ESRB Video Game Ratings Explained – Do Parents Really Care?

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It’s been a decade since ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board), the popular self-regulatory organization for video games’ content established. Now, it has become a de facto standard for the content ratings in the overall game industry. Here, I’d like to raise two questions.

  • Can ESRB have succeeded in bringing right changes in the gaming industry?
  • Do we need a rating system for computer/video games?

Let’s address the second question first. In a survey conducted by ESRB in the United States last year, 84% of the parents who have participates are aware of ESRB ratings, while 69% of them used to regularly check these ratings before purchasing a game for their kids.

Fifteen years before, exactly in the year 2000, ESRB had conducted another survey on the US taking the same number of parents. Then, they could that – only 61% are aware of ESRB and its rating system.

Yes, parents are transforming. They care the content appropriate for their kids. Ratings have become a scale of what content will be present to kids.

The Role of ESRB in Video Game Content Regulation

ESRB was established on 1994 by Entertainment Software Association. Its objective is to inform consumers about the content of games it reviewed. Such a rating can be seen on a game’s package, on ads, or in game sites. ESRB uses a two-part rating system which includes a rating system that suggests age-appropriateness, and content descriptors to show the content based on which the rating is based.

Identification of Ratings

ESRB ratings are identified through their icons, that are displayed on the game package.

EC (Early Childhood): Game labelled with EC tag have content suitable for kids from 3 years. It won’t have any material that parents need to care about. Most of these games would be educational in nature.

E (Everyone): Appropriate to children over 6+ years. Games in this category may have minimal violence. Games like Super Mario Bros are examples.

E10+(Everyone teen and older): Clearly specifies that unsuitable to children under 10 years of age. It may contain animated blood and mild violence.

T(Teen): Games classified under this label are unsuitable for kids under age 13. These games may contain violence, suggestive themes, moderate language, minimal blood-gore, etc. The Sims series is a perfect example.

M(Mature): Here, the content would be only appropriate for the age 17 and above. These games are characterized by intense violence, blood-gore, sexual themes, strong language, etc. Resident Evil series, Call of Duty series are examples.

AO (Adults Only): Any games featured in this category are not suitable for those aged under 18. Most of these games may contain intense sex/nudity, extreme violence that includes blood and gore. Nowadays, major game console manufacturers are strictly prohibiting the release/sale of AO rated games on their consoles.

RP (Rating Pending): If a publisher has submitted its product and awaiting the rating, it will be marked with RP rating.

Now, it’s the time to look at our first question. Till now in the US, there’re no federal laws that prevent the sale of violent games to children. Here comes the relevance of ESRB. For parents, these ratings offer a great way to choose the right game for their kids. ESRB adopts most effective attributes of MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) guidelines to improve their enforcement mechanism.

Today, ESRB is the most comprehensive parental guidance system in the gaming industry. Its current rating system is undoubtedly effective in providing moms and dads the right suggestion – to choose games right for their children.

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