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A (Brief) History of the Video Game Rating System

By July 24, 2018Misc.3 min read

Remember in our younger days when you would walk into a game store, see the thousands of games lining the walls, find one that looked interesting, and pick it out, only to find out that it was rated ‘T for Teen’ and your mom wouldn’t let you get it. Then you spent months cursing your age and playing your ‘E for Everyone’ game. But now that you’re older, have you stopped and thought about why games are rated the way they are?

Before 1994, games were unrated, leaving them to be consumed by everyone. While most games before this time were simple platformers or a set of blocks shooting at other blocks, more graphic intense games were on the horizon. Games like Night Trap and Mortal Kombat, both now rated ‘M’ for Mature. Two games that stirred the pot on whether all games were appropriate for all players.

In 1992 a battle against the content in video games begun. It started with Senator Joe Lieberman, In 1993, he and Herb Kohl advocated for the ban of video games. “I was startled. It was very violent, and as you know, rewarded violence. And at the end, if you did really well, you’d get to decide whether to decapitate… how to kill the other guy, how to pull his head off. And there was all sorts of blood flying around.” He said in an interview during the trials about the popular game Mortal Kombat. He also was not a fan of Night Trap saying “I forgot how I heard about Night Trap. And I looked into that game, too, and there was a classic. It ends with this attack scene on this women in lingerie, in her bathroom. I know the creator of the game said it was all meant to be a satire of Dracula; But nonetheless I thought it sent the wrong message.” 

During this time, Sega had its own rating board, the Videogame Rating Council, strictly for their own games. And Nintendo screened games releasing on their systems and removed or censored references to alcohol, tobacco, religion, and sexual content. Other brands followed, but they were not satisfactory for the amount of violent video games that were making they’re way onto the market. Because of this, the ESRB was formed, a neutral ratings board that was not tied to any development company.

It began with five ratings; ‘E-C’, ‘K-A’, ‘T’, ‘M’, and ‘A-O’, with ‘K-A’ renamed ‘E for Everyone’ in 1998. It’s now to six ratings that we see today. It’s hard to imagine games without a rating, especially with more mature and realistic games hitting the market, like GTA and the Resident Evil Series. While this was all started by a senator who didn’t appreciate a good game of Mortal Kombat, the ESRB rating system was probably for the best.

Bailey Brown

Bailey is an advertising major, nonprofit studies minor in her third year at the University of Oklahoma. She was given her first gaming device at the age of 9 and hasn't put it down since. She enjoys the exploration and puzzle solving of The Legend of Zelda and claims she can "beat anyone" in Mario Kart or Super Smash Brothers. Follow her on Twitter @MissBaileyKay

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