The Entertainment Software Ratings Board, or ESRB, is like the Motion Picture Association of America: It sets the ratings for video games, like the MPAA sets ratings for movies.
If you're a parent or buying for a child pay attention, these ratings are important. While you may never have played a game and don't understand how or why they could be inappropriate, these ratings were designed to empower consumers to make educated decisions.
The ESRB ratings are as follows:
EARLY CHILDHOOD Titles rated EC (Early Childhood) have content that may be suitable for ages 3 and older. Contains no material that parents would find inappropriate.
EVERYONE Titles rated E (Everyone) have content that may be suitable for ages 6 and older. Titles in this category may contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language.
EVERYONE 10+ Titles rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) 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 Titles rated T (Teen) 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 Titles rated M (Mature) 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 Titles rated AO (Adults Only) 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.
You can find out more about the Entertainment Software Rating Board's rating system by clicking here.
But rating video games is a little more complicated than rating movies due to their interactive nature -- it's a bit more complex than giving a violent game an "R" and a non-violent game a "G."
In addition to ratings that appear on the packaging of every game submitted to the ESRB -- and therefore games carried by the nation's leading retailers -- the board uses "Content Descriptors" that specify what gamers and parents should expect to encounter when playing a given game.
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