A Brief Intro to Video Game Ratings

Video game ratings alert consumers of potentially objectionable content and recommend the appropriate general age group of players. This allows gamers or their guardians to avoid games they may find offensive.

Many countries including the United Kingdom, Germany, South Korea, and others have laws governing the production and distribution of video games. These countries usually have a governmental agency review, rate, and approve the content included. Currently, in the United States, there are no laws requiring games to carry ratings or to restrict the content of video games. Most producers and retailers of video games in the United States voluntarily cooperate with the non-governmental organization the Electronic Software Ratings Board (ESRB) to provide ratings and restrict the sales of offensive material. The ESRB provides the most widely used ratings system in the United States.

The ESRB examines video games and highlights any potentially objectionable content. Ratings emblems alert buyers to basic themes or activities within a game and for which age group the game would be appropriate. ESRB ratings do not take into consideration the quality, only the content.  Game ratings, like a numeric score or number of stars, from review sites like 6nUp or Metacritic provide opinions about how enjoyable a reviewer finds a game.

Major console manufacturers like Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo all require games produced for their systems be rated by the ESRB and most video game retailers like GameStop, Best Buy, Wal-Mart, etc. will only sell games carrying an ESRB rating. However game ratings do not take into consideration user created content and multi-player interaction. Games that provide online multi-player interaction carry a disclaimer indicating the online play experience might vary. Some games released for PCs or mobile devices are less likely to be rated by the ESRB as the ratings process is costly and those platforms are not tightly controlled by the manufacturers.

The ESRB rating system uses six age categories shown on the black and white emblem on the front of video game packaging. These symbols help identify the general type of content found in the game and for which age range it is suitable.

EC – “Early Childhood” for ages 3 and older.
E – “Everyone” for ages 6 and older.
E 10+ – “Everyone 10 and Older” for ages 10 and older.
T – “Teen” for ages 13 and older.
M – “Mature” for ages 17 and older.
AO – “Adults Only” for ages 18 and older.

Packaging also includes more descriptive ratings information on the back cover. There the use of over 20 content descriptors further identify the types of content included. A full list of these descriptors can be found at http://www.esrb.org/ratings/ratings_guide.jsp

Additional details about the content of each ESRB rated game can be found by searching the game’s title on the ESRB’s website at www.esrb.org


About Drew "Kristofe" Saxton

A fateful family gift of a Commodore 64 in his much younger days sparked Drew’s interest in games long ago. Drew attended Gannon University where his mix of classes across the psychology, English, archaeology, and computer science departments baffled faculty, friends, and family. Little did they know each seemingly random class was secretly equipping Drew to better understand game design and storytelling. Now he’s ready to subject you to his completely unwarranted gaming opinions and advice. Lucky you!