The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) looms large over the video game industry. A non-profit, self-regulating body, they exist to help parents make informed choices.
My wife, Tabitha, and I were in a GameStop. Standing in line, we watched a father and son approach the register. The store clerk looked at the game, asked the parent, “do you know that this is rated M and that it has the following in it?” Dad, shocked, decided to pass on the game due to listed content. Him and his son walked away from the register empty-handed. The ESRB rating had informed the parent; the ESRB rating had done its job.
The recent release of Minecraft: Story Mode sent me on a quest of my own. I found the ESRB’s nebulous content descriptors lacking. Just what is the ESRB? Do they screen/play every video game released? How exactly do they determine whether content is age-appropriate or not? Reading through the helpful FAQ the ESRB has posted on their website, I learned that:
- Submitting games to the ESRB is completely voluntary. Yet, retailers and console manufactures have created policies requiring games carry an ESRB rating. The entire system is self-policing, in a way.
ESRB raters do not play reviewed video game submissions due to:
- The volume of games submitted
- Personal bias/worldview
- Differing in-game experiences (especially games that feature choice)
Raters do revisit games after release to verify accuracy of disclosed content*. Which is good to know.
Each game features a Rating Summary (recently rated games are featured on the ESRB home page). Check out the example below from Yo-Kai Watch:
Rating Summary: This is a role-playing game in which players search for and capture ghost-like creatures (Yo-Kai) around a city. Players identify and interact with various Yo-Kai, earn their friendship, and use them in turn-based combat against other creatures. Damage is indicated by colorful light effects, smacking/zapping sounds, and depleting hit points. The dialogue includes some references to violence (e.g.,“This will only hurt for a minute…After I cut your heart out…You won’t feel a thing.”). The game includes several depictions and references to bodily functions: a Yo-Kai called Snotsolong with mucous dripping from its nose; Yo-Kai (Cheeksqueek and Buttsqueek) with buttocks for heads that use flatulence-like attacks (Text reads “Emits an evil fart that significantly lowers the SPD of its enemies.”).
For parents everywhere, the ESRB represents a first line of defense in making an informed purchase for your child.
For more information on the ESRB and their rating process, you can click here.