Understand ESRB Ratings

Edited by Batkingnz, Eng, Lynn, Melsan and 2 others

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These days it's a lot easier to make the right decisions on what games to buy yourself and your children. The Congressional approved ESRB ratings guide provides an easy quick reference for parents, as well as general consumers, to choose games based on the type of content they include. But for some people, while the initial rating itself is easy enough, knowing what could be included in that rating is another story altogether. This guide will break the ratings down individually, while explaining the type of content that can be included as well as going in to detail on the content descriptors that are often included in ratings.

What is an ESRB Rating?

An ESRB Rating is a rating system used in North America that rates video games, allowing consumers to purchase games while knowing the type of content included, as well as judging the suitability of the game for minors. The ratings can be located on the video game packaging. The front cover shows the basic rating, while the back cover will show the rating along with descriptors of the rating. See the image below for an example of ESRB ratings shown on video game packaging.

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The Basic Ratings

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  1. 1
    These games are specifically intended for young children. They should contain no violence or any of even the mildest language. This rating is usually found attached to educational games.
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  2. 2
    The content on a game rated for EVERYONE should be suitable for all audiences. There might be some cartoon, fantasy or mild violence along with minimal use of mild language. These games won't include realistic violence like blood and gore.
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  3. 3
    EVERYONE 10+
    The same as EVERYONE except the reviewers have judged there to be more than the minimal level of mild violence and language. This rating can also be applied due to suggestive themes.
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  4. 4
    These games are suitable for players aged 13+. Violence, suggestive themes, blood, adult humor and infrequent strong language can be featured in these games.
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  5. 5
    The content here should be for player aged 17+. Violence, blood or gore can be included at high levels for this content rating. There may also be frequent use of sexual content and adult language. Games rated as mature can be purchased by a minor only under direct supervision of a guardian.
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  6. 6
    This is the highest rating available and is for adults aged 18+ only. There can be frequent and prolonged themes of graphic and intense violence, graphic and/or gratuitous sexual content and gambling content. Games rated as adults only can not be purchased by minors, even under supervision.
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Content Descriptors

Along with the rating on the packaging, many games will provide additional content descriptors to further allow consumers to make an informed decision. These descriptors do not list every single content type included in the game, but rather they include what the review board felt were the biggest contributors to the rating, or those that were exceptional enough in usage to warrant an addition to the advertised rating.

  • Alcohol References. Can be any reference, from in-game dialogue to advertising, relating to alcohol.
  • Animated Blood. Blood is simulated in the game, but is not represented realistically.
  • Blood. Realistic blood is simulated in game.
  • Blood and Gore. Realistic blood and gore such as blood spray, dismemberment and mutilation.
  • Cartoon Violence. Think of this as your Nickelodeon or WB, etc., type cartoon violence. Violence is not used realistically and there are usually no real world consequences depicted.
  • Comic Mischief - Representation through visuals or dialogue of suggestive humor.
  • Crude Humor. Adult humor relating to vulgarity, adult themes or toilet humor.
  • Drug Reference. Any type of drug reference be it simulated, depicted or implied.
  • Fantasy Violence. Any type of violence that can be realistic but should be depicted in situations or environments that are not comparable to reality.
  • Intense Violence. Any type of realistic and graphic physical combat. Will include elements of Blood and Gore, as well as depicting realistic weapons in believable situations resulting in injury and/or death.
  • Language. Includes profanity (light to moderate).
  • Lyrics. Music included in the game may include references to profanity, sex, violence, alcohol or drugs. This rating can sometimes change to "Strong Lyrics" for more graphic references.
  • Mature Humor. The humor in the game may be depictions or dialogue including politically incorrect material or material of a sexual nature.
  • Nudity. Realistic graphic or frequent use of nudity.
  • Partial Nudity. Nudity depicted is mild and infrequent.
  • Real Gambling. Gambling is not simulated and the player can bet real currency.
  • Sexual Content. Sex is suggestive or portrayed, but is not graphic in nature.
  • Sexual Themes. Sex is referenced, but not portrayed.
  • Sexual Violence. May include depictions of forced and/or violent sexual acts.
  • Simulated Gambling. Gambling in game is simulated and only in game currency is used and cannot be cashed out as real currency.
  • Strong Language. Frequent use of adult language.
  • Strong Sexual Content. Sexual content is graphic in nature and portrayed frequently.
  • Suggestive Themes. Almost a blanket descriptor, this can cover any mild provocative reference or materials including sex, language, humor, implied violence or drugs.
  • Tobacco Reference. Reference to tobacco through dialogue or portrayal.
  • Use of Alcohol. Simulated or portrayed alcohol consumption usually showing effects of alcohol.
  • Use of Drugs. Simulated or portrayed drug use.
  • Use of tobacco. Simulated or portrayed tobacco consumption.
  • Violence. Scenes involving realistic conflict that is not as graphic as "Intense Violence".
  • Violent References. Violence is implied or referenced but is not depicted.

Additional Information for Online Content

Some aspects of the games are not able to be rated by the ESRB. In the case that the game features online content the warning "Online Interactions Not Rated by the ESRB" may be shown on the back cover.

If you are a parent, this is some very important wording for you to take note of.

Online gaming can include voice chat, sharing of player information, sharing location or sharing in game customizable worlds. This can open the game up to inappropriate content of any kind.

It is important to monitor online activity of your children. Some consoles and games may have content locks that remove the ability for certain online interactions. Adult consumers who do not wish to be exposed to content or have privacy concerns outside of the given rating should be wary of any online interactions.

Counter Parts of ESRB



PEGI is an age rating that was established to help European market or parents to decide buying computer software or computer games. PEGI or Pan European Game Information was launched last 2013, spring. PEGI is using a single system that is still being used until now and to most Europe and in 30 countries such as:

Lithuania, Poland, Latvia, Norway, Slovenia, Belgium, Estonia, Spain, Bulgaria, Finland, Austria, Denmark, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Portugal, Sweden, Cyprus, Luxembourg, France, Malta, Romania, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Greece, Israel, The Netherlands, Slovak Republic , United Kingdom and Italy.

Manufacturer of gaming systems are being supported the following major companies:

Sony: Manufacturer of PlayStation 2, 3, 4, PSP and PS vita

Microsoft: Manufacturer of Xbox, Xbox 360 and Xbox one

Nintendo: Manufacturer of Nintendo DS, 3DS, Wii and Wii You (Not to mentioned old school)

PEGI is also being supported by other vendors, such as developers and publishers of any software games all over Europe and other 30 countries. The rating (Age rating) was developed by ISFE or Interactive Software Federation of Europe.

Labels of PEGI

The PEGI label can be found on the back or on front of the packaging and gives the following labels of: 3, 7, 12, 16 and the 18. Those numbers corresponds to age if it's appropriate to them to play. Age must not be below the age label.

PEGI 3: Is a rating that has been given to software or game software suitable for all ages. Basically, characters are more on comical and funny context such as like: Power puff girls, Tom and Jerry, Bugs bunny and any other cartoon characters that is acceptable. The game software must not contain inappropriate content and must not be applied in real life by kids. Meaning, all characters must be fantasy. No profanity and pictures that can scare young children.

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PEGI 7: A game is being rated by its frightening scenes and some sounds that can possible scare your children but not heavy and still considered in this category.

PEGI 7.gif

PEGI 12: In this category is more likely a recognizable character. Such as nature, human looking avatars, animals and other structure. This category also includes minimal nudity, sexual expletives and bad language may be present in this category but then again, it is only mild.

PEGI 12.gif

PEGI 16: Game software that are labeled in this category are pretty much being the same as expected in real life, such as sexual activity, bad language, using of drugs and concept of tobacco, it includes criminal activities killing and any violent actions are being rated as PEGI 16.

PEGI 16.gif

PEGI 18: Games that are being labeled by PEGI 18 has an extreme violence to where it became gross and other elements of violence just to define the game content which can also be subjective to some cases. However, it is classified depictions of violence already and getting the feel of revolution. There are 8 labels of rating depictions which can be found on the back of a game package. They are the following as: Profanity or Bad language, Fear, Sexual, Drugs, discrimination, gambling, violence and multiplayer which is not included in the rating. Online game play is not being rated since interactions are dynamic.

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The 8 labels of depiction

Profanity or Bad language: as per its title, it contains bad language that may not be appropriate to the said rating age.

Bad Language.gif

Discrimination: A game contains some material that can encourage players to discriminate others and offence.


Drugs: Characters in game may be in the influence of drugs and their action

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Fear: The game contains pictures and sounds that can scare your children


Gambling: Children might learn gambling from playing the game and inappropriate for young children. Sex: The game contains sexual behavior that can be a reference.


Violence: Contains violent actions that is not appropriate for children.

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Online game play: Online interactions with other players all around the world



PEGI OK is a label that helps to promotes websites with games and that are suitable for all ages. Websites that contains games, parents must have this label before children can play the games in that particular website.

In order to qualify to PEGI OK, a game must not have any of the following contents: Violence

Sexual activity or sexual innuendo


Bad language


Promotion or use of drugs

Promotion of alcohol or tobacco

Scary scenes

If the game contains any of the said elements then each game will receive a regular or standard rating from PEGI (The 3, 7, 12, 16 or rating 12)



CERO is another counterpart or ESRB and PEGI that helps consumers decide to a game software that they are going to purchase for their family member or for their own use. Cero is then again a classification mark that has been reviewed and has a verdict from CERO's code of ethics. Computer Entertainment Rating Organization was established last 2002 month of July.

Cero is an organization based in Japan (Tokyo) to rate video games that are being released in Japan with different levels of available content that same goes with PEGI and ESRB. When it says Japan, it does not limit Japanese titles but also western games that will be released in Japanese market.

Coverage of rating

Rating in CERO includes video games and computer for household use which phone game types are included. These include hidden features, tricks and commands. Computer and video games that are developed by the following hardware manufacturer: Sega Corp.: Dreamcast Sony Computer Entertainment inc.: PlayStation 1

PlayStation 2

PlayStation 3

PlayStation 4

PlayStation Portable or PSP

PlayStation Portable Go

PlayStation Vita

Nintendo Corporation Ltd.:

Nintendo 64




Nintendo DS (this includes: 3DS, DSi, DSi LL and DSLite)

Wii and Wii You BANDAI Co. Ltd.: Wonder Swan Microsoft Japan Co. Ltd.: Xbox and Xbox360 and soon for Xbox one for Asian market PC Manufacturers: PC with operating system of Windows and Macintosh Mobile Manufacturers: Smartphones with Android, iOS, Windows phone, Symbian, Blackberry and others.

More game hardware manufacturers will be updated upon released. The list was updated last 2011.

Zero covered ratings

Sex related and other expression type

  • Sexual intercourse
  • kissing
  • Underwear exposure
  • Embrace
  • Nudity
  • sex-evoking expression
  • Adultery
  • Sex entertainment industry
  • swimwear/costume
  • Defecation

Violence and other related types

  • Description of animated blood
  • Description of versus beat 'em-up game/fighting
  • Description of corpse
  • Killing and wounding
  • Description of mutilation, body-cutting
  • Decapitation
  • Horror

Antisocial act and any related expression

  • Human trafficking, etc.
  • Description of a crime
  • controlled substance such as narcotics and others
  • Illegal drinking and smoking
  • Illegal gambling
  • Abuse
  • Providing or soliciting prostitution
  • Suicide or self-injury
  • Incest, sexual crime and others

Improper language

  • Any improper language that is not suitable for some audiences. Such as ideology, profanity and others

The CERO rating logos

CERO has 5 types of ratings to that same goes with PEGI. However, they are not classified as numbers but by letters with the same description as PEGI. Those are: CERO A, CERO B, CERO C, CERO D and CERO Z. Some game packaging may not appear with the following letters but its color coding. See meaning and Kanji:

CERO A: All ages (全年齢対象 Zen nenrei taishō?)

CERO B: Ages 12 and up (12才以上対象 Jūnisai ijō taishō?)

CERO C: Ages 15 and up (15才以上対象 Jūgosai ijō taishō?)

CERO D: Ages 15 and up (15才以上対象 Jūgosai ijō taishō?)

CERO Z: Ages 15 and up (15才以上対象 Jūgosai ijō taishō?)

See the image below to know the letters and the color coding of each category:


CERO has sub classes of content icons that has the same meaning from PEGI but with different icons but they are grouped to 9 categories, such as:



Sexual Content






Drinking and smoking






Controlled substance or Drugs




Process and rating

Here is how a rating process or flow upon reviewing such game and be marked by zero.

  1. 1
    Game publishers would send their request to CERO for marking.
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  2. 2
    Multiple raters will review the game from ages 20+ up to 60+ years of age to give verdict which were recruited and was trained by CRO to handle such task.
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  3. 3
    The game will be classified based to the results of the evaluation of each reviewer or their score.
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  4. 4
    CERO will contact the publisher of the game and will be informed of the review results
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  5. 5
    Game publishers would indicate the logo of the mark to which it was evaluated by the raters.
    Cero B.jpg
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Tips, Tricks & Warnings

  • Some games may have additional downloadable content that can change the original rating of the game. Always check descriptions to see what the additional content may bring, including any warnings around adult content.
  • Third party modifications are available for many games, which can change the game content. The game developers nor the ratings board are able to provide guidelines around such unofficial content. If modifying games at any time, be aware of what content you may be introducing to the game.
  • The ratings system, including internal practices used by the ESRP, are generally quite robust and comprehensive, but there are sometimes discrepancies in ratings given in relation to game content. Try to read up about a game before buying it, so you can get more of an idea of the content included. Furthermore, descriptors included with the rating will never list ALL content in the game. Use the rating and descriptors as a beginning reference point when making a purchase.

Questions and Answers

E+10 rating are suitable for players under 10?

Is some content good and rarely not good, or what?

The E rating means that content is suitable for Everyone. The +10 means that everyone 10 years of age and older can view it. The reasons for this are many, but among them are possibly suggestive content, and over the top types of cartoon violence. Most of the time, a particular show or game won't deviate significantly from it's theme. So, if you felt your child was able to accept the higher rating, then you could share that content with them. However, it is always a good idea to view the content yourself first, to make sure that it isn't harmful, and that your child won't be scared or otherwise hurt by seeing it. Just like you wouldn't want your child to witness people fighting, you probably also wouldn't want them to watch it.

Which do you think is a better system: PEGI or the ESRB?

Which do you think is a better system to use PEGI or ESRB?

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If you have problems with any of the steps in this article, please ask a question for more help, or post in the comments section below.


Article Info

Categories : Gaming

Recent edits by: Grimm, Melsan, Lynn

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