The ESRB: A Tool for Empowerment

Are you a parent of a game-loving child? Are you a gamer who’s a little sensitive to certain content? Then the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is for you! The ESRB? What’s the ESRB? Why should I care about it? Well, you’re on WholesomeGamer, a site where games that are rated by the ESRB are covered. The ESRB is part of our guide on what we cover and it can also be a useful tool for you. 

First, let’s get that little matter of, “What is the ESRB?” out of the way. Do you remember back in the early 1990’s when certain video games came out that shocked people all around the world? These were games like Mortal Kombat where gratuitous violence and gore were seen on an interactive and easily accessible medium. To make a long story short, due to the outcries of people, especially concerned parents, a ratings board was formed to let people know ahead of time, the type of content that would be featured in these games before they purchased them. This board eventually became what is known today as the ESRB. Now you’ll see a little box with a letter and some information on video game cases or on their websites thanks to this ratings board. From the official ESRB website, the ratings board is described as follows:

The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is the non-profit, self-regulatory body that assigns ratings for video games and apps so parents can make informed choices. The ESRB rating system encompasses guidance about age-appropriateness, content, and interactive elements. As part of its self-regulatory role for the video game industry, the ESRB also enforces industry-adopted advertising guidelines and helps ensure responsible web and mobile privacy practices among companies participating in its Privacy Online program. ESRB was established in 1994 by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA).

So obviously the practical application comes in here: First and foremost, parents do not have to play guesswork on what is featured in the games their kids are playing. Games are often used as a babysitting tool or just to let kids have fun, so parents may get them for kids with no second thought. As someone who has worked in games retail, it was store policy to let parents know the content included in a game when the child is under a certain age. Many times parents were absolutely astounded and decided to look for something else instead of going with that original purchase. True, what parents allow their children to play varies and is a personal choice, but with the help of the ESRB, parents have a better guide to find what they deem is appropriate for their kids.

Not only does this help parents to be aware of what’s in the games their children are playing but it also can help those who may not be gamers, to get involved a little more. The ESRB allows them to read not only what is featured in the game but also what the game is about. Depending on the game that they’re looking at, this could help those who aren’t too familiar with video games apart from household names like “Mario” and “Pokemon” to find that games can be a lot deeper and more engaging than they may have thought before. 

I recall an experience I had one day at one of my jobs some years back, speaking to a parent around the holiday season. Let’s call this gentleman Frank, because frankly, I don’t remember his name. Now Frank was in our shop looking for some Xbox 360 games for his son who was about 9 years of age at the time. To say the least, he was pretty clueless about video games and what to get for his son. His son (who was not present) on the other hand knew exactly what he wanted and provided his father a list filled with games. So Frank is perusing the store trying to find some of the items on the list. As I approached him, he picked up a case and looked perplexed.

“What ever happened to the good old days,” he asked. “You know: Pong, Mario, Donkey Kong! Where are all of those games at?” I engaged him and responded, “Well, those games still exist. Is there one that you’re looking for in particular?” So he handed me over the list of games that his son had, all of which were Mature rated titles. So I pointed out a couple of them to him. He gazed over one which I recall was Gears of War. “This is a game good for a kid?” he asked. I responded, “Well, that depends. How old is he? And what type of games do you allow him to play?” In turn, Frank said, “I don’t know. I usually just get him whatever he wants.” So without telling him how to do his parenting duties, I just showed him the ESRB rating on the back of the box and let him make an informed decision on his own. 

Frank, like many parents before, was astonished, “Wow. I had no idea these games had all of this. No way am I getting this for him. Well, I mean, this is what I have been getting him all of this time, I guess. Is there anything you would recommend that would be a little more for his age?” I made my recommendations and Frank gladly accepted them. Now Frank wasn’t hating on the game itself, in fact he said that the games on his son’s list are games that he himself would probably play if he ever got into games but he wouldn’t want his kid doing it yet. He was actually surprised that games had evolved to such a level, commenting, “these things are almost like movies now, huh?” 

Frank’s experience is not an isolated case. Many parents have no idea what their kids are playing and many would be surprised to find out. Sure some don’t care, but those who do, you can make use of the ESRB.

But what if you’re not a parent and just want to play a game that doesn’t feature certain things like graphic sexual content, gore, or extreme violence? You can use the ESRB too, just like anyone else. The most common ratings that feature the least objectionable material are “E for Everyone” and “E 10+ for Everyone 10 years and older”.

The ESRB gives you the tools to take control of the type of entertainment you or your children indulge in. 

WholesomeGamer is not endorsed by the ESRB or ESA nor does WholesomeGamer endorse those organizations. I just feel that the ESRB is a great tool to put to use for those who are keen on screening the type of interactive entertainment they take in. However, the ESRB is just the rating board for North America. What if you live outside of this continent? Well, many other regions such as Japan, Europe, and Australia also feature their own ratings service for video games. Ask your local games store, do a search online and find out if you have one for your area. 

For more info on the ESRB, check out ESRB.org

  • Nonscpo

    Thank you for writing this article, it’s shocking how many decades of gaming we’ve been through and people still don’t know how to be parents. If the game has a “T”, “M”, or “AO” rating then you shouldnt be buying it for your kids. Video Games are not babysitters!

%d bloggers like this: