ESRB to Valve: Mind Your Fingers - UPDATED

Andy Chalk

One Flag, One Fleet, One Cat
Nov 12, 2002
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ESRB to Valve: Mind Your Fingers - UPDATED


Valve's [http://www.valvesoftware.com] upcoming Left 4 Dead 2 introduces new melee combat options that will let players massacre the undead with frying pans, baseball bats, axes and chainsaws, but the two missing fingers in the game's original promotional material was too much for ESRB censors to bear.

As part of its E3 coverage Ars Technica [http://arstechnica.com/gaming/news/2009/06/inside-a-shocking-banned-left-4-dead-2-image-lk.ars] posted a photo of Valve writer Chet Faliszek standing in front of a large Left 4 Dead 2 poster. Sharp-eyed readers may have noticed that the image behind Faliszek is a bit different than the ones we've seen since: The extended index and middle fingers are the same, but the ring and pinkie fingers appear to have been completely chewed off.

This, according to ESRB [http://www.esrb.org] censors, crossed the line. Making a game about shooting, stabbing, hacking, bludgeoning and burning rapacious hordes of the undead in a desperate, blood-soaked bid for survival? That's okay. Promoting it using an image of a hand with two missing fingers? That's going too far, and Valve was told that it wouldn't be allowed to use the image in future marketing materials.

Current promotional material now shows the famous Left 4 Dead [http://www.l4d.com/] hand with those two fingers bent back, rather than bitten off. The thumb, however, remains missing and presumed eaten, which leads me to wonder about the specifics of ESRB policies. Are thumbs seen as somehow less valuable than fingers? Does the ESRB have limits on the number of digits that can be chewed off by ravenous zombies? Who makes up these rules, anyway?

For the record, I prefer the look of the image with all fingers attached, but that doesn't stop the whole thing from appearing just a wee bit silly on the surface.

UPDATE: The ESRB got back to me last night with the following: "The industry-adopted advertising and marketing guidelines can be found here: http://www.esrb.org/ratings/principles_guidlines.jsp [http://www.esrb.org/ratings/principles_guidlines.jsp]. Those should answer your question."

Fairly standard stuff, except the answer wasn't really there at all. There are a few possibilities, however, in the "guidelines" for responsible advertising practices:

Graphic and/or excessive depictions of blood and/or gore, for example: Excessive and gratuitous amounts of blood and/or fleshy body parts, blood spurting from wounds - Doesn't really apply, does it? The hand looks more desiccated than gory, there's really no blood here to speak of.

Allusions or depictions of torture, mutilation or sadism, for example: Dismemberment, decapitation - Well, there are definitely some missing fingers in the original image. Problem is, there was also a missing thumb and it's still missing. If the ESRB does have a specific acceptable limit of the number of digits that can be gnawed off by a zombie, I was unable to find it.

Allusions or depictions of necrophilia or any other sexual acts, for example: Sexual fetishes - Okay, that's a stretch but I thought it was amusing that the ESRB has a specific advertising guideline against necrophilia.

Crude and/or offensive language, for example: Profanity, excessively violent/sexual ad copy, offensive gestures (e.g., giving the finger), offensive song lyrics, hate speech (e.g., racial epithets) - This is a possibility except, as has been discussed in the forum, the ESRB is a North American agency and the two-finger gesture is, as far as I know, uniquely English. I can't see the ESRB making a fuss over a regional obscene gesture from another continent and if it is, European gamers should be very nervous indeed.

Bottom line? We still don't know exactly why the ESRB gave the thumbs-down (so to speak) to the original Left 4 Dead 2 ads and unless Valve reveals the specific complaint we probably never will.


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Caliostro

Headhunter
Jan 23, 2008
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Why does anyone even CARE about the retards at the ESRB? Why aren't we showing THEM the middle finger?

They're a completely useless entity. If anything they're a cancerous growth on the gaming world...
 

Clashero

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Aug 15, 2008
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I say someone should send the ESRB a letter containing a hand (no need for a real hand, mind you) will all fingers but the middle one bitten off.
 

Lord George

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Aug 25, 2008
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Kwil said:
You're not English.
See I thought the two fingers up was deliberate, like a great fuck off to the undead hordes, but given Valves American it could just be a coincidence.
 

Bat Vader

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Mar 11, 2009
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Caliostro said:
Why does anyone even CARE about the retards at the ESRB? Why aren't we showing THEM the middle finger?

They're a completely useless entity. If anything they're a cancerous growth on the gaming world...
Edit: The federal government was going to step and create a ratings system if one was not created within a year.
 

obisean

May the Force Be With Me
Feb 3, 2009
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The ESRB doesn't even play the games it rates about 90% of the time. They give a game a rating based on a 3 or so minute movie provided by the company showing them what the game is and how far it goes into certain elements. They then sit down and debate certain points of the video and request more material if necessary to make a decision on the games rating.

The ESRB has, for the most part, a requirement that you be a parent to join. This isn't terrible, but sometimes you get things like the article posted above because they are too stupid to realize that your kids do/see a lot worse than a cartoon hand that has been chewed for all but two of its fingers. I'd understand if it was covered in blood or had the limbs hanging off, but you can't really even tell that it is bone under there, who ever ate those fingers was very careful not to leave a mess.

Just like Gamespot, I don't understand how the ESRB comes to the conclusions they do when it comes to reviews and ratings. It's almost like they pull one out of a hat and make a case based on that.
 

CoverYourHead

High Priest of C'Thulhu
Dec 7, 2008
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We as gamers need to band together and get game companies to stop endorsing the ESRB, their tyranny is just annoying at this point.
 

Nargleblarg

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Jun 24, 2008
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ESRB sucks I hate them just let games be games. But I do love how they rate some games they consider like people kissing as SEXUAL CONTENT and just a guy without a shirt is PARTIAL NUDITY and if someone is like paper cut it's BLOOD AND GORE finally if someone is like drinking beer it's USE OF ALCOHOL and USE OF DRUGS.
 

Plinglebob

Team Stupid-Face
Nov 11, 2008
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I doubt that ESRB care about the number of fingers, but more the fact that swearing of any kind is pretty much banned in any sort of advertising and the 2 finger gesture in Europe is fairly bad (not sure about the US though)
 

obisean

May the Force Be With Me
Feb 3, 2009
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Kwil said:
george144 said:
Kwil said:
You're not English.
See I thought the two fingers up was deliberate, like a great fuck off to the undead hordes, but given Valves American it could just be a coincidence.
Oh, I don't think it was intentional whatsoever. Like Malygris and most people posting here so far, the folks at Valve probably didn't think about how the V sign with the palm turned inward is considered an obscene gesture in a lot of places overseas.

But that explains why the ESRB has a problem with this particular configuration of the hand.
Replace the ring finger and eat the middle finger. I'll take my royalty check now.
 

MrPop

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May 14, 2009
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Pretty funny how as said in the article a game full to the rim of violence and shooting is fine whereas two severed fingers is ludicrous! But it probably is because the poster makes it looks like it is giving two fingers up to people. Although it would seem the same with the new poster even more so since that has the fingers curled back leaving the two up... So I dunno. Just a stupid decision I'm guessing.
 

obisean

May the Force Be With Me
Feb 3, 2009
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Plinglebob said:
I doubt that ESRB care about the number of fingers, but more the fact that swearing of any kind is pretty much banned in any sort of advertising and the 2 finger gesture in Europe is fairly bad (not sure about the US though)
In the US it literally signals the number 2. We don't blow such things out of proportion here. There are very few gestures here that really piss us off.

EDIT: Or peace. It can signal peace.
 

andrat

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Jan 14, 2009
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Freakout456 said:
ESRB sucks I hate them just let games be games. But I do love how they rate some games they consider like people kissing as SEXUAL CONTENT and just a guy without a shirt is PARTIAL NUDITY and if someone is like paper cut it's BLOOD AND GORE finally if someone is like drinking beer it's USE OF ALCOHOL and USE OF DRUGS.
I agree with all that except:
Drinking beer is still use of alcohol.
Carry on though.