Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion Receives "M" Rating: Who's to Blame?

It's one of those stories that causes a cringe from anyone who follows the video game industry. From last years Grand Theft Auto "Hot Coffee," we have a current situation with Bethesda's Elder Scrolls Oblivion," which has been hacked to expose female nudity and will be given a stricter rating. Nudity in games is becoming far too hot of an issue, though this current concern is different. There isn't a single source of blame here, and the reactions from those parties have caused this story to spin in directions it shouldn't be spinning.

The brief overview concerns a mod for the PC version of the game Elder Scrolls Oblivion. Like the situation last year, nudity was uncovered by a determined hacker and released for players of the PC version only. This happened only a few weeks after the game was released. Nothing happened until yesterday when the ESRB announced the game was being re-rated "M" for 17+ instead of "T" for 13+.

Following that announcement, press releases flew out into the media. The ESRB supplied the gaming community with this as a reason for the re-rating:

"… more detailed depictions of blood and gore than were considered in the original rating, as well as the presence of a locked-out art file or 'skin' that, if accessed through a third party modification to the PC version of the game, allows the user to play with topless versions of female characters."

Simply put, the ESRB is against a wall. They could have kept this quiet since certain anti-game politicians weren't calling out the nudity mod. If word made it out that it was re-rated without public knowledge, they have a major problem on their hands. On the other hand, by putting this out there, politicians like Leland Yee have already damned the ESRB for their actions, and will use this to further their own cause.

There is another side to this though, and that's the "T" rating the game was slapped with in the first place. Anyone who has played through this top seller should know that Oblivion in NO WAY should have received anything less than a "M." It's graphic gore, implied dismemberment, and heavy violence should have never made its way past the ESRB or into a game rated "T."

In fact, by claiming they're pulling the rating because of a nude mod, they're nearly admitting they made an error. While there is a brief mention of detailed blood and gore, it's obvious the press release is focusing on a nude mod of a non-sexual nature. A game should never be re-rated based on a mod, but that's what they're claiming has happened.

The interesting thing is to note that the Xbox 360 version is also going to be slapped with the "M." There's no possible way to access the nude content on the 360, yet it's undergone the rating surgery as well. It's admission that they screwed up, and along with titles like Ghost Recon and Call of Duty 2, this is slightly more prevalent from them than usual.

Still, the attack on the ESRB is uncalled for. Surely in the decades the MPAA has been around they've made mistakes too. It's hard to remember any time in the organization's history that they've pulled a movie to give it a harsher restriction. Worse, when you have a movie like Alien vs. Predator that's rated PG-13 in theaters, it comes to DVD in an Unrated edition. Yes, parents may have bought their children Oblivion with a "T" rating. They also may think they're getting the same version of Alien vs. Predator they saw in theaters when they buy the DVD.

Was this the right course of action for the ESRB? Is the mod a cover-up for a blatant misjudgment in the first place? Should they just admit that user-created mods should not be cause for a re-rating, and educate those who don't understand this process?

Even if the ESRB hands come off as clean in some alternate universe, developer Bethesda is not handling this correctly either. They may be cooperative with this ratings change, but their press release has this to say about the situation:

"…some modders have used a third party tool to hack into and modify an art archive file to make it possible to create a mesh for a partially nude (topless) female that they add into the game. Bethesda didn't create a game with nudity and does not intend that nudity appear in Oblivion."

They're partially correct. The nudity does appear in the game; it's simply hidden under clothing. The modder that found the nudity said this in an interview with Gamepolitics.com:

"In the process of trying to create a nude skin for Oblivion, I found Bethesda had already done all the work for me. They just covered it up with underwear afterwards."

Why, in the face of last year's Hot Coffee mod, would Bethesda lie? The content is on the disc, and they seem to be skirting this problem like Rockstar did. This is also strike two for publisher Take Two, who also handled the publishing duties for Grand Theft Auto San Andreas.

Bethesda wisely failed to disclose the name of their publisher in the press release, though Leland Yee picked up on that immediately. It's not a matter of whether or not American's are in general over sensitive about female breasts (they are). It's a matter of lying in a time when the industry is facing a huge fight, and Bethesda deserves to take as much blame for their statements as the ESRB does for missing the rating during the process.

Speaking of Leland Yee, this should be a great boost for his cause and career. An attempt at preventing the sale of mature games to minors goes before the California courts in a matter of weeks, and Yee is also in the running for a seat on the California senate this election year. His response attempts to prove the failings of the ESRB, and his harsh words for Take Two will look great in tomorrow's paper.

From the crowd that supports the industry though, they can see right through him. The problem is, he does have a point this time. The ESRB did make a mistake. It's hard to find someone who doesn't believe that within the first 20-minutes of playing the 100+ hour Oblivion. It's difficult (if not impossible) to find a middle ground here, and sadly, it's something that's going to curse this industry for a long time. It's utterly amazing how people can spin an entire entertainment industry as evil because of two games. That's what will happen, and the next few days could be grim.

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