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November 2007

Video games want to Pump [clap] up!

Hans_franzI've focused recently on girls and gaming, so I want to shift my attention to boys. (I tried writing that sentence five different ways, and settled for the one that made me sound the least like Uncle Pervy).

Hear me now and believe me later. The December issue of The Atlantic Magazine features a short piece called Do Gamers Dream of Electric Abs? (Phillip K. Dick lives!) spotlighting a research study that suggests boys who play games and read gaming mags have a significantly higher desire for big muscles.

That little boy on the couch with his Nintendo may look unathletic, but inside he’s thinking about building muscles—big muscles. Two researchers at the University of Illinois surveyed 181 boys (average age: 8.77) and found that young white males who read video-game magazines had an even stronger “desire for muscle mass” than those who read only sports or muscle-and-fitness magazines. Their desire to get pumped up may be explained by the exaggerated bulges—and powers—of video-game characters. This finding did not hold for young blacks, even though they tend to be more avid game players—perhaps, the authors speculate, because most heroes in the video-game magazines are white.

More of the same old mass media stereotyping from The Atlantic, but the study does raise some interesting questions about the impact of video games on boys and self-image. I can only hope similar studies are being done on the effects of television, film, ESPN, print and video advertising, peer group pressure, parenting, and several other factors I can think of.

I am genuinely interested in solid research on gaming and adolescent behavior, but not when it is isolated from other powerful influences. I also want to see more research devoted to the effects of video games on critical thinking skills in adolescents of both sexes. My son is a Runescape master economist, and I know I had absolutely nothing to do with that.

The study was published by Kristen Harrison and Bradley J. Bond at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. More information is available here. Thanks to my pal Josh for the Atlantic link.

Thumb Bandits rule


I just finished co-hosting the latest Thumb Bandits Podcast with Angela and Tracy from If you haven't visited their site, I encourage you to remedy that situation promptly. Based in Australia, the site features gaming reviews, news, editorials, and lots of other goodies. "By female gamers - For all gamers" is their slogan, and it's an apt one. Listening to previous Thumb Bandits podcasts reminded me how joyful gaming can be when shared with good friends.

The podcast will be posted shortly. My sincere thanks to Angela and Tracy for inviting me and for making me feel so welcome.

Another bad day for little girls

Blacksite_box_4 Little girls keep popping up in scary video games. The innocent bright-eyed child appears, melts our hearts...then somebody dies. Bioshock, F.E.A.R., Silent Hill, Resident Evil, Fatal Frame, Haunting Ground--all feature apparently vulnerable young girls in a survival horror setting. The Aberrant Gamer has covered this unsettling phenomenon (dare I say cliche?) in two terrific pieces you can read here and here.

Well, I can report that our plucky little heroine has broken free from her confining horror genre bonds...only to be victimized yet again in a shooter game. This time, however, her presence is notable not because of her role in a game, but because of her appearance in an ad that self-consciously references the most controversial commercial in American television history.

The game is Midway's Blacksite: Area 51, a first-person shooter set in sci-fi's favorite Nevada locale, to be released next week.

Modern day fears come to life in a familiar, yet extraordinary setting in BlackSite™: Area 51®. A small American town is swarming with alien life. The government is desperate, struggling to contain secrets so terrible, they can no longer be kept. Everything hinges on the actions of Aaron Pierce, a former Special Forces assassin thrown into the most explosive moment in American history.[1]

Standard narrative fare for gamers raised on Fallout, System Shock, or other world-at-end thrillers. What sets Blacksite apart, however, is its setting and its particular "subversive"[2] ambitions. Blacksite is set in contemporary Iraq and small-town USA. Its designers make no bones about their political point of view:

The game starts in Iraq. You're Aaron Pierce, this Delta Force assassin, essentially. Something happens to one of your squadmates in Iraq. You're looking for weapons of mass destruction that aren't there, of course, and then you move into small-town America...Then it just gets more and more subversive from there as Pierce figures out that the primary enemy in the game, which is being called an insurgency operating on U.S. soil, is really wounded American soldiers from Iraq who are being disappeared by the government, taken underground, and experimented on with regard to this "Army of One"-type program. So we go into the Walter Reed allusions, and the Abu Ghraib allusions, and we try to do it in such a way that won't make people vomit or whatever, but at the same time, it's definitely there. The whole theme is, "Who is the enemy? Look at the enemy -- do I look like the enemy to you?" One year, somebody's a freedom fighter, the next year they're a terrorist.[3]

A nation in fear. A highly politicized war. A government's motives questioned. Check. Check. Check. So how to advertise such a game? Why not hearken back 33 years to a time of similar fear and questioning and summon the most memorable political commercial ever to air on American television:  the "Daisy" ad.

The "Daisy" commercial ran only once before being pulled by the Johnson campaign, but its impact was profound. Its narrative framework and apocalyptic message are clearly echoed in the ad for Blacksite: Area 51:

It's likely that only gamers "of a certain age" will make the connection, and I suppose it's possible the similarities are purely coincidental. Regardless, I'm intrigued by the game's ambition and its willingness to address contemporary issues in a contemporary setting. It remains to be seen whether Midway can make good on its thematic aspirations while still producing an engaging shooter. My guess is that one will be sacrificed for the other.

Oh, how I would love to be wrong on this one.

Behind the pixels: Nintendo and Bizarre Creations

Wii_super_mario_galaxy It's all about game design today. The first part focuses on Nintendo. The second part is a follow-up to my post yesterday on PGR4.

Nintendo is notoriously secretive about its game design process, so it was a a pleasant surprise last year when the president of the company, Satoru Iwata, began a series of interviews with Nintendo designers called Iwata Asks. I confess to being rather skeptical about this. How forthcoming could these designers be with their boss asking the questions? Well, either Iwata is a really nice guy or these designers have spines of steel because these interviews are informative and quite revealing.

The first Iwata Asks segment focuses on the design process for the Wii and its user interface. This is followed by interviews with the teams behind Wii Sports, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, and WarioWare: Smooth Moves. The Zelda interviews are especially candid. Iwata begins with six young staffers, all first-time team leaders on the project. In subsequent interviews he talks with the director Eiji Aonuma and, finally, Zelda's creator Shigeru Miyamoto. The following exchange is indicative of the style of these interviews and Iwata's approach. He asks one of the young team leaders what he considers to be the essence of a Zelda game:

Iwata: Miyagi-san, what do you think is the essence of a Zelda game?

Miyagi: This is a question that I have also struggled with. I even once asked this question to one of the most senior developers in the company who has years of experience with Zelda. You know what I got for an answer? "If the Zelda staff made it, it's Zelda!" (laughs)

Iwata: It's like a Zen riddle! (laughs)

Miyagi: I remember being very perplexed! (laughs) When I re-played all of the Zelda games starting with the first one, I realised that although what was just mentioned about meeting the expectations of the user is certainly a core part of the Zelda experience, so too is cutting out all of the unnecessary elements. Something that is all too common with games nowadays are movie scenes that the user can't interact with. In Zelda, these are removed to the greatest extent possible in order to allow the player to do what they want. In this respect, Zelda games have a very high level of quality.

So when I approached the development of this title, rather than thinking about what Zelda is or means, it was more important for me to preserve the quality of the Zelda series. Rather than thinking about what Zelda is, I thought about where the real quality of Zelda games should lie. For example, the story in Ocarina of Time starts when a small fairy called Navi flies from far away to find Link, an innocent young boy. Then, rather than just watching a movie, the player learns what kind of boy Link is by actually becoming him in the game, and the player is actually introduced to the town when Navi is flying around and bouncing from place to place. These were very effective devices in the introduction to that game.

Zelda1 Iwata: There's nothing unnecessary in there, is there?

Miyagi: Nothing at all. There is no waste in terms of time or data. I learned a lot from that and tried very hard to reach that level of quality during development, but there were a lot of questions for which I wasn't able to find answers. For example, I wasn't able to find satisfactory answers to questions such as whether or not it's still necessary to allow the player to cut the grass in Zelda games.

Iwata: So, drawing the line between objects the player can interact with and which elicit responses, and those that don't, is very difficult. If you leave too much out the game world won't be realistic enough, but if you try to put too much in it will turn into an endless task.

Miyagi: That's right. I'm ashamed to admit it, but when I wasn't able to find the right balance I had to seek support from Miyamoto-san. This made me realise how little experience I have! (laugh)

In the Miyamoto interview, Shigeru turns the tables on Iwata, posing a provocative question:

...When Zelda became the biggest project in the company, some people started to say half-jokingly: "We could probably make five other new games if we didn't have Zelda." It would be going too far to say that making this kind of huge game is somehow obsolete, but there are trends even within parts of Nintendo to move away from this approach. During development, wasn't there any sense of melancholy in the team, a feeling that the days of enormous projects like this were numbered?

The latest installment of Iwata Asks focuses on (Monday can't come soon enough!) Super Mario Galaxy. For some reason, this segment is only available on Nintendo's UK site, but it is no less interesting or revealing. If you pay attention to game design, particularly as it relates to engaging players and keeping them engaged, I think you will enjoy these interviews:

Thanks to Stephen Totilo for the heads-up on the new Mario interviews. By the way, does anyone else find it disconcerting that Nintendo's home page contains barely a mention of Super Mario Galaxy? Same thing on their Wii site. This is the biggest Nintendo game of the year. I don't get it. Maybe by the time you read this the site will have been updated...but in the meantime, I'm scratching my head.

Pgr42 My post yesterday about Project Gotham Racing 4 generated a useful discussion in the comments section, and I received a fair bit of email from fans of the series, so I thought I'd follow up today by linking to a terrific story published in The Independent (UK) detailing the two-and-a half year design process behind PGR4.

Once a location has been chosen to appear in the finished game, the hard work begins. "We take about 30,000 to 40,000 photos per city [there are 10 cities in the game] and we'll take pictures of every building on both sides of the road for the entire city," says Talbot. "Then we'll have to take pictures of the lampposts, because every city has different lampposts. Bins, railings – every city has details like that that are slightly different from anywhere else. We even take pictures of the Tarmac to get the colour right, and all the road markings – even if we change them in the game, we need to have a record of the original road markings. We have to take pictures of the whole city, including the sky, to capture the ambience."

The article goes on to discuss the challenges of creating a new IP with Geometry Wars, also designed by Bizarre Creations. You can read the full article here.

Are game reviews culturally biased?


For many years I've noticed a distinct incongruity between game review scores assigned by American and Japanese magazines and online sites. Consider a game like Monster Hunter 2 for the PSP. Famitsu magazine's four reviewers scored the game 9, 8, 9, 8. Gamespot gave it a 50 out of 100. G4 TV gave it a 60. EGM gave it a 62. Monster Hunter is a genuine phenomenon in Japan, with the newest version selling almost 1.5 million copies. American sales have barely topped 100,000.

Conversely, the Splinter Cell series has performed remarkably well in the U.S. with reviewers and game buyers, but Japanese critics and consumers have never embraced it, despite similarities to the Metal Gear franchise that's widely popular in Japan. Obviously, cultural tastes and preferences play a big role in these disparities, as any westerner who has visited the Akihabara district of Tokyo can attest. We all love video games, but by no means do we all love the same ones.

One might expect American critics and gamers to find themselves more culturally attuned to their counterparts in Europe and Australia, but this isn't necessarily true. A case in point is the critical response to the recently released Project Gotham Racing, developed by Liverpool-based Bizarre Creations.

European and Australian reviewers were decidedly more enthusiastic about the game than reviewers in the U.S.  Publications like Edge Magazine and online sites like Pro-G and Computer and Video Games hailed the game's perfect mix of realism and accessibility:

You sense it’s the game Bizarre have been meaning to make for the last seven years, and for that alone, it’s precious. [Edge]

The presentation, the career game, the online stuff, the load times...everything's better. And with streets packed with spectators, signs and flags, it's a much more vibrant lace than Gotham's sterile cities of old. We simply have no alternative but to crown Gotham 4 the best racing game on Xbox 360. [Official Xbox Magazine UK]

American reviewers tended to evaluate the game in relation to its predecessor, PGR3, and judged it more of the same:

Visually this generation has progressed well past the point where Project Gotham Racing 4 would evoke the kind of bug-eyed glee that its predecessor did. [G4 TV]

Substantial changes are what the series needs to really glow again, and they just aren't here. Bizarre Creations "phoning it in" is still better than a lot of developers' best, but if Bizarre Creations has something truly innovative up its sleeve, it seems it's saving it for its next title for its new publisher, Activision. [Gamespy]

It is just an extension of PGR3. [games (TM)]

A compilation of scores from a variety of sources suggests a discernible cultural divide over PGR4:

Europe and Australia scores:
Official Xbox Magazine UK (100); Jolt Online Gaming (97); Computer and Video Games (92); Pro-G (90); 360 Gamer Magazine (90); Edge Magazine (90); Total Video Games (90); PALGN (90); Boomtown (90)
Average score: 92.1

U.S. scores:
Gamespot (85); Gaming Age (83); Electronic Gaming Magazine (83); IGN (81); games (80); Gamespy (80); Official Xbox Magazine (80); G4 TV (80); GamePro (75)
Average score 80.7

It's worth noting that Forza 2, designed by an American developer, Microsoft Game Studios, shows similar signs of regional or cultural disparity. Its highest scores came from U.S. reviewers--including a perfect 100 from both Gamespy and G4 TV--while its lowest scores came from abroad: Computer and Video Games (82); Total Video Games (80); and Xbox World Australia (80). To be sure, not all U.S. reviewers scored Forza 2 so highly, and some European sites rated the game 90 or above. Nevertheless, it's hard to miss the general trend apparent with both Forza 2 and with PGR4.

I'm not suggesting we need to be worried about anything here. Regional and cultural differences are bound to play a role in how games are received around the world. But I do think magazines and review sites should consider these differences when they review and rate games intended for a worldwide audience. EGM typically assigns 3 people to a major game review (a good idea), but this rarely results in any diversity of cultural sensibilities. It usually just means 3 different opinions from the 1UP Network.

I personally wish we could do away with review scores altogether, but I realize that's not going to happen. I also wish writers would focus more on genuine game criticism and less on thumbs-up/thumbs-down consumer reviews. That probably won't happen either. Maybe the best we can hope for is a bit more awareness among reviewers that video games inevitably reflect a variety of cultural influences.

Or, as they say, one man's meat is another man's poison. And lest we forget, Famitsu gave Nintendogs a perfect score of 40.

Tell me a good story

Girlswithbook Gamers with a bit of wear on their tires can testify to the fact that storytelling in video games has come a very long way since Donkey Kong...and yes, Donkey Kong did tell a story, albeit a very simple one. Designers have more options at their disposal than ever, and the real challenge today is determining what mode of storytelling will best serve the overall design philosophy of a particular game.

The Final Fantasy and Metal Gear formula--gameplay sequence followed by narrative cutscene--can work beautifully, in my view, especially if the game operates within a cinematic framework. Games like Bioshock and the Half-Life series, on the other hand, clearly attempt to fuse gameplay with narrative, integrating the player's experience navigating the game's environments and challenges with a constantly unfolding plot.

Alternative approaches can work well too. Sometimes designers surprise us with an odd amalgam of storytelling devices. Space Rangers 2, a sadly under-appreciated game, adopts an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach, combining RTS gameplay narrative; exploration and NPC trading that deliver more story; mini-games that advance plot further, and just when you think you've seen all the game's're thrown into an old-school text adventure sequence with even more storytelling elements.

What these games tell us is that there is no single best way to incorporate storytelling into a video game. And, obviously, some games don't need stories at all, as Super Monkey Ball Adventure so painfully demonstrates. But as games advance, both in terms of realism and player immersion, the necessity for good storytelling has never been more clear.

No one illustrates this necessity more convincingly than Nayan Ramachandran, an English teacher and journalist living in Japan whose blog High Dynamic Range Lying is subtitled "Gaming for Smart People" (kind of a natural Brainy Gamer fit, eh?) Nayan's recent essay Telling Stories and Realizing Worlds examines the issue of storytelling in video games and offers a prescription, of sorts, to designers for incorporating a solid narrative into a game:

  1. Don’t treat the player like an idiot. If you want to include metaphor and symbolism in the story, don’t club the player over the head with its meaning, otherwise you have ruined what makes the symbolism so strong. Let it speak for itself.
  2. Unclog the start of the game. Stop putting tons of cutscenes at the beginning of the game. It’s important to set the scene for the game, but try to figure out a more interactive means of doing so. Like a good book, a game’s first 15 minutes should be spent exhibiting the pacing and atmosphere that the player expects to experience for the entirety of the game.
  3. Open-ended endings are fun. Try not to explain absolutely everything at the end of the game, but also don’t leave all questions completely unanswered. Leave players with the tools and clues they need to piece the mystery together, but leave enough ambiguity that will keep them guessing for years, or at least until the sequel.
  4. Give us more unreliable narrators. Nothing builds mystery like experiencing a world as a character the player does not entirely trust. Not only does this allow the player to piece together the character’s true past without the use of the cliched amnesia mechanic, but it also allows players to question everything around them, and the actions of their character. Nothing is more frightening than not being able to trust yourself.
  5. Provide layers of plot. Metroid Prime, Bioshock, and Halo 3 were on to something. Particularly in action-based games, provide a skeleton frame of a story for the average player who only cares about shooting people in the crotch. Along with that, provide deeper and better written story through diaries and audio that players can optionally track down during their adventure. Additional points if the player can read or listen while they explore and fight.

I like Nayan's suggestions, and I admire his thinking on video game narrative. You can read the full text of his essay here.

Game as poetry: The Endless Forest

Deer_2 My friend Chris over at The Artful Gamer has written an extraordinarily insightful essay devoted to The Endless Forest, a "game" described by its creator as:

 ...a multiplayer online game and social screensaver, a virtual place where you can play with your friends. When your computer goes to sleep you appear as a deer in this magical place. There are no goals to achieve or rules to follow. Just run through the forest and see what happens.

Many of us who care about video games frequently clamor for new ideas, new play experiences, something different. The Endless Forest is something truly different. Chris elegantly explains how and, more vitally, why this difference matters so much:

Play is poetic - it requires us not only to negotiate with other human beings on the rules of a game using words or symbolic acts (and in the game’s case, deer-like actions), but come to new formulations of those rules when someone breaks them. In that way, The Endless Forest is the ultimate user-created fantasy world where our spoken languages no longer matter and we can, as human beings, come to define languages and games within the world together.

The “game” is not really a game as we currently understand them (as abstract rules-systems that designers allow us to play) - the game is really a world, a forest (!), or a city park that gives people new opportunities to play with each other freely with as few external rules as possible. That is what sets the game apart from other MMORPGs that rely upon external rules to give players a sense of purpose of duty - in this game the goals are left unspecified and totally to the player’s imagination and social context. That is what makes the game truly artful - it destroys our pre-conceptions of ‘play’ in video games.

The Endless Forest is a free game, so I hesitate to complain, but I do wish its creators would see fit to release a Mac version. I believe the Mac user-base would warmly receive such a graceful and imaginative game.

The Artful Gamer continues to see things and say things about video games that inspire me. You can read the full essay, The Endless Forest: Play & Poesis in Games, here.

Katie chimes in

Katie_couric Katie Couric delivered a 1-minute editorial on the CBS Evening News last night warning viewers of the dangerous impact of violent video games on our children and nation. In the process she grossly mischaracterizes the Wii version of Manhunt 2:

"Rather than just pushing buttons, the player actually wields a knife, an axe, a glass shard to stab an opponent."

Apparently some underground third party developers have released some major mods to the Wiimote.

She goes on to say the game is rated "M', "but retailers have been known to sell to underage kids." She's right. Retailers have been known to sell all sorts of unsavory things, sometimes to our kids. The vast majority, however, respect the ESRB guidelines. She doesn't mention that.

She says she talked to someone at Common Sense Media who told her research suggests a direct link between violent games and aggressiveness in kids. Common Sense Media exists to protect kids from inappropriate media. That's what they do. Had she spoken to someone at Rockstar or an actual researcher (or better yet more than one), she would have received a much more complex set of messages...which surely would have caused her editorial to exceed its 1-minute limit.

I could go on, but I won't. You can watch all 60 seconds of Katie's ruminations, including her stern warning to all parents, below. Judge for yourself.

Super ESRB Advanced

Shift_esrb_2 Manhunt 2 is apparently a bad game. By bad I mean not in bad gameplay, bad graphics, bad story, and unskippable bad cutscenes. I haven't played it myself, so I can't verify Manhunt 2's badness, but a consensus seems to have formed. 1UP gave it a 4 out of 10.

Nevertheless, the internet, my newspaper and my local television stations are abuzz with news about the game. No surprise. I won't rehash the Manhunt 2 controversy. If you're reading a blog called The Brainy Gamer, you probably already know all about it.

What you may know less about is how the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) system actually works. I had a vague idea, but a quick bit of digging has schooled me in the ways of the raters. What follows is my attempt to summarize the ratings process, highlighting crucial aspects that may not be widely understood.

Please note that I make no judgment here about the effectiveness or fairness of the ESRB. Given all the hoopla surrounding Manhunt 2, I simply thought it would be useful to shed a bit of light on a rating system  that clearly plays a pivotal role in how  games are designed, marketed and sold in this country. Most of what follows comes directly from the ESRB's procedural guidelines.

  • Game publishers tell the raters what to look for. Prior to a game being released to the public, game publishers submit responses to a detailed, written questionnaire (often supplementing responses with lyric sheets, scripts, etc.) specifying exactly what pertinent content (see descriptors below) will be in their game.
  • Raters do not actually play the games. Publishers must provide a videotape or DVD which captures all pertinent content, including the most extreme instances, across all relevant categories, including but not limited to violence, language, sex, controlled substances and gambling. Pertinent content that is not playable (i.e., "locked-out") but will exist in the code on the final game disc must also be disclosed. The video footage is reviewed by at least three specially trained game raters.
  • Raters assign both a rating and a list of content descripters. Each rater recommends an appropriate rating category and content descriptors. Raters will then further discuss the game until they reach consensus on a final recommendation.
  • The final rating is determined by ESRB staff. ESRB staff will review the final rating recommendation and rater feedback, conduct a parity examination where appropriate to maintain consistency in rating assignments, and issue a certificate with the official rating assignment to the game's publisher.
  • Publishers may accept, revise, or appeal. The publisher may either accept the rating as final or revise the game's content and resubmit it to the ESRB, at which time the process starts anew. Publishers also have the ability to appeal an ESRB rating assignment to an Appeals Board made up of publishers, retailers and other professionals.

ESRB Content Descriptors:

  • Alcohol Reference - Reference to and/or images of alcoholic beverages
  • Animated Blood - Discolored and/or unrealistic depictions of blood
  • Blood - Depictions of blood
  • Blood and Gore - Depictions of blood or the mutilation of body parts
  • Cartoon Violence - Violent actions involving cartoon-like situations and characters. May include violence where a character is unharmed after the action has been inflicted
  • Comic Mischief - Depictions or dialogue involving slapstick or suggestive humor
  • Crude Humor - Depictions or dialogue involving  vulgar antics, including “bathroom” humor
  • Drug Reference - Reference to and/or images of illegal drugs
  • Fantasy Violence - Violent actions of a fantasy nature, involving human or non-human characters in situations easily distinguishable from real life
  • Intense Violence - Graphic and realistic-looking depictions of physical conflict. May involve extreme and/or realistic blood, gore, weapons and depictions of human injury and death
  • Language - Mild to moderate use of profanity
  • Lyrics - Mild references to profanity, sexuality, violence, alcohol or drug use in music
  • Mature Humor - Depictions or dialogue involving "adult" humor, including sexual references
  • Nudity - Graphic or prolonged depictions of nudity
  • Partial Nudity - Brief and/or mild depictions of nudity
  • Real Gambling - Player can gamble, including betting or wagering real cash or currency
  • Sexual Content - Non-explicit depictions of sexual behavior, possibly including partial nudity
  • Sexual Themes - References to sex or sexuality
  • Sexual Violence - Depictions of rape or other violent sexual acts
  • Simulated Gambling - Player can gamble without betting or wagering real cash or currency
  • Strong Language - Explicit and/or frequent use of profanity
  • Strong Lyrics - Explicit and/or frequent references to profanity, sex, violence, alcohol or drug use in music
  • Strong Sexual Content - Explicit and/or frequent depictions of sexual behavior, possibly including nudity
  • Suggestive Themes - Mild provocative references or materials
  • Tobacco Reference - Reference to and/or images of tobacco products
  • Use of Drugs - The consumption or use of illegal drugs
  • Use of Alcohol - The consumption of alcoholic beverages
  • Use of Tobacco - The consumption of tobacco products
  • Violence - Scenes involving aggressive conflict. May contain bloodless dismemberment
  • Violent References - References to violent acts

When a content descriptor is preceded by the term "Mild," it is intended to convey low frequency, intensity or severity of the content it modifies.        

Content descriptors are not intended to be a listing of every type of content one might encounter in the course of playing a game.

Online games that include user-generated content (e.g., chat, maps, skins) carry the notice "Game Experience May Change During Online Play" to warn consumers that content created by players of the game has not been rated by the ESRB.