ESRB Ratings for Games and What They Mean

Gamers already know that all games carry an ESRB Rating. This is the gaming equivalent of the MPAA Rating system that you see on movies. Gamers know this but some parents out there who aren’t gamers might not know what these ratings mean and may be buying games that are very inappropriate for their children or out of their age range. The ESRB Ratings are something that all parents should familiarize themselves with as they are a guideline for what each game contains within.

By looking at the ESRB Rating on the box before purchasing a game, you are ensuring that all content within is suitable for the age range of your child. Again these are just guidelines and ultimately, it is up to you as a parent to assume what is and isn’t appropriate for them to play.

ESRB Rating Symbols

On the back of the box, usually at the bottom, the ESRB Rating goes into more detail on the contents that are within the game itself. It’s more specific than the Rating Symbol on the front of the box.

ESRB 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

When a content descriptor is preceded by the term “Mild,” it is intended to convey low frequency, intensity or severity of the content it modifies.
Content descriptors are not intended to be a listing of every type of content one might encounter in the course of playing a game. For more detail about how ESRB assigns content descriptors, click here, or to learn how to access ESRB rating summaries for detailed descriptions and specific examples of game content, click here.

Online Rating Notice

Online-enabled games carry the notice “Online Interactions Not Rated by the ESRB.” This notice warns those who intend to play the game online about possible exposure to chat (text, audio, video) or other types of user-generated content (e.g., maps, skins) that have not been considered in the ESRB rating assignment.

That’s pretty much there is to know about the ESRB Rating system. They are not very hard to learn. You will really only encounter games with the rating EC, E, T, and M as all the major console manufactures do not allow AO rated games and the RP rating usually only applies to games that have not been released yet and haven’t gone through the ratings process. The PC and Mac are different and it is possible to run into an AO game.

Hope this will be useful to some of you. Just think of these like how you would think of movie ratings. I mean you wouldn’t take your 10 year old to see an R-rated slasher film would you? Or better yet, allow your 10 year old to see an X-rated movie. Didn’t think so.

[via ESRB]

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