There are several public interest groups and non-profits in the United States who have worked and lobbied to add rating systems on movies, music and yes, Games. These ratings are an effort by these groups to provide parents with information about the content so they may choose if they will allow their children to access it.
Now, some may call this censorship others may think this is great but the purpose of this blog post is not to debate the Bill of Rights but to share information about the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) as we begin our journey as Game Designers.
Established in 1994 by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), the ESRB is a non-profit, self-regulatory body that assigns computer and video game content ratings. These ratings were established to provide parents with information regarding computer and video game content. Ratings are comprised of two parts.
Part One: Rating Symbols
These symbols are designed to show age appropriateness for the game and include symbols showing games suitable to “everyone” and those for “adults” only.
Part Two: Content Descriptors
Inform consumers of specific elements contained within a game that may have determined the rating. There are over 30 of these elements including violence, nudity, blood and gore, sexual content, mature humor, drugs and alcohol, language, etc.
Participation is voluntary however, the majority of games sold in the U.S. and Canada are rated by the ESRB. This in part is due to consumer demand but also by many major retailers who only stock and sell games rated by the ESRB. In 2008 the ESRB rated over 16oo computer/video games.
To learn more about the ESRB you can visit their web site at http://www.esrb.org/index-js.jsp. The web site contains several resources for both the gaming industry and parents including a game rating widget and Parents e-newsletter.
You may also want to check out the Entertainment Software Association.