ESRB Ranking History: How Blood and Violence Became Not for Children (Topic)

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ESRB Ranking History: How Blood and Violence Became Not for Children


Age ratings. Today it is difficult to find a media product without an age rating, be it movies, music or games. The organizations that are engaged in the creation of these ratings have one goal - to fence off the young minds of cruelty and obscurity. True, this does not help much, since children still play prohibited content due to the fact that, for example, some parent bought GTA V for his 10th child so that he would stop whining. The Entertainment Software Rating Board, or ESRB for short, is responsible for issuing these same ratings in the gaming industry. We decided to tell you the story of the ESRB that has branded games as an adult.

From songs to games

Previously, games were violent, and no one was interested in what children were playing there. More precisely, I was interested, just then there was no overprotection as it is today. Many studios even fought to see who would show the younger minds a more violent picture.

While some companies like Nintendo have developed their own content guides for their systems, including removing or censoring references to alcohol, tobacco, religion and sexual content. Nintendo has always positioned itself as a family company, with products to match. And that's why when Mario jumped on turtles, they just disappeared, and did not turn into a crushed, bloody mess.

Before the ESRB came about, the history of modern American censorship began with Tipper Gore, co-founder of the Parent Music Resource Center [PMRC]. It was this organization that created the "Filthy Fifteen" compilation, a list of the most offensive popular songs.

Shouting in Helen Lovejoy's voice all over the place: "Someone think of the children!" in 1985, they succeeded in creating a “parental advisory” sign, which warned of the presence of adult things on a musical medium.


The idea was that parents themselves would control what content their children consume, and the government would not have to deal with it. The small black-and-white sticker did not infuriate anyone, despite the fact that it infringed on the rights of musicians in freedom of speech. The American society of "caring parents" went further, and like whalers armed with harpoons, came to a young white whale called "video games".

It was "parental advisory" and similar independent adult content designations that served as the model for the creation of the ESRB.

Mortal Kombat is to blame for everything

As you probably know, the ESRB was inspired by the new level of violence shown in Mortal Kombat. In 1992, Senators Joe Lieberman and Herb Kohl began holding hearings against violence in video games, citing Mortal Kombat and Night Trap as examples. According to Lberman, if children play Mortal Kombat, in the future they will become murderers or at least illegal criminals wreaking havoc. Opening their mouths to this fountain of moralizing, the parents of the children listened and nodded.


A year later, Sega created its own rating system under the Video Game Rating Board for projects on its systems. Other content rating advice soon followed, such as the Video Game Software Advisory Board. However, all of them were too sluggish for Lieberman, and did not live up to his standards. For example, in 1994, the video game industry came under threat of government interference in content regulation.

Many major publishers have been targeted. Sega suggested that the government take its own rating as a basis, which its competitors were not happy about, and they refused. As a result, in 1994, the Council of Neutral Ratings, the ESRB, was finally created and presented to Congress.


Is there blood, sex, violence? What if we find it?

In the beginning, the ESRB contained five age ratings for video games:

EC: For the little ones - cute goofy projects for those who have just learned to hold a joystick.

KA: For children - for those who have already learned how to speak and hold a joystick, these games may already be of interest [later in 1998 it was renamed E - for all ages, and also a little later the E10 + rating was added as an intermediate between E and T]

T: For teenagers from 13 years old, there is already a little blood, rude speech in the spirit of "bastard come here," but not Samuel's level yet. Jackson, and some thought-provoking topics.

M: 17+ - contains everything that we love: river blood, sex on a unicorn and rhymes about Lambert.

AO: only for adults over 18 years old - the same as in 17+, but on a large scale: the violence is even more severe, the sex is longer and more detailed. For example, Manhunt has such a label.


Usually, no one wants to get this rating, since there is a high probability that the game will not pay off at all. The reasons are that the three major console manufacturers [Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft] do not allow AO-rated games to be released on their systems, as do most retail stores. Also, this rating is often associated with porn games.

Along with ratings, content descriptors are added to the game - markers with a brief description of the content. For example, "comic violence" or "mentioning sex in conversation" and so on.

Online content, voice chat and user generated content are not assessed by the ESRB as they are not considered part of the assessment process. If a studio decides to release a DLC after the game launches, its content should not exceed the base rating of the game. Any DLC rating increases affect the overall rating of the entire game. And if the project was T all the time, and content M appeared in the DLC, the whole game gets an M rating.

At the same time, in our world there are a bunch of regional commissions and the fact that in one country T, in another M can be counted.

Our methods are specific

It should be understood that the ESRB and others like it are not government organizations, so they have their own methods of work and not that they are very transparent.


Publishers submit material to the ESRB to obtain an age rating. It includes all the most violent scenes or moments that are in the game, and they also send the entire script. Therefore, roughly speaking, people from the commissions know what the game is about before anyone else. The ESRB staff or evaluators then discuss and assign an age rating. All panelists are anonymous and from a wide variety of backgrounds, including parents and educators, and are not allowed to have any connection with the video game industry in order to avoid bias.


If the publisher does not agree with the initial ESRB rating of the game, they can edit their content and submit it again. They can also appeal the rating.

So once the Punisher rating was changed from AO to M after adjustments. But San Andreas, on the contrary, came out with an M rating, after which they found a Hot coffee hidden by the developers in the game, and they gave it an AO rating. This triggered a debate that continues to this day. Many major retailers then refused to sell the game, and lawsuits began against Rockstar. In later versions of the game, the mod was removed, and the game is again sold with an M rating, although I'm sure you can find everything anyway.

There are discussions about the effectiveness of the rating. Someone thinks this is correct in the context that children cannot play cruel games, someone [adults] simply does not like it when the reputation of a project is spoiled by an abundance of children [just remember how many schoolchildren play the same GTA, and remember yourself in childhood years with San Andreas]. Well, others generally see this as a profanation, where someone outside the industry is trying to judge it.

Others speculate on this in order to attract an adult audience. This is more common in cinematography. For example, in the first "Frozen", which had a child rating [a different rating system is used for the movie, but it is fundamentally the same], the creators inserted an adult joke referring to sex so that their rating was raised from G to PG, like a beacon for an adult audience, that this picture is not only for kindergartners.

The most offensive thing is that this is an excellent cartoon, but it had every chance of remaining unnoticed by many.

As much as we want it, the games have an age rating from the ESRB, which has also been replenished with markers such as in-game purchases. It remains to fasten the plate with the loot boxes and battle passes, as they say.

The Topic of Article: ESRB Ranking History: How Blood and Violence Became Not for Children.
Author: Jake Pinkman