Entertainment Software Rating Board
The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is a self-regulatory organization that applies and enforces ratings, advertising guidelines, and online privacy principles for computer and video games and other entertainment software in the United States and Canada. It was established in 1994 by Interactive Digital Software Association (now the Entertainment Software Association). By early 2003, it had rated over 8,000 titles submitted by 350 publishers. The decision to found the ESRB was influenced by the graphic "fatality" killing moves of Mortal Kombat and other controversial video games depicting violent or sexual situations at the time, and by pressure from the United States government.
The ESRB applies ratings to games based on their content, similar to the motion picture rating systems used in many countries. Their aim is to aid consumers in determining a game's content and suitability. A game's rating is displayed on its box, the media, in advertisements and on game web sites.
The rating system is voluntary and companies do not have to submit a game for rating before selling it. However, most game publishers in the United States use the system.
The rating has two parts: rating symbols and content descriptors. The rating symbols are usually found on the lower right or the lower left hand corner on the front of the box, they suggest what age group the game is best suited for. The content descriptors are found on the back of the box, usually in the lower left or right hand corner, they describe particular content elements that may be of interest or concern.
The symbols the ESRB uses are stylized depictions of alphabetical letters meant to convey at a glance a game's suitability.
|EC — Early Childhood: Contains content that may be suitable for ages 3 and older. Contains no material that parents would find inappropriate. Games that fall under this rating are specifically intended for young children and are usually educational in nature. However, some educational games with more complex problems (Such as the Dr. Brain series) may be rated E.|
|E — Everyone: Contains content that may be suitable for ages 6 and older. Titles in this category may contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language. Examples of games with this rating are Sonic Advance, Super Mario Advance 4, Luigi's Mansion, and Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire and most sports and puzzle games.|
|E10+ — Everyone 10+: (Also known as Preteen) Contains content that may be suitable for ages 10 and older. Titles in this category may contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language, minimal and/or infrequent blood and/or minimal suggestive themes. Donkey Kong Jungle Beat was the first game to receive this rating. Examples of games with this rating are Shadow the Hedgehog, Project Gotham Racing 3, Kingdom Hearts II and Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy.|
|T — Teen: Contains content that may be suitable for ages 13 and older. Titles in this category may contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling, and/or infrequent use of strong language. Examples of games with this rating are Star Wars: Rogue Squadron, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Tekken 5, Battlefield 1942, The Sims 2, Metroid Prime, and Super Smash Bros. Melee.|
|M — Mature: Contains content that may be suitable for ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language. Examples of games with this rating are Dead or Alive 4, Duke Nukem 3D, Doom , Mortal Kombat , Grand Theft Auto III, Conker's Bad Fur Day, Resident Evil series, and Devil May Cry 3.|
|AO — Adults Only: Contains content that should only be played by persons 18 years and older. Titles in this category may include prolonged scenes of intense violence and/or graphic sexual content and nudity. As of 2006, there are 23 AO-rated products.|
|RP — Rating Pending: Product has been submitted to the ESRB and is awaiting final rating. This symbol appears only in advertising and/or demos prior to a game's release.|
The following ratings have been updated and are no longer used, but they may appear on games published previously.
K-A — Kids to Adults: Contains content that may be suitable for ages 6 and older. These titles will appeal to people of many ages and tastes. They may contain minimal violence, some comic mischief (for example, slapstick comedy), or some crude language. It was replaced by Everyone on January 1, 1998. Examples of games with this rating are Donkey Kong Country, Sonic 3D Blast, Kirby Super Star, Star Fox 64, Crash Bandicoot, and Super Mario 64.
 Content descriptors
Please note that the content descriptors are not always printed as shown below, they may have additional words added to further clarify the highlighted content such as "Mild Blood" and "Mild Suggestive Themes".
- Alcohol Reference — Reference to and/or images of alcoholic beverages.
- Animated Blood — Discolored and/or unrealistic depictions of blood.
- Blood — Depictions of blood.
- Blood and Gore — Depictions of blood or the mutilation of body parts.
- Cartoon Violence — Violent actions involving cartoon-like or animated situations and characters. May also include violence where a character is unharmed after the action has been inflicted.
- Comic Mischief — Depictions or dialogue involving slapstick or suggestive humor.
- Crude Humor — Depictions or dialogue involving vulgar antics, including "bathroom humor".
- Drug Reference — Reference to and/or images of illegal drugs.
- Edutainment — Content of product provides user with specific skills development or reinforcement learning within an entertainment setting. Skill development is an integral part of product.
- Fantasy Violence — Violent actions of a fantasy nature, involving human or non-human characters in situations easily distinguishable from real life.
- Informational — Overall content of product contains data, facts, resource information, reference materials or instructional text.
- Intense Violence — Graphic and realistic-looking depictions of physical conflict. May involve extreme and/or realistic blood, gore, weapons, and depictions of human injury and death.
- Language — Mild to moderate use of profanity.
- Lyrics — Mild references to profanity, sexuality, violence, alcohol, or drug use in music.
- Mature Humor — Depictions or dialogue involving "adult" humor, including sexual references.
- Mild Violence — Mild scenes depicting characters in unsafe and/or violent situations.
- Nudity — Graphic or prolonged depictions of nudity.
- Partial Nudity — Brief and/or mild depictions of nudity.
- Real Gambling — Player can gamble, including betting or wagering real cash or currency. (Note: This descriptor only appears on games rated Adults Only)
- Sexual Themes — Mild to moderate sexual references and/or depictions. May include partial nudity.
- Sexual Violence — Depictions of rape or other sexual acts.
- Simulated Gambling — Player can gamble without betting or wagering real cash or currency.
- Some Adult Assistance May Be Needed — Intended for very young ages, used for games rated Early Childhood.
- Strong Language — Explicit and/or frequent use of profanity.
- Strong Lyrics — Explicit and/or frequent references to profanity, sex, violence, alcohol, or drug use in music.
- Strong Sexual Content — Graphic references to and/or depictions of sexual behavior, possibly including nudity.
- Suggestive Themes — Mild provocative references or materials.
- Tobacco Reference — Reference to and/or images of tobacco products.
- Use of Drugs — The consumption or use of illegal drugs.
- Use of Alcohol — The consumption of alcoholic beverages.
- Use of Tobacco — The consumption of tobacco products.
- Violence — Scenes involving aggressive conflict.
To obtain a rating for a game, a publisher sends the ESRB videotaped footage of the game's most graphic and extreme content. The publisher also fills out a questionnaire describing the game's content.
The ESRB states on its website that three trained raters, working independently, then watch the footage and recommend a rating. If all raters agree on the rating, content descriptors are added and the ESRB notifies the publisher of its decision.
When the game is ready for release, the publisher sends copies of the final version of the game to the ESRB. The game packaging is reviewed, and the ESRB says that its in-house personnel randomly play games to ensure that all the information provided during the rating process was complete and accurate. Penalties may apply to the publisher if it is eventually found, either through the in-house personnel's playing or consumer comments that the game's content is more extreme than the publisher stated in its application.
The identities of the ESRB raters are kept confidential. According to an ESRB introductory brochure from 1994: The raters represent a wide range of backgrounds, races, and ages and have no ties to the interactive entertainment industry. Raters include retired school principals, parents, professionals, and other individuals from all walks of life. Essentially, the ratings are decided by the consumers themselves.