What Do Video Game Ratings Mean? A Guide to ESRB and PEGI

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What Do Video Game Ratings Mean? A Guide to ESRB and PEGI

Every video game has a rating linked to it. Video games, like movies, are rated so that you know if they are suitable for children. However, if you’re unfamiliar with video games, video game ratings might be perplexing.

With most video game ratings consisting of a series of letters and numbers, this page provides an overview of the ESRB and PEGI ratings. In it, we explain how video game ratings operate, provide some information on the company behind them, and discuss how you may use them.

North America: The ESRB

The ESRB, or Entertainment Software Rating Board, assigns ratings to video games in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. It was founded in 1994, and the circumstances surrounding its inception are rather fascinating.

Prior to the ESRB, system manufacturers were in charge of video game ratings. Nintendo did not evaluate titles at the time, but had a reputation for editing games to make them more family-friendly. Sega, on the other hand, has its own grading system for their platforms.

Parents and the US government got worried as video game images became more realistic. Two games sparked debate: the ultra-violent fighting game Mortal Kombat and Night Trap, a full-motion video game in which you must save adolescent girls from being kidnapped.

As a consequence, the US government sponsored hearings on the social implications of adult games. They set the gaming industry a one-year deadline to develop a universal rating system, or the government would impose one on them.

As a result, the ESRB was established in 1994. Since then, it has served as the North American video game rating system. In contrast to many other nations, ESRB ratings are not legally binding. Instead, it is self-regulated; all console makers need ESRB ratings for games to display on their systems, and shops will not offer titles without a rating.

Europe: PEGI

PEGI, which stands for Pan European Game Information, is the European standard for rating video games. It was introduced in 2003 and replaced several game rating systems previously utilized by specific countries. PEGI is used to assess games in 39 countries as of this writing.

PEGI does not have as much of a background. It is an example of standardization among European Union nations, and the European Commission has indicated support for it. Some nations require age labels on games and enforce their sales, while others accept it as a de facto norm with no legal backing.

Video Game Ratings in Other Countries

Other parts of the globe, as expected, have their own video game rating systems. We can’t cover them all, but they all seem to follow similar patterns. In Japan, for example, the CERO (Computer Entertainment Rating Organization) offers letter ratings to games.

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In comparison to other Western countries, Australia is notable for adopting strong censorship. Until 2013, the Australian Classification Board did not endorse the 18+ classification for video games. Certain games are never published in Australia, while others must be heavily edited.

To comply with Australian norms, the real-world medication morphine was altered to “Med-X” in Fallout 3. It is prohibited in Australia to sell any games that have been denied classification.

Related: Do Video Game Age Ratings Still Matter?

ESRB Ratings Explained

Now that we’ve looked at the corporations behind the ratings, let’s have a look at the actual video game ratings you’ll see on North American store shelves.

For games, the ESRB assigns seven distinct ratings. Four of them are common, two are uncommon, and one is a placeholder.

The lowest rating is Early Childhood (EC). It denotes games designed for a preschool audience. As a result, these titles contain no offensive material and are unlikely to be entertaining for wider audiences since they are aimed for young children. This is not a common rating. Dora the Explorer: Dance to the Rescue and Bubble Guppies are two examples of games.

Everyone (E) is the starting point. This grade indicates that the material of the game is “usually acceptable for all ages.” They may include modest acts of cartoon violence or mayhem. Prior to 1998, this grade was known as Kids to Adults (KA).Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Rocket League are two E-rated games.

Everyone 10+ (E10+) denotes games suitable for children aged 10 and above. When compared to an E-rated game, these games may have more provocative material, cruder humor, or greater violence. Notably, this is the only rating added by the ESRB since its founding. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Kingdom Hearts III are two titles with this rating.

The next level above is teen (T). This rating is appropriate for gamers aged 13 and above. Titles may include sexually provocative material, bolder or more frequent profanity, and blood. The Teen rating may be seen on games such as Apex Legends and Fortnite (find out what parents should know about Fortnite).

The highest typical grade is Mature (M). M-rated games are only appropriate for people aged 17 and over. They may feature violent violence, strong sexual material, nudity, and constant harsh language as compared to Teen titles. Some businesses refuse to sell M-rated games to children, although this is not a legal requirement. Red Dead Redemption II and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey are two examples of M-rated games.

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The ESRB’s 18+ rating is Adults Only (AO). It is granted for games containing explicit sexual material or ones that enable real-money gambling. However, it is essentially a lame-duck ranking. None of the main console manufacturers allow AO games on their platforms, and only a few merchants offer AO games.

As a result, only a few games have ever achieved this classification; most AO games obtain the rating owing to strong sexual material. Publishers will modify their games to avoid this grade, which is virtually a death sentence. Seduce Me and Ef: A Fairy Tale of the Two are two games with the AO rating.

The designation Rating Pending (RP) is only a placeholder. It is shown alongside adverts for games that have not yet been reviewed.

ESRB Content Descriptors

While the front of a game’s box includes a rating, the rear contains extra information. The ESRB has a few dozen content descriptors that provide information on the specific types of undesirable material in the game. The majority of them are self-explanatory (such as Blood or Drug Use), but we’ll clarify a couple that may be unclear here:

  • Characters slide on banana peels, smack each other, and so forth.
  • Farting and other “bathroom humor” are examples of crude humour.
  • Lyrics: The game’s music includes profanity or other provocative elements.
  • Simulated Gambling: The game includes simulated gambling with virtual money.
  • Suggestive Themes: A subset of the Sexual Themes description. Characters in the game are frequently dressed in scant attire or something like.

Finally, towards the bottom of ESRB ratings, there is now information on “Interactive Elements.” In-Game Purchases (if the game allows you to spend real money on loot boxes or similar products) and User Interaction (in games where you may communicate and share material with others) are examples of this. The ESRB does not assess a game’s online components because it cannot forecast how people will behave online.

See the ESRB’s ratings guide for a comprehensive list of descriptors and information. You may also browse the ESRB website for any game to receive a summary of any undesirable components.

PEGI Ratings Explained

PEGI has a five-star grading system similar to the ESRB. However, the grade levels vary somewhat, and there is no “useless” rating like AO.

PEGI 3 is the lowest grade and is appropriate for all ages. Unlike the EC rating, games with this classification are not always intended for preschoolers. These titles will not include anything that may frighten small children or any profanity, although minor comedic violence is OK. Yoshi’s Crafted World is an example of this rating.

PEGI 7 denotes games suitable for children aged 7 and above. It has a green backdrop, much as PEGI 3. These titles may include light violence or scary scenarios. One example of a PEGI 7 game is Pokémon Ultra Sun.

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The PEGI 12 icon is orange. These games are intended for players aged 12 and above. They may have more realistic violence, sexual innuendo, slight gambling, terrifying themes, and some foul language. Shadow of the Colossus is one such game.

PEGI 16, usually known as orange, denotes titles for individuals aged 16 and older. These games may involve drug usage, more severe violence, stronger sexual scenes, and frequent harsh language as compared to PEGI 12 titles. This rating applies to Battlefield V.

PEGI 18 is the highest grade and is denoted by the color red. These games are only available to users above the age of 18. They include excessive violence, drug exaltation, and frank sexual activities. A PEGI 18 game would be Metro: Exodus.

PEGI Content Descriptors

PEGI, like the ESRB, adds content descriptors to the primary ratings. These are represented by symbols on the rear of the package. While there are considerably fewer PEGI descriptors than ESRB descriptors, they represent various degrees of that material dependent on the classification.

The Bad Language descriptor, for example, may appear on games rated 12 through 18. However, whereas a PEGI 12 game may have some moderate profanity, a PEGI 18 game may contain several sexual expletives. Furthermore, the descriptions are restricted to certain categories, thus you won’t see the Drugs descriptor on a PEGI 7 film, for example.

PEGI, like the ESRB, has just introduced the In-Game Purchases mark to indicate games that allow you to buy downloadable content with real money. For further information, see the PEGI labels page.

Making Sense of Video Game Ratings

We’ve gone through the ESRB and PEGI video game rating systems in detail. So you now understand the history of these firms, what the ratings indicate, and how to check the content descriptors for further information on particular titles.

It’s fascinating to watch how ratings differ between areas. Celeste, for example, obtained an E10+ classification in the United States but only a PEGI 7 in Europe. PEGI also does not flag anything that the ESRB does, such as vulgar comedy.

If you’re a parent who wants to learn more about their children’s hobbies, check out our parents’ guide to video games.

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