It's 4:00; do you know what your kids are playing?
The Idiot's Guide to Game Ratings.

By Philip Wesley 1998

Preface: It's another serious editorial. This time; it's about GAME RATINGS. This is aimed at parents and is meant to give them a better understanding of the ISDA rating system and what falls into the ratings.

In the beginning there was games. They were good; but parents started to worry that they may cause their children to have un-natural hyper-activity or they would cause their children to become "lifeless zombies". This paranoia led many religious groups and parental "watchdog" groups to investigate into the phenomenon known as "Nintendo". The reports came back as half truths and sad bigotry. These are some descriptions of games. See if you can recognize what game is being described here. "This platform game is negative toward females to the point of misogyny, it has many drug undertones and the villain of the game practices a black magic form of occult Satan Worship." Need a clue? It's "Super Mario Bros." How about "A game with Anti-Catholic symbols, use of black/white magic, a horror show's worth of hideous creatures and it encourages the downplay of the female role, and the murder of defenseless
animals." Sound bad? It's "Legend of Zelda: The Adventure of Link". You see this type of paranoia made many parents hot blooded about the games that children and gamers play. The real reason for this uproar is mainly caused by in my opinion; people who can not sell that product. Well, the whole anti-video game roar died down around the early 1990's. But then rose again with the unveiling of Acclaim's "Mortal Kombat". The game featured rampant blood, guts, and death. Then Sega CD's game "Night Trap". This got some fat-cat congressmen; who were tired of bugging the cigarette companies thinking. They thought, gee, why not attack video games as well? We already have control on most of the media; but we don't have that one! Let's regulate it! So, they got a bunch of parents all roused up over those two games. Nintendo decided to avoid the controversy and censor the first Mortal Kombat. That decision has haunted Nintendo for a while. They decided not to censor the sequel to Mortal Kombat and instead they put a little black box and a disclaimer screen in the game; plus an option to turn off the blood and fatalities. Spearheaded by Senator Leiberman, and many unknowing supporters, Congress kept pushing for Government ratings for Video Games. (And this coming from the guys who spent millions of taxpayer dollars on blowing things up..) Well, the Video Game industry decided to push back and ESRB was formed. ESRB is short for "Entertainment Software Ratings Board". They look at games and decide the
ratings. Here's a run through of the ratings. Oh, and before anyone bugs me by E-Mail; before there was an ESRB; there was a feeble attempt by Sega to put their own ratings on their games. Here's what the ratings mean, straight from ESRB. ESRB's description is in the "parenthesis". My comments and descriptions are after each one.

"Early Childhood
Titles rated "Early Childhood (EC)" have content suitable for children ages three and older and do not contain any material that parents would find inappropriate."
I tend to disagree with this rating, it is given to mostly "edutainment" products like Barney and Teletubbie games. This rating usually scares me. :)

"Kids to Adults
Titles rated "Kids to Adult (K-A)" have content suitable for persons ages six and older. These titles will appeal to people of many ages and tastes. They may contain minimal violence, some comic mischief (for example, slapstick comedy), or some crude language."
This rating is dead. I hated it. It was completely inaccurate. For example, Robotron 64 has a level named "Spheroid Hell".  Because of that ONE word, the game got a TEEN rating; when in reality it should have gotten a K-A.

As of January 1, 1998, the new "Everyone" designation will replace the 'Kids to Adults' rating. Titles rated "Everyone (E)" have content suitable for persons ages six and older. These titles will appeal to people of many ages and tastes. They may contain minimal violence, some comic mischief (for example, slapstick comedy), or some crude language."
This rating I liked, along with the content description below the rating on the back of the box; it is the most effective rating. For example, NFL Blitz has some words. "Sucks", "Crap", "damn", and the use of the word "Hell" are also considered to be some "crude language". For example you could say: "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn." and you can still get an E rating. If words like the ones above offend you; make sure to check the content description.

Titles rated "Teen (T)" have content suitable for persons ages 13 and older. Titles in this category may contain violent content, mild or strong language, and/or suggestive themes."
Fighting games always get this rating; mainly because of small things like blood, well endowed females, words like "sh!t", the use of the Lord's name in vain, religious or historical content like a war. Sometimes racial themes, or death themes abound in these games. Check the description.

Titles rated "Mature (M)" have content suitable for persons ages 17 and older. These products may induce more intense violence or language than products in the Teen category. In addition, these titles may also include mature sexual themes."
Picture flying red blobs of goo, strong words like "F*ck", anti-social themes, nudity, or more. Think of it as somewhere between PG-13 to R. As I said before; check the description.

"Adults Only

Titles rated "Adults Only (AO)" have content suitable only for adults. These products may include graphic depiction of sex and/or violence. Adults Only products are not intended to be sold or rented to persons under the age of 18."
Think Porn.

"Rating Pending
Product has been submitted to the ESRB and is awaiting final rating."
Think incomplete game. It will change it's rating to one of the above soon.

"Content Descriptors
 When consumers look on the back of a package, they may see any of the following phrases that further describe the product's content."
Here's a list of the stuff to look for.

Contains scenes involving characters/animated/pixelated characters in the depiction of unsafe or hazardous acts or violent situations."
Mario jumps off cliff.

Contains scenes involving characters in the depiction of unsafe or hazardous acts or violent situations in realistic or photographic detail."
Bungee Jumping, extreme sports.

Scenes depicting activities that have been characterized as slapstick or gross vulgar humor."
Banana Peel or fart gag.

Contains depiction of aggressive conflict involving cartoon/animated/pixilated characters."
Mickey Mouse fighters. :)

Contains realistic or photographic-like depiction of body parts."
Look! A skeleton!

Animated/pixilated or cartoon-like depiction of mutilation or dismemberment of body parts."
Oh, they killed Kenny.

Representations of blood and/or gore in realistic or photographic-like detail."
Mortal Kombat Fatalities.

Animated/pixilated or cartoon-like depiction of blood."
Red flashes or "Splats".

Representations of blood in a realistic or photographic-like detail."
Think E.R.


Product contains the use of the word like "damn"."
Damn, they cornered it, the evil mean dumbasses.

Commonly referenced four-letter words to include anatomical references."
F word, S word, etc.


Mild provocative references or material."

Contains provocative material: including depiction of the human body either animated or photographic-like formats."
Think Lara Croft's main attraction...

Graphic depiction of sexual behavior and/or the human form (i.e. frontal nudity) in either animated or photographic-like detail."
Think the portrait scene in James Cameron's "Titanic".


Little Tommy can't reach the keyboard.

Why Johnny can't read. Mainly because he's still learning. Sit down with your child and read to them or help him/her read.

Fast Typing, platform, reflexive.

Math, logic, spelling, trignometry.


The depiction of betting like behavior."
Horse racing, poker, craps, billiards, darts, bridge, roulette, baccarat, slots, lotto, etc.

Product contains images of the use of tobacco and/or alcohol in a manner which condones or glorifies their use."
Solid Snake in Metal Gear Solid smokes; but it hurts him. Joe Camel smokes and it doesn't hurt him. Get what I mean?

Product contains images of the use of drugs in a manner which condones or glorifies their use."
See Sonic? Sonic does Hemp. Actually he didn't inhale..

Overall content provides data, facts, resource information, reference materials or instructional text."
Think Encarta or Britanica.

Content provides user with specific skills development or reinforcement learning within an entertainment setting. Skill development is an integral part of product."
Blue's Clues, Blue's Clues!

"For more information on the Entertainment Software Rating Board system, please call the ESRB at 212-759-0700. Our postal address is 845 Third Avenue, New York, NY, 10022. In Canada, call 416-480-7313."

Why did I do this editorial? To make parents aware of the ratings. Keep in mind that most all games with blood have an option to turn it off. Turok has an option to change the color of the blood as well as turn it off. Some games feature "Verbal Bleeps"; where offensive phrases can be skipped or bleeped. Later games may even feature "Text Censors" that change the text to fit the age group. The ratings are a definite thing to know. This will help parents make wise purchasing choices for their children. And I'm glad you could read it and I hope you learned something. :)