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The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is a nonprofit, self-regulatory entity that assigns ratings to electronic entertainment products (primarily games and apps). These ratings are supposed to give consumers a general sense of the nature of the content within the games/apps, particularly whether or not it contains any offensive or otherwise objectionable material.
ESRB ratings currently include the following:
The board also includes content descriptors that further specify potentially objectionable material.
In the early 1990s, video games became increasingly violent and controversial. Two games in particular – Mortal Kombat and Night Trap – prompted an unprecedented level of media attention, which led to United States Senate hearings in 1992 and 1993.
The hearings (led by Senators Joseph Lieberman and Herb Kohl) resulted in a mandate for a self-regulatory body to provide video game ratings for consumers. If this mandate could not be fulfilled within a year, then the U.S. government planned to implement one of its own.
The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) successfully established the ESRB in 1994. The board charges developers a fee (which is scalable, dependent on development budget) in order to rate their product. They also enforce advertising guidelines and, as of 2015, have expanded the use of their ratings into mobile and digital storefronts.