Rating System of Video Games: What is this?

                                “WARNING, RATING POLICE AHEAD”

To be honest, I haven’t paid much attention to the rating system of video games. I don’t pay attention to the rating systems of movies either. I have always felt it was just another symbol created by the government trying to tell us what to do.

I’m a sixty-two-year-old adult. I usually buy, watch or play whatever I want. But this is not about me. It is about what our kids are watching and playing.

I agree we do need a rating system for video games. I wouldn’t want a six-year-old playing some of the horror, violent or gore games out today. Our culture is flooded with images of violence, sex, and drug or alcohol references. Our kids are bombarded with this stuff constantly. The games kids play should not add to the problems of our world.

                                       “FREEDOM IS NOT FREE”

I want to fair about this very delicate subject. Kids are one of our most precious treasures in life, and we need to protect them when necessary. But on the other hand, we don’t want “Big government” controlling what we do in the privacy of our homes. It’s a delicate balance.

So, let’s get started.

What is the rating system of video games? According to Wikipedia, it is a system used for classifying video games into suitability-related groups, for example, kids, teens, or adults.

Most of the rating systems of video games are associated with or sponsored by the state or federal government. Sometimes they are part of the movie rating system Movie Picture Association of America (MPAA). I think most of us are familiar with the “R” or “PG” rating of movies we watch. The MPAA was created in 1968.

History of the rating system of video games:

                    “RELEASE THE DRAGON”

The idea of a rating system of video games arose from the controversies concerning the violence depicted in the video game Mortal Kombat. This game is a “one to one” fighting game. Compared to some of the games today, Mortal Kombat is tame.

This controversy about the violence in video games led to a United States congressional hearing in 1993. The whole gaming industry was scrutinized because of the level of violence in video games.

After the hearings, Joe Lieberman introduced the Video Game Rating Act of 1994. This act proposed a government oversight committee which would create a rating system for video games.

The threat of this legislation forced the gaming industry to come up with a rating system to police themselves. They didn’t want the government controlling the video game industry.

In April of 1994, video game companies formed the Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA). Some of the companies include Capcom, Electronic Arts, Konami, Microsoft, Bandai Namco Entertainment, Nintendo, Sony Interactive Entertainment, Square Enix, Take-Two Interactive, Ubisoft, and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.

These companies are major players in the gaming industry still to this day.

The IDSA created the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB). This is the current system used today to rate video games.

On July 21, 2003, the association was renamed Entertainment Software Association (ESA). This is the trade association of the gaming industry in the United States. They are located in Washington, DC.

What does the EAS do?

The main job of the EAS is to oversee the ESRB. They also organize the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). This is an electronic trade show which presents new products and new concepts on the horizon. The first one took place in Los Angeles, California in May of 1995. It was a huge hit and continues every year.

The EAS battles any legislation harmful to the gaming industry. They are involved in lobbying at state and federal government levels. In the first quarter of 2011, the ESA spent $1.1 million on lobbying efforts.

The EAS also combats and reduces copyright infringement of video game-related works for the companies it represents. They work with Google to take down hosting sites that violate copyright laws.

I hope we now know what the rating system is and how the EAS functions. Let’s look at the ESRB rating system and how it works.

Before I get started, I know if kids playing certain video games are left unchecked problems can arise. For example, some studies link playing violent games to increased violence in the player. I have written a post about this subject. The title is “Do Video Games Promote Violence?” I am providing the link if you are interested in reading it.


Let’s do this my fellow gamers:

                    “THE ADVENTURE BEGINS”

The big “EC” means “Early Childhood”. Games with this rating are suitable for kids age 3 and up. Parents would approve the material used in the games. Most are instructional in nature. Two examples are “Dragon Tales: Learn & Fly with Dragons” and “Blue’s Clue: Blue Takes You to School”.

I am including a link here for parents. There are over 64 games listed. Parents can pick and choose what they deem appropriate for their kids. https://www.mobygames.com/attribute/sheet/attributeId,89/offset,0/so,0a/

                             “RUN, CRASH, RUN”

The big “E” general means everyone. Good news parents, this category is suitable for all ages, even the little ones. The game may contain cartoon, fantasy, or mild violence and mild language. “Super Mario Brothers” and “Sonic the Hedgehog” are two very popular games with this rating. Mario first appeared in “Donkey Kong” in 1981. He wasn’t called “Mario”, his name was “Jump Man”. For almost 40 years, our little friend, “Mario” has brought joy and fun to our video game world. Thank you, little buddy, “Let’s Game”.

This one is the big “E 10+”. All this means it is recommended for kids 10 years or older. It may contain more cartoon, fantasy, mild violence, mild language, or minimal suggestive themes.

                              “WELCOME TO MINECRAFT”

First, I must say something here. What the heck is mild violence, mild language, or suggestive themes?

Where I come from violence is violence, bad language is bad language, and suggestive means you are suggesting something. It can’t be any worse than watching “Bugs Bunny or the Road Runner”. Yes, I still like watching the older cartoons. My favorite character is Frog Horn Leg Horn. He has a southern twang as I do. I love it.

Perfect examples of these games are “Rachet and Clank” (I love playing this game) and “Minecraft” and most of the Lego games. “Minecraft” has over 40,000,0000 registered players.

                                          “THE DARK KNIGHT”

These games are recommended for kids age 13 and up. They may contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling, and use of strong language.

There is an awesome variety of games in this rating category. You can be a superhero like “Batman” or “Spiderman”. You can rock the house with “Guitar Hero: Metallica”. If you like the thrill of driving high-powered race cars, then “Need for Speed: Most Wanted” is a must-have game.

This is my favorite groups of games.

                        “THIS SERIES IS AMAZING”

Games in this category are appropriate for ages 17 and up. There could be intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content, and strong language.

The “Call of Duty franchise”, “Assassin’s Creed”, and “Skyrim” are popular games within this rating of a mature audience. The graphics are amazing. I will admit there is a lot of killings in these types of games. “Skyrim” has a massive world to explore and many challenging conquests for players.

A lot of good games in this category. But parents need to exercise caution for young kids playing mature rated games.

Oh yeah, all the games I mentioned, I have. I love playing them.

                           “WHERE DID WE PUT THAT SHOVEL?”

There is not much different from the rating for Mature. The adult rating for this age group is 18 and up. Like the Mature rating, more intense and prolonged violence, graphic sexual content, and gambling.

Some of these games I have not heard of and I wouldn’t really care to play. For example, there is a game called, “Playboy: The Mansion”. I don’t feel comfortable playing a game with this much sexual content. I can take some but not this much.

Another popular series of games is the “Grand Theft Auto” franchise. “Grand Theft Auto V” alone, sold over 85 million copies. That is a lot of video games. I have this game and I really enjoy playing it. It was fun playing the villain’s role. It is kinda like watching the movie “Goodfellas” being in that “gangster” world.

Now I admit this game is rough and raw. I would not recommend it for the little ones. But I would play it with my granddaughter.

                      “WE WILL SEE”

Games with the rating have not been assigned a final ESRB rating yet. The symbol only appears in advertising, marketing, and promotional material. The rating will change as soon as final ESRB has been assigned.

It really kind of hard to list any games in this rating category. By the time people read this post, the rating assignment will probably be changed.

ESRB Content Descriptors:


I’m assuming “Content Descriptors” means it describes the content. That is the definition we are going with, so hang on.

  • Alcohol Reference: Somebody is having a drink.
  • Animated Blood: Images of cartoon blood.
  • Blood: Images of more realistic blood.
  • Blood and Gore:  More blood or the ripping apart of body parts.
  • Cartoon Violence: Road Runner causes Wiley Coyote to run off the cliff again. It’s still funny no matter how many times it happens.
  • Comic Mischief: Slapstick humor and language are still funny.
  • Crude Humor: I wonder if this includes bad jokes? The humor may be vulgar.
  • Drug Reference: People getting high or talking about getting high.
  • Edutainment: The player is getting educated by learning a new ability or skills while being entertained.  A good combination.
  • Fantasy Violence: Violence in these games maybe between humans or other creatures of our imagination.  World of Warcraft is a great example.
  • Real Gambling: How ’bout a game of “Texas Holdem” or “Blackjack”.
  • Informational: These games are more than just fun. Players can learn facts and about the historical settings of a game.
  • Intense Violence: Parents should use extreme caution with these types of games. War, destruction, and death are common themes.
  • Mature Humor: This may include adult jokes that may not be appropriate for kids.
  • Mature Sexual Themes: These games will reference sex and may have partial nudity.
  • Language: This includes profanity and references to sex, violence, drugs, and alcohol.
  • Lyrics: Practicality the same as the language descriptor but put to music.
  • Mild Violence: Probably not life-threatening violence, but enough that could lead to a knot on the players head.
  • Nudity: Prolonged images of nudity. It may include full nudity.
  • Partial Nudity: This has brief scenes of partial nudity, usually from the waist up.
  • Sexual Violence: Parents really need to watch for this description of a video game. It could have images of rape or other violent sex acts. Not for kids of any age.
  • Some Adult Assistance May Be Needed: May need adult supervision just to b safe.
  • Strong Language: More of the same problem with the language description. Probably considered a lot harsher and rougher.
  • Strong Lyrics: More rough language put to music.
  • Strong Sexual Content: Even more references to sex and nudity.
  • Suggestive Themes: The theme is suggesting something, more sex or more violence.
  • Tobacco Reference: Lighting up a cigarette.
  • Use of drugs: About getting high.
  • Use of Alcohol: As repeated before, somebody is having a drink in the gameplay.
  • Use of Tobacco: Sounds like the same thing in “tobacco reference”.
  • Violence: A lot of the games today will some form of violence, whether it be in a war setting or fighting off deadly zombies.

Please take note. Some of these descriptions are repeats of other descriptions like the drug or alcohol descriptors. It is worded a little different.

Resource: http://www.esrb.org/ratings/ratings_guide.aspx

I hope this explanation of the video game rating system is a little bit clearer now. Having a better understanding of the ESRB system can help parents make more informed decisions about which games are suitable for their kids.

This is so important. I don’t want to see young children subject to games that are too violent or too nasty for young minds. There will be plenty of that stuff when they are grown.

But on the other side of the coin, I don’t want the government or some rating system telling me what I can and cannot play in the privacy of my home.

However, I need to understand a lot of people have kids at home and video game content can be an issue. In my case, it is just my wife, Cindy, our two cats, Sassy and Calle, and me.

I don’t have the burden so many parents have today. It is important to protect what our kids are playing and watching. I know this is not easy for parents. There is a fine line between being protective and being over-protective.

                                  “MAY OUR PACK RUN FREE AND STRONG”

I hope this post has been helpful.

Please leave me any thoughts or comments below. You can also email me at johnny@gamingwithgrandpa.com. 

johnny, the Grey Wolf, Watcher of the Woods.

14 thoughts on “Rating System of Video Games: What is this?

  1. Ah, the GTA Series was one of my favorites while growing up. I admit that I was only ten when my cousin and I started playing the game and now that I think of it, probably shouldn’t have been, but nonetheless half the middle school we went to played GTA, so it was a thing back then.

    As I grew older, my favorites were more  in the E, E10, and T series, mainly sports games like the Madden NFL Series, NHL Series, and UFC, among others. I played a lot of Madden NFL while listening to online university lectures! 

    • Hi Todd, 

      I am a big fan of the GTA series as well. I love playing GTA V. I hate saying this, but playing the gangster role is fun. It like being part of a movie like “Goodfellas”. I do agree these games are rough and raw. I wouldn’t want young kids playing this game. With that being said kids will play what they what to play. 

      We do need a rating system to help parents understand what their kids are playing. 

      That’s pretty cool you played Madden while listening to lectures. Which one did you learn the most from, Madden or the lectures?  

      I like playing sports games, but I am not very good at them, but they are fun to play. 

      What games are you playing currently? I recently ordered Assassin’s Creed Origins and Spider-Man. I am looking forward to playing “Spidey”. 

      Thank you so much for your thoughts, Todd. 

      johnny, the Grey Wolf, Watcher of the Woods. 

  2. Hi Johnny Grey Wolf,

    Like you, I’m on the wrong side of sixty! Once I got past all the government legal crap, I was ready to be educated. I was going to say, I haven’t seen, but really I haven’t looked. I’m a late starter in the family business and my two boys both gamers are teens. The youngest at 14 is into building stuff on Roblox. The 17-year-old is into Skyrim. He started playing this when he was 16 but that was my decision. These ratings are only for guidance, right? Still a good idea to help the parents decide. Thanks, mate.


    • Hi Paul, 

      What do mean Paul, the wrong side of sixty? You sound okay to me. I am a 62-year-old kid. Do you play yourself? If so, what do you play? Also, do you ever play with your two boys? 

      You are correct, these are guidelines. Parents should always be involved in what games their kids are playing, no matter what the rating. 

      I have not played Roblox, but I have played Skyrim. In fact, I still have a copy in my video game library. Skyrim is a beautiful game. The graphics are amazing and I love the story. Plus, it’s pretty cool running around the countryside swinging a broad sword batting dragons. I love it. 

      Thanks for your comments, Paul. 

      johnny, the Grey Wolf, Watcher of the Woods. 

  3. I agree with you that trying to protect our kids by preventing them from playing video games that are way out of their age group restriction can be like a burden to them but I do have a technique I use with my son. Instead of allowing him all alone to explore his gaming options, I make sure that we do play games together in order to be sure the contents are safe for his age. This is a very exhaustive post and full of insights. Thanks for sharing this post

    • Hello RoDarrick, 

      It can be hard protecting our kids from every little thing that crosses their paths. Parents try to do the best they can. It sounds like you are doing that, good job. 

      Your technique you use with your son is right on. This is one of the points I make in some of my posts. It’s about spending time with your son. You’re doing things he likes to do. But he needs to be open to things you want to do as father and son. It should be a give and take relationship. 

      Thanks for your comments, RoDarrick. 

      johnny, the Grey Wolf, Watcher of the Woods. 

  4. Hi Johnny,

    I don’t have kids yet so I don’t pay too much attention to these ratings. I always wonder how young kids are allowed to play some really violent or graphic games though. I don’t like them and I am an adult. I really think they are not healthy for kids. It presents a distorted view of the world if kids spend hours and hours every day killing things or raping people! My husband has some video and computer games that involve lots of interesting scenery but is all about the killing. I always ask him “Why can’t they make a game with all this scenery that isn’t focused on killing?”. I guess I am a girly girl in that regard. I grew up in the Alaskan bush so I am pretty tough. We had to be totally self sufficient. We didn’t have a road (fly in only) and dog team, snow machine, airplane and 4-wheeler were the modes of transportation. There was no grocery store, school or hospital for hundreds of miles. For that reason, we had to be extremely careful. You never wanted a serious injury because it would likely be days before you could get help. I climbed mountains, hunted, fished, split firewood, crossed rivers, drove snow machines, ran dog teams through the winter cold, helped mill lumber, gold mine etc. and never broke a bone or needed stitches. You can have a very full life without violence.

    Some games are great and contain educational content and other forms of entertainment that are not pure violence. I am not saying all games are bad. I just don’t understand how parents can let their kids play the really gory ones. 

    Thanks for your measured and reasonable review here. It makes sense to me!


    • Hi Jessica,

      Thank you for your comments. I enjoyed your story about growing up in Alaska. It sounds like that would make a good video game. It could focus on the adventures of living and surviving in the wilds of Alaska. Also, the beautiful scenery is breathtaking.

      Not all video games are about killing. I agree a lot of them are and parents do need to monitor what their kids are playing. The rating system of video games is not perfect, but they do offer some guidelines. Every parent will have to make their own choices concerning their kids. 

      I understand how you feel about the violence in a video game. But let’s be honest killing or violence in a game is not real. The killing and raping in our world is real. Just look at the news. 

      I know some kids are vulnerable to influences of what they play or watch. But when a kid is bullied at school or abuse by a parent, that can cause more damage to that child than a game. We have to be so careful. 

      I am glad you have a full life without violence. But most people or someone they love has been affected by some form of violence whether it be physical, verbal, or emotional. 

      We live in a very violent world. We are constantly bombarded with stories of murders, cheating, corruption, rapes, addiction, abuse of kids and the elderly, and conflicts of wars. It has been this way ever since Cain bashed in Abel’s head. 

      I think some of the violent games are a reflection of our society, but they are not the cause. I know there are some extreme cases where people go off the deep end and do violent things. 

      Video games are here to stay, whether they are violent or not. There is too much money to be made. Big bucks is a huge driving force in the gaming industry. But that is the same force behind the movie and television industries as well. 

      Thank you for your honest and straightforward thoughts, Jessica. 

      johnny, the Grey Wolf, Watcher of the Woods. 

  5. It’s good to know that manufacturers of video games in the United States now have a rating system that will guide buyers. And since we are just importing from the United States, we Asian countries, then we will benefit from this as well. In my opinion, the primary group that will be pleased by this are the parents, not much the individual buyer who is just buying the game for himself. Like you said, we do not want a certain group like the government dictating us what to buy or play in the privacy of our room. But all in all, this is a good development in the industry of video games.

    • Hi Gomer, 

      Thank you for your comments. 

      The video gaming industry needs to police themselves. Left unchecked the industry can get out-of-control. I am glad the rating system is a benefit to other countries. it’s funny how the whole rating system started over a fighting game called “Mortal Kombat”. This game is tame compared to some of the games out today. Oh yeah, “Mortal Kombat” is getting ready to release the 11th version of this game. It looks great. 

      I agree the ratings will be noticed more by the parents than individuals. Like me, I don’t pay attention to the ratings, but I don’t have kids at home. So the rating system can be a helpful guide for parents. We need to remember it is just a guide. 

      Do you play video games? If so, what do you play?

      I appreciate your time to reply, Gomer. 

      johnny, the Grey Wolf, Watcher of the Woods. 

  6. I think that this is either the second or third review that I have been asked to do on your articles.

    Once again can I congratulate you on a very comprehensively researched, and beautifully delivered piece of work. Again you raise important, cutting and current issues. 

    The rating system that games are subject to is a very complex and difficult subject, to talk about in a neutral way as both sides of the argument have very deep-routed beliefs and positions. It is a subject that raises it’s head periodically, depending on local political and social circumstances.

    I am currently amazed that the subject is not a particularly hot topic over here in the UK at the moment as we are currently experiencing a marked spike in the occurrence of violent crime, and in the past certain bodies have been very quick to point the finger in the direction of violent games. I await the pleasure of such intervention with baited breath. (Not).


    • Hi Adrian, 

      I really appreciate your time and effort on commenting on all of my posts. It is very helpful. Your are right about when it raises its ugly head. I notice it happens a lot after a school or youth shooting. There was one in Denver just the other day. I haven’t heard anything about trying to connect it to video games yet. We will see. 

      I hate saying this but violence exists no matter what. It started when Cain bashed in Abel’s head a long time ago. It sad to hear about the spike in violence in the UK. 

      I think the rating system is more for the parents than the kids. At least parents have a gauge to monitor the games their kids are playing. 

      Thank for stopping by, Adrian. 

      johnny, the Grey Wolf, Watcher of the Woods. 

  7. Hi Johnny,
    First I want to tell you that, I don’t have kids yet so. And I’m 20 years old. But I appreciate your post. Because you write important things. Nowadays, young generation boys and girls like to play graphics design games. I don’t like this. It’s not good for us. Just think, if a kid always plays graphics games all-day it could be dangerous/harmful for the kid. So I never support the graphics design games or movies. It’s just made our mind curious, to play more and more.
    I researched about the graphics design game for an hour. And I realized that – A game-like graphic that allowed consumers to search for stick figures affected by disease had no main effect on risk perception but reduced differences based on numeracy. In one condition, the game-like graphic increased concern about rare risks. Intentions for preventive action were stronger with a question order that focused first on efficacy and disease severity than with one that focused first on perceived risk.

    • Hi Pronay Pappu, 

      I appreciate your time and thoughts. Doing anything all day can be harmful to a person, not just video games. Like with everything in life, it needs to be balanced. 

      I hope you have a good day, Pronay Pappu. 

      johnny, the Grey Wolf, Watcher of the Woods. 

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