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Odd question in game design & U.S. laws

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My team is working on a ultra-realistic RPG world that is entirely written in text-based. Because of that, and because the player grows up from child to adult, it adds in question if we should allow the child to do the same things as the adult can, omiting any sexual material for the younger age. Since we have a focus on a real roleplaying environment, it already opens the door that the player shouldn't be told in what he/she can or cannot do. So we laughed that many mothers would love to sue, but can they? What are the U.S. laws in regards to this? Seems like Europe is more liberal to any game, but I know the U.S. has moral issues to games like these. It seems like courts don't really care, plus they ignore many cases, such as the case against Rockstar. I think most game companies consider it because they're selling it to a wide audience, so they're use to where their moral standards are, which does bring up sells. We're not into money though but are interested in the science of realism in virtual environments. The idea is we want to go as far as the U.S. law permits us to go, but we need some insight before we go any further. Thanks in advanced for the advice & resource links.

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As a matter of US law, CURRENTLY (this may change quite soon due to the GTA sex scandal), you can do what ever you want. The adult situations might get you an ESRB rating of M or AO, but thats if you get an ESRB rating. As for what you can let the children do... I believe there was a supreme court decision recently that removed a portion of the child pornography laws to remove a ban on cartoons and caracatures, because no children had been abused to draw them. So, all indicators says that you can do what you want.

At any rate, if its a text adventure / interactive fiction, I don't think you'll have any issues. The bible belt always goes after the stuff at the top of the pack. Stuff like God of War goes right under their radars.

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It also depends how you spin it. Characters in the Sims 2 would have sex in bed, under the covers, with all kinds of crazy noises going off, which made the whole situation seem like a joke rather than a romantic encounter. I don't think anybody cared.

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Ironically, right now, in this legal climate, mindless violence is being tolerated while sex still throws people off on some crazy tangent about how its improper for youths and anyone below legal drinking age. However, if it is not visual then it slides by alot of censors much easier. There's just something about visual and graphical content that get people all bent up in the wrong ways.

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You'd get away scot-free if the content was more Drama based. As in, the scene with the preteens engaging in sex occurs AFTER the simulated months of dating and childhood romance. That way, anyone who'd burn you on it would never find it.

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First I suggest you ask this in the Buisness of Game Development forum.

Second you do not need to get a ESRB rateing to sell the game. That only partains to retail sales (as in selling copies through Wal-Mart, Best Buy, EB Games, etc.). To sell the game through retail channels, you will have to submit the game to the ESRB review board, and get a rateing, before retailers will even consider selling the game.

Third its a text game, right? Few publishers will consider publishing it. and even fewer retailers will consider selling it. So its very doubtful you will even have to deal with the ESRB board. your best bet is selling it online, no rateing required...but it would be wise to at least post warnings of adult content.

Forth be prepaired to get suied no matter what. Its just a fact of buisness life...However despite what you may think, or have heard. 99.9% of frivolios lawsuits are dismissed before going to trial...And given that your game is text basied, rather than graphics basied...well the suits likely to be filed against you will likely partain to false advertiseing of a "real" virtual game world (meaning people may sue you because the game is text basied rather than "realistic" graphics basied they think it should be)...but in all likelyhood your game will fly under the radar of most foolish people looking to file frivolus lawsuits (they tend to pick on larger companies with lots of wealth).

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Thanks for the tips. I'm not really into selling this game. It's just a big scientific study of virtual worlds and someday it could be released. We figured it'd be free since no one would buy a text-based game. We're just into selling new ideas that go beyond what most games halt on.

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I don't think you're legally required to put any warnings since it's text-based, but it would be a good idea to at least put an "I verify that I am at least 18 years of age and not offended by blah, blah, blah. Yes/No" before allowing anyone to play. There is much less chance for a claimant to win a lawsuit if they had to legally consent to the game before playing it; they won't be able to claim that the shocking sex scenes came at them when they weren't expecting it.

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As an indie developer, i think you can get away with a little bit more than you could if you were a mainstream developter. It really seems to be less about the content than it does about the number of people subjected to it. But that goes back to the Right-winged Christian philosophy of "get as many people to agree with me and act like me".
Politics aside, i think the biggest issue here is the underage portrayal of sex.

The thing is, this game doesnt seem to be about sex. More, its about life, and one of the aspects of life is sex (even if your paster doesnt want you to believe it..).


Id say your best bet would be to find the thin line between the two positions. Allow the child character to experience sexual aspects as a child. Sort of like they can see the porno mags behind the counter, but cant buy them.

But hey, I dunno. We live in a society that is HEAVILY influenced by image rather than content.

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