Surprise Score: An Early Example of the Videogame Rating Council

Recently, a friend of a friend acquired a large amount of classic video games for free. As he had no need of these games (or the ability to play them) he was trying to give them away.

I scored some neat finds: Final Fantasy VII (PSX), Wave Race 64 (which unfortunately doesn’t work), and Metal Gear (NES, the original). He also had a copy of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers for the Sega Genesis, which I wanted for nostalgic reasons (I learned, though, that the Power RangersĀ game I was familiar with was the SNES version, which is a side-scrolling beat ’em up. The Genesis version is a 1 vs. 1 fighter).

I got the game, and the box is a little beat up, but what do you expect after 20 years?

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Sega Genesis box

Look in the corner: see that little marker next to Trini? That’s not an ESRB rating: that’s a Videogame Rating Council rating!

General Audience GA rating from the Videogame Rating Council VRC

I never owned Sega products growing up, so I wasn’t familiar with the VRC until recently. The ESRB was established in 1994 following US Senate hearings on violent video games. Senators Joseph Lieberman and Herb Kohl were concerned about the level of violence in video games, and they called in Sega and Nintendo to see what they were doing about it.

Sega had previously released a few sensational games, most notably the vampire game Night Trap and the famous fighting game Mortal Kombat. These violent games sparked a lot of controversy, so Sega quickly established their own rating system as a way of saying, “Hey, we’re just as concerned about violence as you are. That’s why we recommend some games for young children and some for older teenagers.”

The VRC had three ratings: General Audience (equivalent to a G movie rating), MA-13 (equivalent to PG-13), and MA-17 (equivalent to R). Sega administered this council very inconsistently and didn’t provide a lot of education about how it worked or what the content standards were.

At the conclusion of the hearings, the Senate issued video game companies a threat: regulate yourself and establish a rating system, or the government will do it for you. Thankfully, the video game industry agreed to self-regulate and established the Entertainment Software Rating Board.

Sega tried to get Nintendo to adopt their system, but as this was a time of bitter rivalry between Sega and Nintendo, the house of Mario wouldn’t go for that.

To me, then, this box is a fascinating historical reminder of a group that lasted approximately a year before being supplanted by the ESRB.

Game on,
~Dennis

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