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ESRB Beefs Up Game Ratings

26 Jun, 2003 By: Hive News

The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) has changed the computer and video game rating system to add more detail about game content and before the holidays will change label stickers to give them a higher profile.

ESRB has added four new content descriptors to the 26 that already exist. The new descriptors will help consumers more precisely evaluate the extent and intensity of violent content in computer and video games by distinguishing between the kind of animated violence that frequently appears in children's cartoons and the realistic-looking violence that may appear in advanced M-rated (Mature) titles intended for gamers 17 and older. The new content descriptors are:

  • Cartoon Violence, defined as "violent actions involving cartoon-like characters. May include violence where a character is unharmed after the action has been inflicted."
  • Fantasy Violence, defined as "violent actions of a fantasy nature, involving human or non-human characters in situations easily distinguishable from real life."
  • Intense Violence, defined as "graphic and realistic-looking depictions of physical conflict. May involve extreme and/or realistic blood, gore, weapons, and depictions of human injury and death."
  • Sexual Violence, defined as "depictions of rape or other violent sexual acts."

Consumers using the ESRB Web site's rating search feature may incorporate the content descriptors into their game search parameters. For example, parents can generate a list of M-rated games that did not receive "intense violence" or "sexual violence" content descriptors. Last year, 63 percent of games rated by the ESRB received an E (Everyone) rating, 27 percent were rated T (Teen), 8 percent were rated M (Mature), and 2 percent received an EC rating (Early Childhood).

"The ESRB is continuously searching for ways to make computer and video game ratings even more helpful to parents. These changes ensure that consumers have the information they need to make informed purchasing decisions," said ESRB president Patricia Vance.

Effective September 15, ESRB will require the placement of new labels on the back of game boxes. The new labels draw consumer attention to both the age rating and content descriptors assigned to game titles by the ESRB. The new labels are more prominent, visible, and informative than the labels they will replace.

"This change is designed to ensure that parents can't miss the critical content information printed on game boxes, which frequently provides greater insight into why a game has received its rating," Vance said. "To get the most from the ESRB rating system, parents should check both the rating symbol on the front of the game box and the content descriptors on the back. When parents check the rating and the content descriptors, they know exactly what they're getting."

In addition, ESRB rating symbols will continue to be published on the front of all game boxes.

Also effective Sept. 15, the ESRB's "M" (Mature) and "AO" (Adults Only) icons will be modified to include the minimum recommended age for each rating category. The categories themselves are unaffected by this modification, only the icon design will change.

The rating system changes were developed in consultation with experts from inside and outside the interactive entertainment software industry, including child development experts and family advocates.

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