The Entertainment Software Rating Board (abbreviated as "ESRB") is a non-profit, self-regulatory, major rating organization in the United States. It applies ratings, creates advertising guidelines, and helps ensure online privacy practices for the software industry, most notably video games.
It uses a series of symbols for its ratings (EC, E, E10+, T, M, AO, RP) as well as a brief description of the content involved (e.g. "Strong Language").
The ESRB was established in September 1994 after controversies surrounding video games due to the improved quality of 16-bit systems that allowed video game companies to create violent products where inappropriate material (for example, blood spilling) could be seen clearly. After congressional hearings held in 1992 and 1993, the software industry was given one year to establish a rating system or the federal government would create its own, resulting in the formation of various systems such as the 3DO Rating System and those of the Videogame Rating Council (VRC) and the Recreational Software Advisory Council (RSAC). The ESRB was formed after being presented and approved in Congress, eventually leading all companies to follow their ratings.
They are a black-and-white rectangular logo with the rating's name and a prominent codification of the rating in few alphanumeric characters. The ESRB describes them as follows:
Everyone 10+ (E10+): Have content that may be suitable for ages 10 and older. Titles in this category may contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language and/or minimal suggestive themes.
Teen (T): Have content that may be suitable for ages 13 and older. Titles in this category may contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling, and/or infrequent use of strong language.
Mature (M): Have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
Adults Only (AO): Have content that should only be played by persons 18 years and older. Titles in this category may include prolonged scenes of intense violence and/or graphic sexual content and nudity.
Additionally, there's the no longer used Kids to Adults (K-A) rating that was replaced by the Everyone (E) mentioned above.
These are brief explanations for the content within the game. They consist of a title and an explanation of the respective content as follows:
- 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
- Fantasy Violence - Violent actions of a fantasy nature, involving human or non-human characters in situations easily distinguishable from real life
- 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
- Lyrics - Mild references to profanity, sexuality, violence, alcohol or drug use in music
- Mature Humor - Depictions or dialogue involving "adult" humor, including sexual references
- 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 Content - Non-explicit depictions of sexual behavior, possibly including partial nudity
- Sexual Themes - References to sex or sexuality
- Sexual Violence - Depictions of rape or other violent sexual acts
- Simulated Gambling - Player can gamble without betting or wagering real cash or currency
- 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 - Explicit and/or frequent 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. May contain bloodless dismemberment
- Violent References - References to violent acts
The word "mild" may be used to imply a lesser severity of the inappropriateness of the content described (for example "Mild Lyrics").