ESRB or Common Sense?

21 12 2008

Father and Son gaming

by Matthew Moore

The Electronic Software Rating Board have been assigning age ratings to video games since 1994.  Over that time, they have rated over 50,000 titles over a number of platforms.

Lets start by taking a look at their classifications and descriptions for each.

ESRB Early Childhood


Titles rated EC (Early Childhood) have content that may be suitable for ages 3 and older. Contains no material that parents would find inappropriate

ESRB Everyone


Titles rated E (Everyone) have 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.

ESRB Everyone 10+


Titles rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) have content that may be suitable for ages 10 and older. Titles in this category may contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language and/or minimal suggestive themes.



Titles rated T (Teen) have 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.

ESRB Mature


Titles rated M (Mature) have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.

ESRB Adults Only


Titles rated AO (Adults Only) have 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.

On top of a title being given its own classification, they are able to attach a number of Content Descriptors from the following –

Content Descriptors –

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 situations and characters. May 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

Fantasy Violence – Violent actions of a fantasy nature, involving human or non-human characters in situations easily distinguishable from real life

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

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

Sexual Content – Non-explicit depictions of sexual behavior, possibly including partial nudity

Sexual Themes – References to sex or sexuality

Sexual Violence – Depictions of rape or other violent sexual acts

Simulated Gambling – Player can gamble without betting or wagering real cash or currency

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 – Explicit and/or frequent 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. May contain bloodless dismemberment

Violent References – References to violent acts

Now lets take a look at how many of these titles have been rated over time.

Number of EC – 253

Number of E – 10179

Number of E+10 – 10980

Number of T – 14745

Number of M – 15997

Number of AO – 23

All of this can be found on the ESRB web site which is very interesting place to have a look around, mostly as it allows the user to browse titles and see what rating they were given.

However the most interesting part I took from the site, is that due to the volume of titles being released, the majority of the titles being rated are NOT played by the 3 people who are assigned to each game.  Which from my point of view really does call into question the validity of the entire system.

Now I’m not saying that the world does not need a rating system, if all parents were as cautious about what games their children are playing like our good Daren is who even goes as far to check the content of High School Musical 3 (I still stand by the fact that he loves the franchise and really got it for his own enjoyment) then perhaps this is not needed.  But alas this is NOT the world we live in

Also, is the rating of games going to evolve as we do as consumers in the same way it was with films? Look at films such as The Exorcist, which was included in the Video Nasty phenomenon in the early 1980’s which took until 1999 until it was finally released under the UK’s 18 certificate.  Looking at more recent films such as the Saw series or Hostel which are all on general release under the same 18 certificate upon reflection are far more graphic in nature than The Exorcist.

Looking at the ratings the ESRB have, there seem to be some grey areas.  Where I see the Early Childhood rating being especially handy, even perhaps a selling point to some titles, ratings such as Adult Only do seem quite grey.  Considering Mature is for 17 years plus, there is more to the category than just the 1 extra year.  23 titles are listed, some of these I can understand, such as the interactive Joy of Sex on the CDI, or GTA San Andreas (possible due to its Hot Coffee code), but does Adults Only really mean graphic sexual natures? Also, should future titles such as Heavy Rain be included, which is being pitched specifically as an experience like none other aimed directly for adults.  I’m quite sure the developers Quantic Dreams and their founder and CEO David Cage would want to push more for the Mature rating, as it seems AO has far too much of a stereotype attached to it.

However, when all is said and done, I would like to think that parents could do a whole lot more when it comes to involving themselves in their children’s gaming habits.  Perhaps we’ll have to wait another 30 years or so until the majority of families all grew up with gaming and know what to expect.  Until then, the ESRP and PEGI (the UK equivalent) will have to have their say




One response

30 12 2008

Haha, Water Closet got a US release? I bet they LOVED that.

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