Thoughts on Content Ratings

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Here are some thoughts on content ratings. Writing these out was prompted by my adding an "adopt- a -Censor panda" to the site, in October 12022. If you want one of those too, or simply want more context for my below ramblings, click the following link:

G icon PG icon 14 icon MA icon NC17 icon No Rating icon

To be honest, content ratings on websites mean as much as the content rating of a movie you find on Pirate Bay. If the movie Gremlins (1984) was once rated "15-year olds up, or 11-year olds accompanied an adult" in your region, then that won't stop you from download it as a 12-year old and watch it alone. Those rules only apply at cinemas (in the 80s). Neither can a content rating really stop anybody from visiting a site, hosted on the free internet. It is a recommendation, and nothing more.

The movie Coraline (2009) is scary as fuck. I saw a trailer for it as a kid, and was scared for weeks after, that my parents would be replaced with button-eyed effigies like those of Coraline. I would not let them out of my sight. Though I had certain anxieties as a kid, they were not at any extremes. 13 years later, Coraline does no longer trouble me - to my knowledge it has not left a lasting trauma... But at the time I was truly bothered. This is the reason for age-based content ratings to exist. It is not out of a notion of kids growing up the right way, that they shouldn't be long-time disturbed, but that certain types of media can be to scary for kids to handle, and hurt them in the moment.
As I understand it, the panda ratings are based on USAmerican ones, which perhaps explains some puritanical views of theirs. For example, the "Pai Gon"/PG rating is explained as "This site contains little or mild offensive materials. Basically stuff only uptight parents would get upset over." while the stricter "Fa Teen"/14 rating is "This site contains slightly offensive material. High chance of mild swearing, partial nudity, violence and adult themes.". Here I am left to wonder who these "uptight parents" are, since mild swearing, partial nudity, violence and adult themes are about what I'd expect them to get upset over. In other words, the PG and 14 ratings seem to have almost complete overlap.

So why then do I support the rating pandas? Because I clearly do to some degree, having one on my own site. Well, it comes down to what I said earlier. Recommendation. Around the internet there has been going a discussion, or perhaps a mourning procession, that the centralization of the internet has lead to an eradication of as well sites for children as sites for adults. Essentially, that advertisers with block or demonetize content that is either adult (here meaning pornographic) or in some puritanical sense adult-adjacent (meaning they contain swears) content on sites such as Youtube or sites using ad services, with the argument of "think of the children", while sites meant for children like Neopets lay dead by the roadside. As children are inevitably drawn to the internet, they end up at the big open internet when sites do not exist specifically for them. But then adults are struck, and in some sense limited in the way they can interact. This isn't meant to say that children and adults should never intermingle, but there are uses for metaphorical kids' tables a little bit off the side. Perhaps you should wait until you are in your preteens to freely browse Youtube, and a few more years until you go on Tumblr, and by then you can handle a few "shit"s and "fuck"s.
Having a content rating, then, is a way of fencing off parts of the internet. The kinds of content I produce is by happenstance more or less kid-friendly. I nerd way into old video games, and write commentaries on chapters of a shōnen manga. By putting a PG panda in the corner I signal "hey, this is part of the kid-friendly internet" , whatever that is. That I post links to this place on /r/PokemonROMHacking, where I know there are plenty of kids, also has some influence on this decision, because how would a child otherwise find their way to a Neocities-hosted site, this strange corner of the internet?

The above is at least true at the time of writing, if I were to write my thoughts on Urusei Yatsura, or, say, David Willis' Dumbing of Age, then it might not be possible to stray from adult-ish themes because those are baked into the works. Perhaps I change it this site's rating to "14" then, who knows? I have no idea about the mechanisms of restriction, that is to say does anyone in the world care about a "14" vs. a "PG" one, and if so is it overly moral kids self-restricting, or their parents?

Of course, in all of this I risk saying nothing of more value than "the way I grew up was the best". I entered the internet at large some time around 11-13. Before that I had only spent my time at Miniclip,, and similar sites that had a clearly child-dominated clientele. The raunchiest I had visited was perhaps (read this as it not being raunchy), and then only the games section, and the scariest thing I'd encountered was the boss of Motherload (2004). Yet I took on violence and swearing, and shōnen manga lewdness, when I read Dragon Ball and One Piece around age 7. And so I don't view these as upsetting enough to be anything but "PG".
As an adult, it is easy to look back at your formative years with rose-tinted glasses, and assume that all kids growing up some other way will end up weird and emotionally stunted. This is not the case. Some of them will, sure, and effects have causes, but ascertaining these is harder than going by gut feeling.

In the end, content ratings are both pretty ineffectual, and not-so-important. Age-inappropriate media can be distressing for children, and create lasting traumas. But most people will grow out of these. It may influence them to grow up to become weirdos like Edmund McMillen, creator of The Binding of Isaac, but as far as I know that dude is doing pretty well.
What children should look out for on the internet, is groomers and nazis. Seriously. Be careful.

Originally written by Voliol 12022-10-24, HE.