Has an IFRB rating system ever been discussed?

My daughter wants to try out the other Ectocomp entries, and it occurred to me that I’d need to play them all first, just to make sure they’re age-appropriate. Then I got to thinking about the IFDB, and how nice it would be if there was some small ESRB-style logo to go along with the games.

There are resources to help already: Recommendation lists of kid-appropriate IF, reviews, or even a disclaimer in the game’s blurb. And I realize that ratings like this aren’t perfect. There are M-Rated games that seem milder than other T-Rated ones. They use a system for that, but an IFRB rating could easily be up to the author. Do you think your game is appropriate for kids? Maybe with parental guidance? Strong language or violence? Perhaps pornographic?

I can see there being some push-back that this isn’t a good idea, but if so, I’d like to hear why. Has something like this come up before? By default, games could have an “NR” rating or something (Not Rated). And it would take some time to retroactively rate games that are already listed. And it would mean having Michael Roberts on board to add some to the IFDB (showing the icon, allowing filters, etc). And it would mean getting IF authors willing to start self-rating their games.

I’d be happy to create the IFRB rating logos. Maybe nothing like this is needed, but as a dad now, I can see the benefit.

Actually, since IFDB is editable by everyone, there’s not necessarily any need to have authors rate their own games.


Initially, yeah. A few volunteers could make a big dent just by rating stuff they’ve played. But going forward, I figured it would be nice to start with the authors. Then it wouldn’t feel like somebody else was just assigning some rating for reasons you didn’t agree with. Granted, that could lead to misuse too, but hopefully it would work in most cases.

There are also tags, although they’re not as widely-used as they could be. (Also, in this particular area, I think a great deal of the tagging has been done by Poster, who I suspect of considering it Strong Profanity to take the Lord’s name in vain. So bear in mind that there’d be a lowest-common-denominator effect on any system that was implemented - if someone decides that Galatea is feminist propaganda and therefore equivalent to pornography, they can make edits just like anyone else. IFDB doesn’t accord authors any special privileges over their game entries.)

That’s the roadblock, really. We’ve discussed this for a number of other things (most recently, difficulty ratings), but I don’t think MJR is hugely interested in adding features to IFDB whenever someone thinks they’d be a good idea.

That’s why I put “profanity” as a tag in my games. I think tags are helpful.

A bit off-topic, but I do wish there were some way to negate tags that are just plain wrong. It bothers me slightly that here the game is tagged both “gender-neutral protagonist” and “male protagonist” and there’s no way to fix it. For example if you could flag wrong tags and when there are n flags the tag is removed.

I didn’t think about tags, but yeah, that would do the trick in the absence of anything else. Searchable. Could be based on some established rule (ex: tags are “Rated-G” or “Rated-T” or “Rated-AO” or whatever). I like the idea of a little icon – I think it’s a big part of what makes the ESRB so useful – but not strictly necessary. The main problem with tags is that people would need to know to use them – both in rating their own game, and when filtering by them in searches.

The chance for abuse or disagreement is there, definitely. And maybe a system like this would even invite it, where currently there doesn’t seem to be much if any gonzo editing going on.

I guess the thing to do would be make some logos, write it up and get the word out, and just see if it catches on. Tags could be used initially, in place of logos. Maybe it’d become a core feature of IFDB eventually. Or maybe it wouldn’t. But maybe it’s worth trying out.

I think it’s ideal to get the author’s input on this if possible – for instance, Floatpoint contains some sexual content, but only under exactly the right circumstances, and most players are unlikely to find this, so they might mislabel it.

I’m all in favor of some kind of IF content warning system to keep parents educated - and also to let players know what they’re getting into. I’ve traumatized people accidentally before, and that’s not good.

I’ll add to this that I think applicable IF games should carry clear content warnings as you start playing. This is a model I’ve used in every IF game I’ve released*, and it helps keep me confident that I’m not traumatizing anyone who wasn’t warned first.

This did backfire on me once. Prior to the release of One Eye Open, I went through the ESRB’s content ratings (esrb.org/ratings/ratings_gui … escriptors) and included everything applicable in the introductory warning:

With “tobacco reference” in the mix, at least one reviewer thought it was all a big joke. Cue a lot of (necessarily silent during comp time) hand-wringing unhappiness on my side.

Since then, I’ve worried less about getting the exact details down, and more about being clear…

But even if the community as a whole adopted this approach, it wouldn’t be enforceable, so having external ratings would be great.

[size=85]* I didn’t realize until now that, including all current competitions, 6 of my 10 released games have content warnings on them. How odd.[/size]

I’ve done some web searching, but probably not enough yet. I’ve read a few arguments on both sides, including some blanket comments like “ESRB is a joke” or more specific complaints like GTA IV and Halo IV are both rated M but the actual “adult content” gap between them is staggering. This usually leads to the suggestion that either “AO” should actually get used (which currently is pretty much a sales killer, as retailers won’t stock it), or that two separate “M” ratings should exist. I found talk of a rating system used elsewhere (PEGI? Not sure) where there are multiple teen distinctions like 12+, 16+, and 18+.

I also tried to find some “generic” game rating system already in existence. ESRB does their own rating, and there’s a hefty price that makes no sense at all for free IF. I thought, maybe somebody already had the same idea, kind of like the various software use licenses you can adopt. But I didn’t find anything. Maybe I didn’t hit upon the right keywords.

So what I’m thinking, at least to start, is an IFRB Kit. It’d have the various logos (in various sizes with bitmap and vector versions). It’d have some suggestions on self-rating a game (a few likely things to consider regarding the content). And maybe some explanation about how to use it at the IFDB initially (using specific keyword tags on games – until when/if it’s officially implemented).

The specific ratings have me a little puzzled, though. I don’t necessarily want to copy the ESRB ratings, and definitely not the logos themselves, since that’s not a public domain thing. And emshort has a good point about hidden content. You don’t run into that with movies, because it’s completely linear. Even with video games, there usually isn’t stuff hidden away that differs from the rest of the game, and if there is, ESRB expects to see it. So if you’ve got some otherwise kid-friendly IF with this super-secret thing you can unlock that’s completely pornographic, and nobody is reasonably expected to find it without already knowing how to get it, is that still an “E” rating? It reminds me of the GTA San Andreas so-called Hot Coffee “Mod”. I thought about having some kind of logo where the main rating was large, but in the corner was a secondary “hidden content” rating, but that seems overly complicated and probably confusing.

In my opinion, if the content is hidden, it’s still content. Just saying.

An ESRB-like system would probably work for the majority of games. I doubt there are many with secret content that would actually affect the rating. But for those fringe cases, it’d still be a problem.

And then there’s the problem of getting everybody to agree on what qualifies a game for a particular rating. Like maga pointed out, the person who takes the most offense to any given aspect of a game (violence, language, sexual content) will be the one who ends up deciding the rating. Other ratings boards avoid that by following their own standards rather than the standards of every individual content-creator, but I don’t think anybody here would be in favor of something like that for IF. I’m not.

Second this.

If a ratings system is implemented, I’m not sure we need to be super granular about this. In fact, I’d say broad categories are fine. The point is to give a bit of advance warning, not to detail the exact nature of the content.

If we’re going to model IF ratings after an existing ratings board, I would actually suggest PEGI (used in much of Europe) over the ESRB. The ESRB is painfully specific, with 30 different points of concern, making it relatively easy to miss stuff.

PEGI uses an age marker, and then labels products for:

Violence - May contain scenes of people getting injured or dying, often by use of weapons. Also may contain gore and blood-Bad Language - May contain profanity, sexual innuendo, threats, and all manner of slurs and epithets.
Fear / Horror - May contain scenes that are considered too disturbing or frightening to younger players.
Sex - May contain references to sexual attraction or sexual intercourse. Also may contain nudity and characters dressed in suggestive clothing.
Drugs - May contain references to illegal drugs or a fictional substance that has parallels to real-life illegal drugs (in use, possession, or sale).
Gambling - May contain elements that encourage or teach gambling.
Discrimination - May contain cruelty or harassment based on race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual preferences.
Online - Contains an online game mode.

(More on PEGI here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pegi)

Of that list, I’d suggest keeping Violence, Language, Horror, Sexual Content, and Drugs. And with that information out there, I’m not even sure we need an age marker. At that point, the presence of the content warning would be enough to tip off parents.

So at that point, it would just be:

One Eye Open - Content warning for violence and horror.

And then you’re armed with data, and if you don’t wanna play a game with violence and horror, don’t play it.

This looks good. I am wondering if there could/should also be levels of intensity e.g. mild/medium/strong. That may be too much subjectivity, but on the other hand, if an author slips once in a very big game and didn’t intend to, (e.g. ‘**** I need to implement this,’) I think it should be less marked-up than one where a character constantly swears, somehow.

Also, what about if there is, say, just one sexual preference insult in a large game? Does that hit bad language/sex? It seems like one line of code could trigger several warnings. For instance, a flashback to someone nasty saying

[rant]‘Geez, what a gay-ass’[/rant]

to establish their personality would trigger several warnings, going by the book. It can’t be ignored, but if it’s the only incident, does it deserve multiple warnings?

Mild/no qualifier/severe sounds reasonable to me.

The application of similar qualifiers is why you find movies with the warning “contains occasional mild language”, which always amuses me more than it should.

But yes, I think it’s more useful to let people know what kind of content is involved than to try to guess the age of child who could safely view it. Children, and parental standards, vary widely.

I agree, and that’s actually more what I’m after. Plus, seems it would be easier (and maybe less subjective - not sure) to rate the content rather than the age-appropriateness.

I agree with aschultz. I can think of at least one area in my Ectocomp game that could come off as disturbing but is mostly meant as a silly, if sick, schoolyard joke.

Here’s a brainstorm about a potential rating system.


“Everyone” “Everyone (Mature)” “General Audience (Mature)” “Discerning Audience (Mature)” “Adult Audience”


M-“Mature” is a modifier that essentially means the game wouldn’t be inappropriate for children, but probably isn’t designed for them.

“Triggers” are the touchy subjects that might make an otherwise fairly innocent game an emotional land-mine for specific people. (Includes but not limited to rape, child abuse, animal cruelty, death of animals…)

[spoiler]b Everyone[/b]: (fun for the whole family)
No explicit description of anatomy or sexuality.
No overt violence or death (PC can “fail”, or if PC can die, method is implied without descriptive violence - “As you plummet, you try to remember if this is one of the pits that contained spikes, or if the sheer height of the fall will be enough to bring about your demise. In short order, you have your answer.”) no violence to non-enemies. Entities are in general “defeated” instead of killed, enemies generally are fantasy non-humans or monsters.
No cursing or adult language. (Hell is a place, not a curse)

b Everyone-Mature[/b]: (fun for most people, but may not appeal to children or specific readers)
Same as above, although the situations or difficulty might not appeal to or be understandable to younger audiences (such as a deep game about political intrigue) or enemies (not innocents) can be “killed” by the player without overt violent description. (A polite murder mystery with bloodless gunshots and poisonings and stair tumbles, where the only violence the player can participate in is a finale where the murderer is killed by dropping a chandelier on him.)
Enemies may include humans.

b General Audience[/b]: (good for most people except young children, or other readers based on modifiers)
May include:
mild cursing
bawdy humor, non explicit
nonsexual description of anatomy or nudity
Mild drug use: smoking, cocktails

Modifiers GA+Situations/Language/Sexuality/Violence/Puzzles/Triggers

Situations: May include mature situations, such as non-explicit discussions of crime, death, accident, sexuality (such as STD, birth control, pregnancy) Drug use or abuse not resulting in injury, death, or trauma, or slightly scary situations (stalked by an intruder which does not result in violence)

Language/Sexuality/Violence/Puzzles/Triggers/Horror indicate possibly more explicit content which is not required to complete the game or may not be encountered on the critical path, or a slight plot-related focus on the modifier.

Example: GA+Triggers might indicate a game with a potential scene involving the death of a pet.
GA-Violence might indicate a combat-heavy game that involves targeting specific limbs and body parts for damage without extensive description of injury trauma.
GA-Sexuality might include a narrator who uses snarky euphemisms, a serious game involving clinical discussion of sexuality, or a game including comic scenes of farcical nudity. The player will not have any interactions involving sexual activity. Interactive violence can not be inflicted on non-enemies/innocents.
“Horror” involves nonviolent horror: ghosts, decay, monsters or possibly potential multimedia sounds or screen effects that could startle the player.

b Discerning Audience[/b]: (with modifiers) (fun unless it’s not your thing)

Rating with modifier will include non-gratuitous focus on, or incidents along critical path involving:
+Language Frequent adult language/Cursing
+Violence Violence including description of injury, gore, wounds, trauma, fighting with intent to injure or kill. The player may be able to interact with NPCs in descriptively violent manner.
+Puzzles Very specific and difficult puzzles of a type that may not appeal to all players
+Sexuality Moderately explicit descriptions or NPC discussion of sexual activity and anatomy. Player action might include sexual interaction, but results will be summarized, left to the imagination, or result in a “fade out”. (see MENTULA MACANUS). If sexual activity is encountered in the game (for example, walking in on Mom and Dad), the sexual activity will cease or the PC will exit/retreat from the situation. Any sexual description will generally not continue longer than one turn.

b Adult Audience[/b] (with modifiers): (Hey, I can do dangerous and questionable things that I would never do in the real world!)
(AA) VIOLENCE - A game that focuses on particulars of gory violence, allows the character to harm innocents, or involves a plot-focus on violence (such as a game where the PC is a coroner performing autopsies on crime victims) which includes interactivity (CUT OPEN THORAX. REMOVE LUNGS). A game that describes violence in explicit detail even if not interactive.

(AA) SEXUALITY - A game that includes explicit sexual descriptions of acts and anatomy, involves NPCs participating (or the player participating interactively) in explicit sexual behavior during the game that continues more than one turn. Or a game that discusses sexuality in explicit detail without interaction.

(AA) SITUATIONS - A game with a focus on subjects that may not be explicitly described, but involve content that could still disturb some readers. A game that focuses on the aftermath of death, disaster, or crime would qualify. (The “I must carry this dying child across the battlefield to the hospital and I can fail” game.) A game that involves interactive drug abuse and/or it’s explicit description and possible aftermath.

(AA) - TRIGGERS A game that includes a non-avoidable trigger situation that is narrated explicitly, (such as the game that involves the player witnessing a non-sexually explicit rape scene played out over multiple turns) or requires participation from the PC (such as a game which involves the PC working in an animal slaughterhouse)

(AA) - HORROR A game filled with oppressive imagery or gameplay to the point that the intention is to disturb the player, even if the imagery is not explicitly violent or sexual. Lovecraftian Horror should aspire to this. Possible example: A game about being buried alive in a coffin with another corpse and spiders that crawl on the player’s face, all described in excruciating detail.

Experimental Ratings (based on my knowledge of the games I may not have found everything in):

SIX: (E)

HanonO, that’s well thought out, but maybe a little more complicated than we’d need. I like the idea of five categories. Violence, Horror, Sexual Content, Language, Drugs. From there, modifiers Mild and Strong (with no modifier being, I guess, average or normal).

I still like the icon idea, but that’d make for a more complicated one. And it’s too much for a single IFDB tag scheme without resorting to five separate tags.