Video Game Ratings

According to Roberts (2002), “Video game ratings are labeling systems that index media content (e.g., films, television programs, interactive games, recorded music, websites) primarily to control young people’s access to particular kinds of portrayals” (pg. 841). Ratings give the customers a sense of what the video game entails. The ratings help to tell the customer how old the person who is playing the video game should be. Video game ratings have been an important part of video game composing ever since the first violent video games were first released. According to Roberts (2002), “content ratings are developed in response to public and political pressures to “do something” about media content, pressures that arise when someone makes a case that particular kinds of media depictions threaten youths, if not society in general” (pg. 841). Roberts (2002) also explains: “The underlying assumption is that children and young adolescents are particularly vulnerable to message influences and therefore need to be shielded from certain types of content” (pg. 841).

Video game ratings have been around since 1994 when the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) was established by the Interactive Digital Software Association (Campbell 2017). Video games are not required to be rated by the ESRB, but most retailers will only sell games that are rated (Campbell 2017). The ESRB’s main job is to review and dissect video games and accredit one of six ratings that are age-indexed (Roberts 2002). The games are given different ratings based on their content. Accordingmaggie to Roberts (2002), the six categories of ratings the ESRB created are:

  • EC: early childhood, ages three-plus; should contain no material that parents would find inappropriate
  • E: everyone, ages six-plus; may contain minimal violence or some crude language
  • T: teen, thirteen-plus; may contain violence, strong language, or suggestive themes
  • M: mature, seventeen-plus; may contain intense violence or mature sexual themes
  • A: adult, eighteen-plus; may include graphic depictions of sex or violence
  • RP: rate pending, no official rating has been decided yet

Ever since video games began being rated, there have been multiple controversies surrounding them. Everyone has different opinions on what is considered “too violent” or “too sexual”. Especially recently with newer technology, it is easier to make the content and graphics in video games more vivid and detailed. Another major issue in the controversy over ratings is the difference between descriptive and evaluative ratings criteria. According to Roberts (2002), “descriptive approaches attempt to classify content on the basis of concrete, objective criteria about which it is presumed very different individuals can agree. Evaluative approaches attempt to be more sensitive to situational variations by allowing more subjective judgments, but they risk disagreement over just what terms such as “artistic” and “erotic” mean to different people” (pg. 842). The problem then becomes very important as globalization makes the same content accessible to people in different locations that have contrasting viewpoints and value systems (Roberts 2002),


Campbell, R., Martin, C. R., & Fabos, B. (2017). Media and Culture (11th ed.). New York: Bedford/St. Martins.

Roberts, D.F, & Schement, J. R. (2002). Encyclopedia of Communications and Information (Vol. 3). New York: MacMillan Reference USA.

Image Attribution: The image used in this post is in the Public Domain 

Written by Maggie Cancelmo, 2017.