Almost all games sold are rated by the Entertainment System Rating Board (ESRB). "... Ratings are designed to provide accurate and objective information about the content in computer and video games so you can make an informed purchase decision," according to their Web site.
There are two parts to the ESRB rating:
- A Rating Symbol on the front of the box that suggests the age appropriateness for the game.
- A Content Description on the back of the box that provides information on questionable content such as violence, sexuality, language, drug use, etc.
Another factor to consider is the Online Rating Notice. This notice tells players if a game contains user-generated content (for example, chat, maps, and skins), that the "Game Experience May Change During Online Play," and warns consumers that content created online has not been rated by the ESRB.
These ratings were created as guidelines. But parents still need to know which games their children are playing, who their children are playing with online, and how much time is spent doing so.
The following sections describe the ESRB rating symbols and content descriptors. The ESRB Web site* has a great search window, if you have questions about a specific game. You can easily search by title, publisher, rating platform or content.
ESRB Rating Symbols
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.
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.
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.
TEEN. 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.
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.
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.
RATING PENDING. Titles listed as RP (Rating Pending) have been submitted to the ESRB and are awaiting final rating. (This symbol appears only in advertising prior to a game's release.)
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
- 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
- Sexual Themes – Mild to moderate sexual references and/or depictions. May include partial nudity
- Sexual Violence – Depictions of rape or other violent 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
- 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