The 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. This is used to describe the fact that players online may speak in inappropriate manners, or use foul language (which cannot be effectively rated by ESRB).
Titles displaying RP (ESRB: RP) have not yet received a final rating. This rating is reserved for game art created before the game's rating is finalised.
Titles rated EC (ESRB: EC) have content that is intended for young children. Contains no material that most parents would find inappropriate.
Titles rated E (ESRB: 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. Added to the ESRB ratings icons in 1997 as a replacement for the K-A rating.
Titles rated E10+ (ESRB: 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 icons on March 2, 2005.
Titles rated T (ESRB: 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.
Titles rated M (ESRB: 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.
Titles rated AO (ESRB: 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.
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.
One game, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, was released with an M rating but re-rated to AO after it was discovered that cut minigame content involving sexual intercourse could be accessed with a game modification. After developer Rockstar Games released a patched version of the game without the content, its rating was changed back to M.
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.
Former game ratings
Certain Game Ratings have been dropped in favour of newer ratings.
Kids to Adults
Titles rated K-A (ESRB: K-A) have content suitable for persons ages 6 and up. Titles in this category may contain minimal violence and some comic mischief or crude language. This rating was ended in favor of the Everyone rating in 1997 because the K-A Rating was too much of the same as the E rating.
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
- Mature Humor - Depictions 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, or drug use in music
- 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
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.
- Mature Sexual Themes - Provocative material, possibly including 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 indicate whether children's reading, computer, or other skills are used in these 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.
|ESRB (United States/Canada/Mexico)|
|PEGI (Europe) • BBFC (UK) • ELSPA (UK, retired) • USK (Germany) • VET (Finland)|
|CERO (Japan, console) • EOCS (Japan, PC/mobile) • GRB (South Korea)|
|ACB (Australia) • OFLC (New Zealand)|