A Crash Course On The ESRB


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:

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.

Game on.

Wave Splinter*Disclosed content is submitted by the developer to the ESRB highlighting possible problematic content.

For more information on the ESRB and their rating process, you can click here.

Potty Bricks – Minecraft: Story Mode


Wyatt and I have yet to delve into the blocky depths of full blown Minecraft. The first-person shooter (FPS) control scheme and complex user interface (UI) are obstacles. Barriers that have kept us from moving beyond the demo.


Telltale Games recently released Minecraft: Story Mode. The game received an Everyone 10+ rating for “Fantasy Violence” and “Mild Language”. I visited the Entertainment Software Rating Board’s (ESRB) website to verify rating and descriptors.

esrb ratings symbol for e10 games

EVERYONE 10+Content is generally suitable for ages 10 and up. May contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language and/or minimal suggestive themes.

  • Violence – Scenes involving aggressive conflict. May contain bloodless dismemberment
  • Language – Mild to moderate use of profanity

The ESRB site fails to illuminate exactly what I am putting in front of my son. What does “Mild Language” mean? Common childhood words such as: Jerk, Stupid, Buttface? Or are we moving into the territory of: Hell, Damn, and Ass?

Story Time: When Wyatt was still learning how to talk, he started saying the word “dammit”. Now he wasn’t around other kids at the time. My wife and I watched what we said around him. But this was his favorite word. Even after telling him not to use it, he would mutter it under his breath when angry. Kind of funny looking back. Kids repeat what they hear. Even if the parents can’t figure out where they are hearing it.

Nebulous content descriptors are a poor tool. So I decided to go to a source I could trust, I talked to my friend Josh, who had recently played the game. Josh told me that there are instances of:

“What the hell.”

“Freaking.” A lot.

My wife and I have a decision to make on this game. Do we allow it in our home? Are we ready to let our 6 year old hear things above the school playground? I’m not sure. Each family has to decide what they let into their home. Even if it is as minor as a little freaking hell.

Check out Josh’s video on the game below.