The following quote is taken directly from the ESRB’s website.
“The ESRB is a non-profit, self-regulatory body that independantly assigns ratings, enforces advertising guidelines, and helps ensure responsible online privacy practices for the interactive entertainment software industry.”
But what does that all mean? Basically the ESRB works similarly to the way the MPAA works in regards to movie ratings. Developers of games send materials from the games they are working on to the ESRB in order for them to rate the game on the following scale:
EC = Early Childhood. These are games designed for children ages 3 and up. These games will not have any material that is objectionable.
E = Everyone. These games are designed for players ages 6 and up. These games are generally going to have anything up to mild cartoon violence and may have some mild language.
E10 = Everyone ages 10 and up. These games will have more than mild cartoon violence, mild language, and minimal suggestive themes.
T = Teen. Titles in this category may contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling, and/or infrequent use of strong language.
M = Mature. These games are for audiences ages 17 and up. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
AO = These games are for audiences ages 18 and up. Titles in this category may include prolonged scenes of intense violence and/or graphic sexual content and nudity.
RP = Rating Pending. This rating is used for games that have either not been sent to the ESRB yet or are awaiting a rating from the ESRB.
Well now you know what the ratings are, but what exactly do each of these things mean? Well I’ll try to spell it out for you as best as I can.
Games rated EC and E are generally going to be found on games that are targeted towards children and/or families. These games are going to many times be based on popular cartoon characters or popular characters in video games such as Mario or Sonic the Hedgehog. Many of these games will be educational, or easy enough for anyone in the family to be able to play. You will generally not have any problems with anyone in your house wanting to play these games. Some examples of games that will fall into these categories are Mario Party, Wii Sports, Dora the Explorer, or Viva Pinata.
Games that are rated E10 are going to be targeted towards older kids. They may have more examples of cartoon style violence such as animated blood or mild use of language. They will not contain any harsh language, realistic violence or nudity. They may also be too difficult for children under 10 to really have fun playing. Some examples of games in this category are Dance, Dance Revolution, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, or the Worms series of games.
Games that are rated T are targeted towards players who are 13 years old or older. This is where games will begin to depict more realistic violence such as shooting realistic looking characters, or blood that begins to look real. They also begin to have language that is more harsh than the other categories. Some examples of games in this category are: Guitar Hero, Metroid, Call of Duty or the Sims 2.
Games that are rated M are targeted towards audiences that are 17 years old or older. They carry penalties that can include monetary fines if sold to persons under 17 years old. They can be bought by people over 17 and given to players that would be too young to buy them. These games will include prolonged scenes or graphic violence, realistic violence, blood, nudity, intense/profane language and sexual content. Some examples of games in this category are God of War, Gears of War, Resident Evil, Halo and Mortal Kombat.
Games that are rated AO are intended for audiences 18 years old and older. These games will generally be very graphic in nature. This can include ultra realistic violence against characters who are or appear to be human, intense sexual contact, prolonged periods of nudity, and excessive language. Many retail outlets such as Wal-Mart and Target will not sell these games on their shelves. Console manufacturers do not allow games rated AO to be played on their systems. You will mainly find games rated AO on PC’s. Recently there has been some controversy over Take-Two’s game Manhunt 2 which was rated AO in the US and not allowed a rating in other parts of the world. Examples of games in this category are Manhunt 2, Playboy: the Mansion, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, or Thrill Kill.
That is just a beginning course on exactly what the ESRB is and what you can expect from them. Generally if you follow their suggestions you have a good starting point as to what to expect from a game you may purchase. These cannot be taken as strict guidelines and you should so some additional research on a game to find out more about it. Many review sites such as this one or Gamespot.com, or IGN.com will have detailed information on what kind of content is in a game. You may also be able to find out information about a game from the publishers website. If you have any questions you may contact myself and I may be able to help you with where you can find the information to make an informed decision to protect yourself and your family.