a clear idea of it.

About last thought, I plan on doing a rationale and FAQ, and also provide some examples at some point in the future, so tags can be assigned as objective as possible. I agree with your point anyway. Any advice on that?

I have to slowly polish and add most of your suggestions to the wiki, lots of thanks!!!



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