What are ESRB Ratings?

J. Beam

ESRB ratings are ratings, much like motion picture ratings, assigned to all interactive video game and software titles. ESRB ratings are handed down by the Entertainment Software Rating Board for the purpose of helping parents identify the age appropriateness of a video or computer game. Though ESRB ratings are subjective, the process for assigning a rating is pretty thorough.

Video games are assigned ESRB ratings.
Video games are assigned ESRB ratings.

Though software publishers are not required to obtain ESRB ratings, most titles sold in retail stores throughout the United States and Canada have an assigned ESRB rating. The process for obtaining a rating begins with a submission of information regarding the content of a game. The publisher submits a questionnaire and other material such as scripts, screenshots, and frequently beta versions of the game that raters use to determine which rating to assign. ESRB ratings are based on the occurrence of specific content including language, violence, sex, drug use, and gambling.

ESRB ratings are based on the occurrence of such things as violence, sex and gambling in video games and software products.
ESRB ratings are based on the occurrence of such things as violence, sex and gambling in video games and software products.

The current ESRB ratings are as follows:

  • EC is a rating of Early Childhood. This means a game contains no inappropriate content and could be considered safe for children 3 and up.
  • E is a rating of Everyone and indicates that a title contains content that is considered appropriate for children 6 and over. A title with an E rating may contain minimal amounts of cartoon or animated violence and/or mild language.
  • E 10+ is an assigned rating of Everyone 10 and up. A title with an E 10+ rating may contain more frequent animated violence and mild language along with possible mildly suggestive themes.
  • T is a Teen rating and is assigned to a title that is considered appropriate for ages 13 and over. Titles with this rating may contain any combination of violence, crude humor, simulated gambling, and/or infrequent, but strong language.
  • M is a rating of Mature and means the content is not considered suitable for people under 17. A title with an M rating may contain suggestive themes, sexual content, blood and gore, intense violence, and strong language.
  • AO is a rating that means adults only. This rating indicates that a title has content that is only suitable for adults over the age of 18 and may contain any combination of strong language, intense violence, and prolonged scenes of intense or graphic sexual content, nudity, drug use, and other suggestive themes.
  • RP indicates that a rating is pending and means that the information has been submitted to the ESRB and is awaiting the final rating. This applies to titles that are advertised prior to their release.

ESRB ratings are designed to help parents be selective about the video and computer games they allow their children to play. By further examining the ESRB rating box located on the game’s packaging, consumers will find a brief description of the content that led to the game’s final rating. By using ESRB ratings as a guideline to age appropriateness, parents can have more control over what their children play. However, it should be noted that this is not a foolproof system and parents are still responsible for previewing any game that may concern them before their child plays.

Family-friendly video games are rated EC or E, meaning "early childhood" and "everyone."
Family-friendly video games are rated EC or E, meaning "early childhood" and "everyone."

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Discussion Comments


It's funny how some games can be rated E for Everyone, and yet they slip in some adult jokes here and there. However, some of these jokes are so sneakily crafted, that they go unnoticed to most people.

@Chmander - Ha ha, I know which game you're referring to, I played that a few years ago. I almost rented it when I was little, but my parents wouldn't allow me too. All I can say is that Conker's Bad Fur day is one of the most crude, nonsensical, yet hilarious games I've ever played. The story is pretty confusing, but some of the jokes will have you rolling on the floor. For example, about halfway through the game, you fight a boss called the Great Mighty Poo. As you guessed, he's essentially a living pile of feces.

Regardless of the ESRB ratings, it's always a good idea for parents to monitor what kinds of video games their kids play. A while back, when I was around eight years old, I remember playing a game called Conker's Bad Fur Day. Though it's very crude, the cover makes you think otherwise, and looks very kid friendly. Little did I know I was in for quite a surprise when I popped it into my Nintendo 64. Has anyone else played it?

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