Video games are extremely varied in the content that they deliver to audiences, just like every other form of media. Beyond just the scope of genre—which is ultimately an easy way to account for the individual preferences of consumers—there is another way in which video games are sorted and classified.
Content rating systems are used to determine the most suitable audience for any given video game. The qualifiers for figuring out where a video game should be placed on any of the multitude of existing content rating systems are largely based off of violent and sexual content; anything that could be seen damaging to a younger audience’s psyche or topics that are viewed as simply inappropriate for children are generally limited to more mature consumers.
Something that should be not be overlooked though is the variation among the different content rating systems. While they typically all follow the same trends, there are still notable differences from system to system. The ESRB—used to rate games in Mexico, Canada, and The United States—exemplifies the normal trends of the majority of rating systems.
The ESRB’s scale from youngest consumers to oldest consists of a section of games that is playable for all ages (E), a section of games that encourages parental discretion before purchase (E10+), a section of games that is not advisable for younger audiences but is not restricted from them (T), a section of games that is restricted to older audiences (M), and a section of games that is meant to be consumed solely by adults (AO). Many other rating systems tend to fall more or less in line with the ESRB, though one major difference between it and its counterparts is that many other rating systems classify their different ratings very explicitly by simply have the age range itself as the rating.
Though most of the content rating systems follow a sort of archetype, there are of course some variations from system to system. For instance, the PEGI (which is used in various European countries and Israel) has a larger age range for games where parental discretion is advised. Another difference among rating systems is that South Korea’s GRB doesn’t have a classification for games that is equivocal to the ESRB’s E10+, rather, it has a much larger recommended age range for games that are meant for everyone.
Some of the rating systems worldwide though are much different, such as Singapore’s MDA, which has only two distinct ratings: one that is meant for wider audiences, and one that is meant for mature audiences.
Though the general goal of the video game rating systems is to market games to the audiences that they are most suitable for, sometimes cultural differences can influence a boards approach to rating a game.
In particular, the Australian Classification Board (ACB) has become rather infamous for refusing to classify numerous games. The effect of not classifying a game is devastating to the local market of a game, as it essentially makes the game illegal to sell in that country.
One such instance when the ACB banned a game from being sold in Australia was early in 2015 with the release of Dennaton Games’s Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, published through Devolver Digital. Appeals can be made to review the original classification (or in these cases: non-classifications) of a game, but refusing classification in the first place hurts the potential sales of a game.
It’s not impossible to overturn such decisions though—Fallout 3 was originally banned, but later was rated for mature audiences—but the effect that these decisions have is undeniable.
While many rating systems are similar to one another, it is important to know the differences among them, as the classifications that are assigned impacts the audience that will be purchasing a game.