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ESRB - North America's Video Game Rating System Explained Print E-mail
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Written by Christophor "SuperGuido" Rick   
Tuesday, 06 November 2007


The ESRB (Entertainment Software Ratings Board) is a North American organization that was created out of the video game violence controversy. It set forth to label games with appropriate ratings, similar to TV and film, so that children were protected from certain types of content deemed unsuitable for them. The major emphasis on the ratings is whether or not the game contains a specific level of violence. In the higher ratings it includes sex, language and situations. I will use two people and a hotel room as a demonstration model for the ratings.

The EC or Early Childhood rating denotes games that are suitable for children 3 years and older. These games should contain no material that parents would find unsuitable or inappropriate for children. The rating does not take into account the complexity of the game which may be far more than many children can cope with. This software should have no expletives or possibly offensive language. Nor should it have any violence. Two people may go into a hotel room and while remaining fully clothed play cards or watch television or have dinner. Games with this rating include: Strawberry Shortcake and Her Berry Best Friends, John Deere: Busy Days in Deerfield Valley, Dora the Explorer Activity GameKey

The E for Everyone rating denotes games that are suitable for those 6 years and older. The software may contain a modicum of “cartoon, fantasy of mild violence” as well as “infrequent use of mild language.” So there might be a damn or hell in here as well as a cartoon cat hitting a cartoon mouse with a mallet. Tom & Jerry would probably not even qualify for this due to the level of violence in that cartoon, yet I grew up watching it and I am not a serial killer. Two people may go into a hotel room and hit each other with pillows but must remain fully clothed. Games with this rating include: Myth Makers: Orbs of Doom, Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom, College Hoops 2K8, Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity

The E10+ stands for Everyone 10 years and older. These games have more violence than the E games as well as mild language. In addition, what sets these games apart from the E games is that there may be “minimal suggestive themes.” Two people could go into a hotel room, get into bed together (no nudity though) and the lights could go out. That’s suggestive right? Games with this rating include: Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates, Need for Speed: Pro Street, OMEGA FIVE, The Golden Compass

The next step in the game ratings is T for Teen. These games will generally have the same as the E10+ games but will additionally include some form of crude humor (like fart jokes?), an occasional splash of blood, simulated gambling and strong language ( probably along the lines of shit and asshole) on occasion. These games are distanced from the E10+ games by the level of language, the inclusion of blood and simulated (not for real money) gambling. The blood is generally in sprays from violence but does not land on and/or remain on the ground. It simply disappears. The crude humor inclusion here makes me laugh because every 10-year-old boy makes crude jokes. It’s part of being 10-12 years old right? Well we don’t want them to get ahead of themselves I suppose. Our two people and the hotel room stands but might include some sounds coming from the darkened bedroom which would probably make some teens say “EWW!”Games with this rating include: SOUL CALIBUR Legends, BlackSite: Area 51, Fantasy Wars, Final Fantasy XI: Wings of the Goddess, Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law

Following on we have M for Mature audiences. While maturity may generally be thought of as a subjective term it has been defined for games. These games will include a harsher or more realistic violence including blood and gore. Gore is defined as blood that has become thick of clotted, so in a game this would generally be blood splattered on a wall or floor and remaining there. It could also include some internal organs I suppose. M games also include sexual content which goes beyond the two people entering a hotel room where we are now seeing them get into bed and move around under the covers and make noises, still no nudity. At 17 years old I’m fairly certain that people (they are no longer children in my mind) know all about sex, after all it’s taught in schools isn’t it? Lastly these games contain strong language as the Teen games do but perhaps in more abundance. Games with this rating include: Painkiller: Overdose, HAZE, Alpha Prime, Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles, Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Zombie Ninja Pro-Am
There is but one rating level left, AO or Adults only, which has a sense of being ‘taboo’ in America and for which both Sony and Nintendo reserve the right to disallow a game to be sold for their consoles. Imagine if a computer manufacturer, Apple or Microsoft decided they would not allow certain games and software to be sold for their computers or operating systems because they deemed it too ‘graphic’ for their users. I would be infuriated because it shows that the companies believe me unable to make my own decisions and that they believe they can manage my life better than I can. Being an adult means being old enough to make these decisions and being responsible for them. It does not mean having our decisions dictated to us by others, yet both Sony and Nintendo feel the need to do just that.

Honestly I see nothing wrong with this rating and feel it should not carry with it any negative connotation. Films have been made for decades that have been aimed at adults only and these games should be no different. The major difference between an M and an AO game is simply the length and intensity of the violence and the graphic depiction of sex accompanied, of course, by nudity. So back to our hotel room where we now see the two people take their clothes off and flop down on top of the covers to get it on. Ding! AO rating. Oddly you can see similar things in some films which carry a lower rating albeit in a ‘softer’ fashion with creatively designed shadows. American television has even been known to go so far as to show the naked backside of certain actors and actresses and that’s the most prudish media in the world. Games with this rating include: Playboy the Mansion: Private Party, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude Uncut and Uncensored, Crystal Fantasy
In addition to the ratings there are a set of content descriptions so you know more about what the games actually entail. I will cover these in another article. But before you go you should also know about the RP or Rating Pending symbol. [IMAGE] This symbol is used in advertising and information about a game that has not been assigned a specific rating yet. It means the content has been submitted to the ESRB and should have a rating by release time. To find out what rating a game got from the ESRB head over to their site and search on it.

Oddly three emails went unanswered which I find strange for an organization that is suppose to be serving the interests of the general public.  

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Last Updated ( Tuesday, 06 November 2007 )
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