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The Entertainment Software Rating Board (usually abbreviated to ESRB) was established in 1994 by the Entertainment Software Association. It is a self-regulatory body for the interactive entertainment software industry which applies and enforces ratings, advertising guidelines, and online privacy principles adopted by the computer and video game industry. It's typically the responsibility of the publisher to make the ESRB aware of any game content that may affect its rating.
Online Rating Notice
Online games that include user-generated content (e.g. chat, maps, skins) carry the notice Game Experience May Change During Online Play to warn consumers that content created by players of the game has not been rated by the ESRB, nor can the ESRB effectively rate the interaction that may take place between players, due to the potential use of inappropriate, crude, or foul language.
Video Game Ratings
|Kids-to-Adult||Titles rated K-A have content suitable for persons aged 6 and up. Titles in this category may contain minimal violence and some comic mischief or crude language. This rating was retired in favor of the E rating in 1997.||Retired|
|Rating Pending||Titles that have been designated "Rating Pending" have not yet received an ESRB rating. This rating is reserved for game art and box covers created before the game's rating is finalized, often for marketing purposes.||Advisory|
|Early Childhood||Titles rated EC have content that is intended for young children. Titles with this rating do not contain material that the average parent would find inappropriate.||Advisory|
|Everyone||Titles rated E have content that is suitable for all ages. Titles in this category may contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language. E was added to the ESRB ratings in 1997 as a replacement for the K-A rating.||Advisory|
|Ages 10+||Titles rated E10+ have content that is generally suitable for ages 10 and up. Titles in this category may contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language, and/or minimal suggestive themes. Added to the ESRB ratings on March 2, 2005.||Advisory|
|Teen||Titles rated T have content that is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. Titles in this category may contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood and/or infrequent use of strong language.||Advisory|
|Mature||Titles rated M have content that is generally suitable for persons ages 17 and up. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content, and/or strong language.||Advisory|
|Adults Only||Titles rated AO are suitable only for adults ages 18 and up. Titles in this category may include prolonged scenes of intense violence and/or graphic sexual content and nudity. Additionally, Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony will not authorize any AO-rated game for publication on their consoles or on their digital store platforms.||Advisory|
|Shares Location||This rating is assigned to video games that share between players information related to the real-world location of the player.||Advisory|
|Shares Info||This rating is assigned to video games that share between players personal information related to the player.||Advisory|
|Users Interact||This rating is assigned to video games that have the ability for two users to interact together, usually over multi-player or a shared lobby.||Advisory|
|Privacy Certified||This rating is assigned to video game websites that have made a commitment to keeping the personal information of players safe.||Advisory|
As of 2015, only 30 video games have been given this rating. Most were for strong sexual content, though three (one of which was never released) were for violence. Peak Entertainment Casinos received the rating for realistic gambling, which the developer specifically requested as part of a stated commitment to prevent underage gambling.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, was released with an M rating but re-rated to AO after it was discovered that cut mini-game content involving a crude depiction of sexual intercourse could be accessed by modifying the game files. After the developer, Rockstar North, released a patched version of the game without the content, its rating was changed back to M for all subsequent copies.
Most games are rated between the Everyone and Mature ratings. The AO rating is currently treated very harshly as the majority of video game retailers refuse to carry any games with an AO rating.
ESRB Content Descriptors
- Alcohol Reference - References to and/or images used of alcoholic beverages.
- Animated Blood - Discolored and/or unrealistic depictions of blood.
- Blood - Depictions of blood.
- Blood and Gore - Depictions of blood and/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 and/or dialogue involving slapstick or suggestive humor.
- Crude Humor - Depictions and/or dialogue involving vulgar antics, including "toilet humor".
- Drug Reference - References to and/or images used of illegal drugs.
- Edutainment - Overall content of title provides the user with specific skill development or reinforcement learning within an entertainment setting. Skill development is marketed as an integral part of the title.
- Fantasy Violence - Contains depictions of violent actions of a fantasy nature, involving human or non-human characters in situations easily distinguishable from real life.
- Informational - Overall content of the title contains data, facts, resource information, reference materials or instructional text.
- Intense Violence - Graphic and/or realistic-looking depictions of physical conflict. May involve extreme and/or realistic blood, gore, weapons, and depictions of human injury and/or death.
- Language - Mild to moderate use of profanity.
- Mature Humor - Depictions and/or dialogue involving "adult humor", including sexual references.
- Mild Violence - Mild scenes depicting characters in unsafe and/or violent situations.
- Mild Lyrics - Mild references to profanity, sexuality, violence, alcohol, and/or drug use in music.
- Nudity - Graphic or prolonged depictions of nudity.
- Partial Nudity - Brief and/or mild depictions of nudity.
- Real Gambling - Players can gamble, including betting with or wagering real 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 - Players can gamble without betting with or wagering real currency.
- Some Adult Assistance May Be Needed - Intended for very young children.
- Strong Language - Explicit and/or frequent use of profanity.
- Strong Lyrics - Explicit and/or frequent references to profanity, sex, violence, alcohol, and/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 - References to and/or images used of tobacco products.
- Use of Drugs - Depicts the consumption or use of illegal drugs.
- Use of Alcohol - Depicts the consumption or use of alcoholic beverages.
- Use of Tobacco - Depicts the consumption or use of tobacco products.
- Violence - Scenes involving aggressive conflict.
Additionally, online games that include user-generated content (e.g., chat, maps, skins) carry the notice "Game Experience May Change During Online Play" to warn consumers that content created by players of the game has not been rated by the ESRB.
The following content descriptors have been updated and are no longer used, but they may appear on games published prior to their discontinuation. Reissued games that were originally rated when the now-discontinued descriptors were used by the ESRB may still contain such descriptors on their packaging.
- Animated Blood and Gore - Cartoon or pixelated images of blood or the mutilation of body parts.
- Animated Violence - Cartoon or pixelated scenes depicting animated characters in unsafe and/or violent situations.
- Gambling - Betting-like behavior.
- Gaming - Betting-like behavior, used prior to introduction of the "Gambling" descriptor.
- Mature Sexual Themes - Provocative material, may include partial nudity.
- Mild Animated Violence - Mild cartoon or pixelated scenes depicting animated characters in unsafe and/or violent situations.
- Mild Realistic Violence - Mild photographic-like detailed depictions of characters in unsafe and/or violent situations.
- Reading Skills, Fine Motor Skills, Higher-Level Thinking Skills - These phrases are found only on products rated Early Childhood and indicated whether children's reading, computer, or other skills were used in those titles.
- Realistic Blood - Photographic-like detailed depictions of blood.
- Realistic Blood and Gore - Photographic-like detailed depictions of blood or the mutilation of body parts.
- Realistic Violence - Photographic-like detailed depictions of characters in unsafe and/or violent situations.