The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) Assigns Age and Content Ratings

ByESRB Sarah Howell

The ESRB is a self-regulatory organization that, among other things, enforces and assigns content ratings to video games. It is a self-regulated organization that was established in 1994 by the Entertainment Software Association. The ESRB works similar to the motion picture rating system and uses a combination of six age-based levels designed to aid consumers to determine the game’s content and suitability.
While it is not technically enforced by federal law in North America, it is essentially standard because of the sheer leverage it holds against the video game industry. The ESRB system has been praised by the Federal Trade Commission for being the “strongest” self-regulatory organization in the entertainment sector. Of course, it has also faced criticism for lack of transparency, and tendency to pick-and-choose whether or not to rate a game as harshly (particularly the Grand Theft Auto series) to protect their commercial viability.
For years, before video games with questionable, violent content had been released with little Control, the 1983 North American Crash breathed new life into the regulation conversation as Nintendo instituted their requirements and restrictions on third-party developers. It wasn’t until the 1990s, however, with video games skyrocketing back into the public’s hearts and TV screens, that lawmakers started bemoaning the violence and demanding change.
Before 1994 there were no regulated and enforced ratings based on a game’s content, this was all changed with the well-known, violent video game (guessed it?) Mortal Kombat. This was not the only game singled out for the creation of the ESRB, Night Trap, but it was certainly the most well known. Under the threat of federal repercussions, major video game developers and publishers formed a political trade group known as the Interactive Digital Software Association in early 1994 to establish a self-regulatory framework for assessing and rating video games.
The ESRB was developed as a vendor-neutral compromise. It was announced to the United States Congress a few months later and was officially launched in late 1994. It’s system originated with 5 age-based ratings and brief explanations of content contained in the game.
Since then ESRB has added 1 group and expanded its’ reach to internet and mobile gaming as well, most through companies and app developers volunteering to follow ESRB’s guidelines.

 About the Author
sarah_howellSarah Howell is a 25-year-old graduate with a Bachelor’s of Art and Science degrees in Entertainment Design and Game Design and Development, as well as a minor in writing. She is skilled in story creation, management, 3D modeling and multimedia design.