Kinds of Video Game Censorship in the United States

Developers of video games try to attract the attention of the audience to their product by all means and use any methods to do so. Some games have special scenes and storylines that are not always acceptable for children’s perception. This applies mainly to the increased violence, debauchery, and explicit sexual scenes. In some countries, such games are forbidden or under strict control and are labeled “Adults Only” when sold. Most often these are Asian Muslim countries, where there are numerous restrictions in many industries and activities.

As for gaming software in the U.S., the situation is much more relaxed, and there are no regulatory bodies at the state level. All issues are handled by public organizations – religious, parental, and others. 

But despite this kind of freedom for the distribution of video games, there are some restrictions on certain episodes that contain particularly racy or violent scenes. After numerous lawsuits and conflicts, a special supervising non-governmental organization, the Entertainment Software Rating Board, was established.

How ESRB works

The organization was established in 1994; its activity is aimed at determining and issuing ratings for entertainment content, including video games. However, their work does not extend to online casinos that offer free slot machine games without downloading or registration on various themes. Basically, scores are given to video games for desktop PCs, Xbox consoles, Nintendo eShop, PlayStation Store, Origin, Google Play Store, and Oculus Store, all of which distribute digital game content. As for online games, the organization has no influence here.

Obtaining a rating is considered voluntary, however, the manufacturers of the aforementioned gaming devices and online stores will not accept the game for sale without an ESRB rating. How does the rating procedure take place?

  • Independent experts, at least three people come together and assess the material sent by the developer.
  • According to the rules, the developer has to send some fragments with the most violent episodes.
  • The commission reviews the received material and gives a preliminary evaluation.
  • After the final version of the video game, commission members examine the entire storyline to make sure it meets the set criteria.
  • The issued decision with the rating should be printed on the box, as well as on the manufacturer’s website.
  • This labeling enables parents to control the content their child plays with.

    Types of ratings

    In total, ESRB has developed six options to be assigned to the games:

  • Early childhood (EC) —  designed for children from 3 years old, often of an educational nature;
  • Everyone (Е) — suitable for all users from the age of 6, may include some violence in a cartoon comic version that does not provoke fear;
  • Everyone 10 and older — for users of 10 y.o. and older, may include some violence and blood, within reasonable limits, no shocking parts;
  • Teen (Т) — for teenagers from 13 years old, with some violent scenes, mild violence, maybe even obscene language with occasional profanity;
  • Mature (М) — teens under 17 are not allowed to use it, as the game has a lot of blood, violence, sexual content, and foul language;
  • Adults Only 18+ (АО) — only for adult users, as the content includes many scenes of violence, sexual content, or other violent moments, unacceptable for children.
  • A brief description of exactly what the ban is about is added to the rating. For example, “Blood and Gore”, “Drug Reference”, “Real Gambling” and more than two dozen other labels including warnings about possible in-game purchases or online messaging, which the ESRB does not control.

    Censored games

    Despite the restrictions, some developers create game software that contains a lot of unacceptable content that is banned even in a country as liberal as the United States. In fact, they are not banned, but their sales are so restricted that it is almost impossible to get the product. Here are five such games.

    Custer’s Revenge

    One of the most prominent and early examples of prohibition. Mystique’s game was released back in 1982, but due to its specific storyline, it soon fell under censorship. The essence of the game is that Colonel Custer must run across the screen in the nude dodging numerous arrows, and at the end, he receives a reward – an Indian woman tied to a pole with whom he has violent sexual intercourse. 

    The game offended not so much by the presence of sex itself as by its racism, drawing the ire of feminists and Native American rights activists. So it was banned in Oklahoma but was not available in the rest of the state either.

    The Guy Game

    A seemingly ordinary quiz game became popular among teenagers because if you answer a question correctly, it launches a video with naked girls running. The more correct answers, the clearer the picture became. However, the ban was issued not for that but for the scandal that resulted. It turned out that one of the models shot for these videos was only 17 years old. Meanwhile, the girl claimed that she did not know where exactly the footage would be used. This point was stamped Child Pornography and the game was removed from sales.

    Thrill Kill

    The fighting game copied from Mortal Kombat contains many fragments of BDSM, due to which it got into the AO rating. The developers marketed the game extremely efficiently, so it caught the eye of the regulatory organization. It’s worth noting that video games with this label require sales at specialty stores, and some consoles won’t take them at all. This means that the product will not get proper success and sales, so it was frozen before the sales stage. The company tried to challenge the label but without success, so it decided to get rid of its development altogether.


    The game was released in 2015 and immediately gained wide popularity due to scandals. The fact is that the plot of the game is developed in New York, and the main character is a serial homicidal maniac who brutally massacres people just because they stress him out.

    Such gory scenes became intolerable, and the game was rated accordingly. The developer, unlike the previous example, didn’t get rid of his brainchild, but simply stated that “this is a normal murder game and we’re not going to bring a fake philosophy to it.”

    The bans turned out to be very conditional and temporary, the video game continued its existence and even received several updates.


    Censorship in the U.S. has complicated processes since the country has the First Amendment, which justifies most lawsuits in this direction. Public loyalty and lack of government control make it easy to sell game pieces with any content. At the same time, the Entertainment Software Rating Board makes adjustments and has a lot of influence on the release of games, which brings a certain balance and protects children from inappropriate scenes