The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is a self-regulatory organization that assigns age and content ratings, enforces industry-adopted advertising guidelines, and ensures responsible online privacy principles for computer and video games and other entertainment software in Canada and the United States.
The ESRB was established in 1994 by the Entertainment Software Association (formerly Interactive Digital Software Association). By late 2009, it had assigned nearly 18,000 ratings to titles submitted by more than 350 publishers.
One of the reasons the ESRB was founded was due to violent content found in video games such as Night Trap, Mortal Kombat and Doom, as well as other controversial video games portraying overly violent or intense sexual situations at the time.
The ESRB assigns ratings to games based on their content, similar to the motion picture rating systems used in many countries. Their aim is to aid consumers in determining a game's content and suitability. A game's rating is displayed on its box, the media, in advertisements and on the game's Website(s).
The rating system is strictly voluntary, however nearly all video games are submitted for rating due to the fact that many retail stores prohibit the sale of unrated video games and the major console manufacturers will not license games for their systems unless they carry ESRB ratings.
The symbols ESRB uses are stylized depictions of alphabetical letters meant to convey at a glance the game's
suitability. ESRB currently uses 7 different ratings.
|eC||Early Childhood (2-10)||Since 1994||Contains content that is considered suitable for children 2-10 years of age . Games with this rating contain no material that parents or educators would find inappropriate. Games that fall under this rating are specifically intended for young children and are usually educational in nature. Examples of these games are games based on childhood TV shows.|
|E||Everyone (All Ages)||Since 1998||Contains content that might be considered suitable for all years of age. Titles in this category may contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence. Examples of Everyone games include Sonic Adventure, The Legend of Zelda, the Mario series, and Lego Star Wars: The Video Game.|
|E10+||Everyone 10+||Since 2005||Contains content that might be considered unsuitable for children under 10 years of age. Titles in this category may contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language, animated blood and/or minimal suggestive themes. The ESRB introduced the E10+ rating on March 2, 2005; Donkey Kong Jungle Beat being the first game to receive this rating. Examples of E10+ games include Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition, Madagascar, Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga, Kingdom Hearts II, The Legend of Spyro Trilogy, Crash of the Titans, Crash Mind over Mutant, Sonic Unleashed, Spore, and Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts.|
|T||Teen (13+)||Since 1994||Contains content that might be considered unsuitable for children under 13 years of age. Titles in this category may contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling, and/or infrequent use of moderate language. Examples of Teen games include WWE SmackDown vs. Raw, The Sims series, Guitar Hero series, earlier games from Call of Duty, and Impossible Creatures. This is the highest unrestricted rating.|
|M||Mature (17+)||Since 1994||Contains content that might be considered unsuitable for people under 17 years of age. Titles in this category may contain intense violence (more so than in the Teen category), blood and gore, sexual themes/content, use of alcohol/drugs, and frequent use of strong language. Examples of Mature games include Halo, Fallout 3, Resident Evil, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas, Gears of War, Hitman: Contracts, Dark Sector, The Grand Theft Auto series, The Mortal Kombat Series, and Manhunt. Many retailers Target and Wal-Mart in the United States, have a policy of not selling games with this rating to younger teenagers and others under the age of 17 without parental presence and approval. Currently, M-rated symbols have 17+ next to the word "Mature".|
|AO||Adults Only (18+)||Since 1994||Windows and Macintosh|Apple Macintosh computers, as well as the CD-i. The AO rating is the subject of ongoing, heated controversy due to the extreme restrictions it places on game sales. Most of the major video game console manufacturers (such as Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft) strictly prohibit the release and sale of AO-rated games on their consoles. Games from major publishers that receive an AO rating are often 'toned down' in order to gain the lesser rating of M such as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Manhunt 2.|
|RP||Rating Pending||Since 1994||Product has been submitted to the ESRB and is awaiting final rating. This symbol appears only in advertising prior to a game's release. However, once rated, all pre-release advertising must contain the game's official ESRB rating.|
The following ratings are no longer used, but they may appear on games published prior to their discontinuation.
|KA||Kids to Adults (6+)||1994-1998||Contains content that may be suitable for ages 6 and older. These titles will appeal to people of many ages and tastes. Titles in this category may contain minimal violence, some comic mischief (i.e. slapstick and gross-out comedy), or some crude language. It was replaced with Everyone in early 1998.|
Mortal Kombat was the first game to be rated M.