We’re going to be spending a lot of time here at Engaged Family Gaming talking about the ESRB rating system because it is the single most important tool available to parents when it comes to choosing the games that their children play.
I’ve always thought the best place to start is at the beginning. So below you will find a brief explanation of what the ESRB is and how the ratings are determined.
In 1994 the ESA (Entertainment Software Association) established the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board). This is a non-profit organization that assigns content ratings and establishes advertising and privacy practices for the “software entertainment” (Read: video game) industry.
The rating process is detailed on their website, but largely consists of a group of trained reviewers looking over written documentation, early builds and video footage of the most extreme examples of the content in the game. The game developers need to be careful to include everything; the ESRB makes rating decisions based on all of the content included on the game disks. This even includes game data that is locked out and unavailable for play.
After the content is reviewed, each game is designated with one of six rating categories and is assigned content descriptors. These descriptors document what parts of the game are responsible for the rating or may be a point of concern for consumers.
ESRB rating is not mandatory. There is no state or federal mandate (currently) demanding that all games go through the process. However, most major retailers, like Wal-Mart and GameStop, will not carry a game that has not been rated by the ESRB so it is encouraged in order to help games be commercially viable.
There you have it. This is the ESRB rating process in a nutshell. It is far from perfect, but the work these people do provides some of the most clear and specific information regarding a games content that is available.