Entertainment Software Rating Board

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The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is a self-regulatory organization that applies and enforces ratings, advertising guidelines, and online privacy principles for computer and video games in the United States. It was established in 1994 by the Entertainment Software Association. By early 2003, it had rated more than 8,000 titles submitted by 350 publishers. Many believe that the ESRB may promote media restriction, while others think that it is necessary for software to have content ratings.



The ESRB applies ratings to games based on their content, similar to the motion picture rating systems used in many countries. Their aim is to aid consumers in determining a game's content and suitability. A game's rating is displayed on its box, in advertisements and on game web sites.

The rating has two parts: rating symbols and content descriptors. The rating symbols are found in the lower right and the lower left hand corner on the front of the box. They suggest what age group the game is best suited for. The content descriptors are found on the lower left or right hand corner on the back of the box. They describe particular content elements that may be of interest or concern.


The ESRB Rating System
ESRB Rating: eC (Early Childhood)
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)
Missing image
ESRB Rating: E10+

ESRB Rating: T (Teen)
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
ESRB Rating: AO (Adults Only)
ESRB Rating: RP (Rating Pending)

The symbols the ESRB uses are stylized depictions of alphabetical letters meant to convey at a glance a game's suitability:

  • eCEarly Childhood: Content may be suitable for children ages 3 to 10. Contains no material that parents would find inappropriate.
  • EEveryone Content may be suitable for persons ages 6 and older. May contain minimal violence and some comic mischief or crude language.
  • K-AKids to Adults Content may be suitable for persons ages 6 and older. May contain minimal violence and some comic mischief or crude language. In 1997, this rating was abandoned in favor of E.
  • E10+Everyone 10+ (added to the ESRB ratings icons on March 2, 2005): 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.
  • TTeen (in the sense of "Adults and Teens"): Content may be suitable for persons ages 13 and older. May contain violent content, mild or strong language, and/or suggestive themes.
  • MMature: Content may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. May contain mature sexual themes or more intense violence or language. Note that some retailers have a policy of not selling games with this rating to minors.
  • AOAdults Only: Content suitable only for adults, not intended for persons under the age of 18. May include graphic depictions of sex and/or violence. As of May 2003, no games have been marketed for a Sony, Microsoft, or Nintendo console with this rating, but as of 2005, there are 18 AO-rated games for Windows and Apple Macintosh computers, as well as the Phillips CD-i.
  • Rating Pending: Product has been submitted to the ESRB and is awaiting final rating. This symbol usually only appears on ads and websites for games which have not yet been released. (Equivalent to "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" in movies)
  • NR Not Rated: Game has been created before the formation of the ESRB, or the ESRB has chosen not to rate the game for one or more factors. This rating is generally rare. (Equivalent in some cases to "NR" in movies)

The equivalencies don't translate perfectly with the movie ratings, but they give a rough idea of the content.

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 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


To obtain a rating for a game, a publisher sends the ESRB videotaped footage of the game's most graphic and extreme content. The publisher also fills out a questionnaire describing the game's content.

The ESRB states on its website that three trained raters, working independently, then watch the footage and recommend a rating. If all raters agree on the rating, content descriptors are added and the ESRB notifies the publisher of its decision.

When the game is ready for release, the publisher sends copies of the final version of the game to the ESRB. The game packaging is reviewed, and the ESRB says that its in-house personnel may play the game to ensure that all the information provided during the rating process was complete and accurate. Penalties may apply to the publisher if it is eventually found that the game's content is more extreme than the publisher stated in its application.

The identities of the ESRB raters are kept confidential. Raters cannot have any ties to the computer or video game industry.

See also

External links

pl:Entertainment Software Rating Board pt:ESRB


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