Anyone who has ever played video games is familiar with an ESRB rating. However, how many know why video games have those ratings or what the ESRB even is? ESRB stands for Entertainment Software Rating Board. The ratings are intended to inform consumers of video games how much violence and foul language someone can expect to encounter while playing any given game.
A little about the ESRB
The ESRB was founded in 1994 by the International Digital Software Association. Prior to the creation of the ESRB in 1994, there was not a rating system that existed for the video game industry. The International Digital Software Association, now known as the Entertainment Software Association, realized that the ever-evolving mature content within video games required a rating system to be implemented in order to protect impressionable age groups from having access to content of a mature nature. Thus, the ESRB was created.
The ESRB system works by issuing one of five different ratings for video game titles. These ratings are:
E for Everyone
Games assigned with this rating may have mild language as well as minimal cartoon and fantasy violence experienced throughout game play.
Some example of video games that fall within the scope of the E rating include:
Portal 2Microsoft Flight SimulatorJust Dance 2Zumba FitnessSuper Mario Galaxy 1 and 2
E10+ for Everyone 10 and older
Games assigned with this rating may feature an increased amount of cartoon and fantasy violence, minimal suggestive themes an mild language throughout game play.
Some video games that fall within the scope of the E10+ rating include:
Plants Vs ZombiesLego: The Marvel CollectionLego: DC Super-VillainsMinecraftKingdom Hearts
T for Teen, Suitable for everyone 13 and older
Games assigned with this rating may have infrequent strong language, violence, suggestive themes, minimal blood and some simulated gambling experienced throughout game play.
Some games that fall within the scope of the T rating include:
- No Man’s Sky
- WWE 2K20
- Injustice 2
- The Sims 4
M for Mature, Suitable for everyone 17 and older
Games assigned with this rating may include strong language, intense violence as well as blood and gore experienced throughout game play
Some games that fall within the scope of the M rating include:
- Gears 5
- Borderlands 3
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
- Grand Theft Auto V
- Red Dead
- Redemption 2
AO for Adults Only, Suitable for anyone 18 and older
Games assigned with this rating may include gambling with real currency, prolonged intense violence as well as graphic sexual content experienced throughout game play
Some games that fall within the scope of the AO rating include:
- Rise of the Tomb Raider
- Blood Bowl 2
- Mortal Kombat 11
- Far Cry 5
RP for Rating Pending
This rating appears in promo material and TV ads when a video game has not yet been assigned an official rating, but is still scheduled to be released. This rating appears until an official rating has been issued by the ESRB.
ESRB Rating Process
Now that you are familiar with what each ESRB rating stands for, Let’s find out more about how each video game receives their rating from the ESRB. The process varies a little between physical media and digital media.
For games being released as physical copies, developers must fill out a questionnaire that discloses information on violence, sex, language, gambling and other content within the game. In addition to the questionnaire, developers are also required to submit a video that demonstrates the most extreme content in the game.
The video then gets reviewed by three highly trained raters, occasionally more. These trained raters recommend a category, interactive elements and descriptors. Upon submission of their recommendations, their findings are confirmed and a rating summary is finalized and issued to the developers. The developers can then either accept the recommended rating or reject it. If the developer rejects the recommended rating, the entire process begins again from the start.
For games that are released on a digital platform, the rating process is just a bit different. Digital games are rated using a process created by the International Age Rating Coalition. Developers will fill out a questionnaire that addresses the same aspects of the physical game questionnaire. The games are quickly assigned a rating category, interactive elements and descriptors. IARC ratings do not have a rating summary and provide the ability to monitor rating assignments, as well as test the product after release to ensure a correct rating was assigned and make adjustments should it become necessary.
The ESRB also rates downloadable content. Downloadable content is game content that is developed and added after a game’s initial release. When it comes to downloadable content, these items typically receive the same rating as their core game. However, if the downloadable content exceeds the official rating of the core game, these items may be assigned a different official rating of their own.
Enforcement of the Content Ratings
What happens when a developer omits information or misrepresents the information provided in the questionnaires? The ESRB has several safeguards in place.
When it comes to games rated via the IARC, the ratings can be quickly changed should the need arise. However, the physical games are not that simple. Physical games are much more difficult to modify after they have already been released and as a result the ESRB will impose heavy fines and sanctions to help deter developers from providing misleading information.
Where Can I Find the ESRB Rating?
If you have ever wondered where you can find the ESRB rating for your favorite game, it can be found in several places. If you examine the box that the game is packaged in, it can be found on there. You can also find the rating on displays in physical stores, as well as online stores such as the Play Store on Android devices, the Microsoft Store for Microsoft devices and the PlayStation store for all Sony gaming devices. In addition to all of these places, you can also find the ratings on YouTube ads and television ads.
There are many popular game choices available in every one of these individual rating categories. As you can clearly see, there are games for every age and every taste. The IARC and the ESRB try to help keep these games aimed at the right audience and out of the hands of children who should not see such violence or suggestive content at such an impressionable age.