Ratings Creep? Sh*t Common in T-rated Games

Is the S-word more prevalent in T-rated (13 and older) games these days? And if so, is it a problem?

What They Play looks at the issue:

We’ve perceived a gradual shift in the "strength" of much of the language used in [T-rated] games’ scripts… our reviewers have described the use of certain words with more frequency; most notably the word "s**t."…


Recent Teen-rated games that have used the word include… InFamous on PlayStation 3… Wheelman… Battlefield: Bad Company… Mirror’s Edge… HAWX, and… Tom Clancy’s Endwar.

ESRB President Patricia Vance offered the content rating organization’s perspective:

Assigning ratings to language in video games is less straight-forward than many people may realize… how we evaluate language when assigning ratings has remained relatively consistent over the years, with factors like frequency and intensity having always been particularly relevant…


There’s no question that the average parent is sensitive to the language to which their children are exposed, just as they are to sexual or violent content. That’s why one of our ‘language’ content descriptors will always be assigned to a T-rated game that contains profanity.

What They Play concludes that while sh*t is here to stay, overall the language in T-rated games remains a bit more regulated than that found in PG-13 movies.

GP: The concept of "ratings creep," in which what is acceptable within a rating gradually expands to encompass content once barred, has been found by Harvard researchers in relation to movie ratings. Could the same gradual process be afoot with ESRB categories?

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  1. cornbread says:

    Finally seeing some more reasonable responses. More importantly the information in the article is incorrect. Language in this case Shit, has ALWAYS been acceptable content in Teen rated titles. If anything, the ratings creep is moving in the opposite direction in terms of language.

  2. ikillchicken says:

    Well…I guess shit happens.

    Honestly though, I could see complaining if it was popping up in E games but T? Who cares? Shit is a relatively minor cuss. Compare that to the games in question. In Infamous, I can toss electric grenades into a crowd and kill dozens of people. Hell, even if I don’t choose to act evil there are constantly dead bodies scattered all over the place. This is all perfectly fine apparently but god forbid the word shit is heard? It just goes to show what an utter joke the current ratings system is. It completely fails to offer any degree of real insight that in the vast majority of cases couldn’t be attained by simply reading the box.

  3. Adamas Draconis says:

    Same here. Theres just instances where "Crap" just doesn’t cut it, in RL and in drama, which is supposed to be based on life.

    Hunting the shadows of the troubled dreams.

  4. Bigman-K says:

    Personally I think language should have no bearing on a rating higher then Teen for video games and PG-13 for movies, unless it pervasively sexually explicit. I mean does anybody remember elementary school recess, the f-bombs were dropped non-stop and it’s never harmed anybody.

     "No law means no law" – Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black on the First Amendment

  5. Thomas McKenna says:

    Cause yes, it’s obvious that bad things happen in the world simply because of bad language.

    Who cares if there’s some harsh language?  If anything, it should be a far secondary in terms or ratings (which it appears to be in this case) and that’s simply due to some imaginary "politeness" factor.

    You’re playing a game where the character needs to be somewhat believable (the actual character, not the shit they can do).  Real people swear unless their old or uptight.  Watch the P&T episode about swearing, it’s awsome.

  6. Wormdundee says:

    Eh, the whole concept of a swear word is pretty ridiculous.

    I can see racially charged words like nigger or something being unacceptable, but what is so bad about ‘fuck’, or ‘shit’? Upon hearing these words does a child’s brain implode?

    The only reason for them being swear words is because of circular reasoning. Basically, they are profrane because they’re…profane.

    I say it’s all about context. It would be polite to not be talking about fucking somebody in the presence of some young kid, but if it’s used simply as an exclamation of anger/pain/etc. I don’t see what the problem with a kid hearing it is.

    I’d like to know other people’s thoughts on this.

  7. ZippyDSMlee says:

    The ESRB uses a er… "live" rantings system do they not?Those on the jury duty if you will who are trained to rate content in some manner look at the content given them and pass a vote if all can agree it gets rated, so as society subtly changes you will see such effects in rantings, but further more T=PG13 so more likely its all a  catching up effect.


    I am a criminal because I purchase media,I am a criminal because I use media, I am a criminal because I chose to own media..We shall remain criminals until Corporate stay’s outside our bedrooms..


  8. Azhrarn says:

    My guess is they show a little bit to much pixelated bits of miss Joana Dark somewhere in the game?


  9. chadachada321 says:

    The biggest and greatest example I have is Perfect Dark for the N64. Were it released today, it would barely make Teen for the tiny bit of language, tiny bit of violence, and a little bit of blood. Yet it was rated M for Mature, and the reasoning still escapes me to this day. Even games at the time could usually go farther and still be rated T, but for some reason it was rated M. Idk, it just seemed odd to me.

    -If an apple a day keeps the doctor away….what happens when a doctor eats an apple?-

  10. Anthrax says:

    It’s happening in movies too, but nobody seems to care about them. Juno had a pseudo F-bomb at the end, where’s the whining about that?

  11. Stealthmaster says:

    I’m suprised no one talked about Beeteljuice having the F Bomb… and THAT’S A PG MOVIE….For KIDS….and don’t forget about Jaws.

  12. Aurontsubaki says:

    Teen-rated is like the PG-13 of video games. While Everyone 10+ is likely PG. This doesn’t surprise me. So shit is commonly used in T-Rated games now, I ain’t shock. 

    What we got here is failure to communicate!

  13. KaylaKaze says:

    Maybe some of these people complaining should hang out with 13 year olds for a while.

     And before PG-13 ratings, PG movies that were considered "family comedy" said fuck quite a bit (see Short Circuit)

  14. Azhrarn says:

    Considering the sheer amount of violence you can get away with for a T-rating these days I’m not surprised a little more harsh language is also getting through.

  15. Pirce says:

    Shit is a native English word for human waste that comes out the rear end. The reason we use feces is that during the Victorian period it became the mindset that using Latin words was more appropriate and so certain English words, such as shit, became rude to use and thus eventually degraded into "swear words".

    Now of course these are the same people who invented the stork story because they couldn’t stand to hear that a woman was pregnant and put covers on table legs so men wouldn’t become so horny upon seeing them that they rape the nearest woman. Look that last one up if you don’t believe me.

    So to anyone who get’s all upity about shit, well now you know what league you belong in.


    Eggy Weggs

  16. jedidethfreak says:

    It’s a big deal because of the fact that most responsible parents don’t want their kids actively involved in media that has swearing in it.  Movies and music don’t require actual physical input, therefore the emotional connection between people and them is not as intense as it is with games.

    As a gamer parent, I would not want my child having access to games with a lot of swearing in it, without my direct involvement.  I’m well aware that such a desire is dependant on my involvement with my children, as well as how I raise them, and the policies franchises have on selling games to minors.  However, as long as I have the ability to help it, I will do what I can to keep stuff with a lot of gore and hard language away from my kids.


    Freedom of speech means the freedom to say ANYTHING, so long as it is the truth. This does not exclude anything that might hurt someone’s feelings.

  17. mdo7 says:


    uh, Don’t forget Hancock (saw that movie last night), it had one F-word in there and it got PG-13.  The unrated version had multiple F-word in there.  I also remember the movie The Lake House (Keanu Reeves, and Sandra Bullock) which was rated PG, they said sh*t in one scene.


    Why is saying S**t in T-rated video game is a big concern.  It’s not like that strong, the F-word is much more stronger then any profanities (actually, dick and Pu**ies are on the same level and somewhat can give you an R-rating if it’s use in very sexual ways).     



  18. PHOENIXZERO says:

    Now? Titanic was PG-13 and had nudity 12 years ago. Before that there was the George Burns movie, 18 Again that had nudity and that was back in 1988, just four years after the rating was introduced. It’s all how its used/context and frequency of use.

  19. E. Zachary Knight says:

    Actually, you can F Bomb in PG-13 movies. There is no hard standard known to the masses, but it has been estimated that you can have the F Bomb up to 3 times before getting slapped with an R rating.

    Movies just off the top of my head with the F Bomb:

    Pursuit of Happyness, Core

    Those are the two that  Ican think of, but I know it has been in more.

    E. Zachary Knight
    Oklahoma City Chapter of the ECA

    E. Zachary Knight
    Divine Knight Gaming
    Oklahoma Game Development
    Rusty Outlook
    Random Tower
    My Patreon

  20. 1AgainstTheWorld says:

    Actually you can have the F-bomb and still scrape a PG-13.  But you can only use it once, and the context in which it’s used can’t refer to the actual physical act of F-ing someone.

  21. Adamas Draconis says:

    When they started PG-13 on movies, you maybe heard "damn" and ‘hell’. Now you can hear anything short of the F-bomb or have nudity and get pg-13. It’s just how people’s sensitivity to such things has changed.

    Hunting the shadows of the troubled dreams.

  22. deathvanquished says:

    I remember hearing about the language in an audio commentary.  They said that a PG movie can have one major swear(like a Fuck or a Shit), but the context has to be an exclamation and not directed at somebody and the whole movie has to have a very light tone.

    PG-13 can have the word fuck uttered 3 times, the forth time is an automatic R, but PG-13 can say shit constantly.  PG-13 can have blood but it can’t spray.


  23. E. Zachary Knight says:

    Personally I found Predator and Predator 2 to be quite a bit more gory than Alien vs Predator. I don’t remember seeing much gore at all in AVP, but Predator 2 at least had several instances of blood dripping corpses hanging from ceilings and Predators carrying dismembered heads.

    If it wasn’t the gore level that made the rating change, it was most likely the fact that the majority of the violence in AVP was between Predator and Alien rather than one of those and humans.

    E. Zachary Knight
    Oklahoma City Chapter of the ECA

    E. Zachary Knight
    Divine Knight Gaming
    Oklahoma Game Development
    Rusty Outlook
    Random Tower
    My Patreon

  24. black manta says:

    If that’s the case, then I’d say yeah, T is the new PG-13.

    Incidentally, for all the hand-wringing, wailing and gnashing of teeth some people have when a sequel to an R-Rated film is rated PG-13, having been old enough to have seen the originals the first time out, I personally didn’t find those latter sequels to be any less graphic than the originals.  To wit, the violence in movies like Terminator: Salvation, Alien Vs. Predator and Live Free or Die Hard was no more graphic than what was found in, The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Alien, Aliens, Predator, Predator 2 or the first two Die Hards.  It should be remembered that those earlier movies were released at a time when PG-13 either didn’t exist yet or was just so new that the envelope hadn’t been pushed yet.  Had those movies been released today, they’d be PG-13.

    Today, usually movies are rated R for very harsh language or extreme violence.  From what I understand, the only reason why Live Free or Die Hard was rated PG-13 was because Bruce Willis wasn’t clearly heard to say "Yippee ki-yay motherf**er," at the end.  And Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem was rated R for among other things the killing of children (which is still apparently considered taboo) and a graphic scene involving a pregnant woman.  And it’s likely Watchmen got rated R due to a sex scene and couple of graphic dismemberments (not to mention Dr. Manhattan’s trouser snake).  So really I guess the only thing that separates a PG-13 from an R is sex and nudity which, given the purtian foundations of our country was founded on, is really hardly surprising.

  25. MaskedPixelante says:

    oh inFamous, it uses that word the way most people would use a comma.

    —You are likely to be eaten by a Grue.

  26. MechaTama31 says:

    I don’t see how ratings creep could possibly not be afoot.  The ratings are made by people, people who make value judgements, people whose values change over time.  Do you expect a reviewer to sit there and try to decide if something would have been acceptable 10 years ago?  Of course not, they have to judge it based on their values right now.

    The creep isn’t all one way, either.  Things like smoking, or derogatory statements/slurs about homosexuals, are less acceptable now than they used to be.  Times change, standards change, and the ratings have to change with them to stay relevant.

  27. Vake Xeacons says:

    Yep. I’ve studied old B&W movies where you couldn’t say the word "pregnant." It’s not ratings that change; it’s people’s sensitivity. We get numb to a cuss word, and it becomes slang instead of swear. Eventually, s**t will become common place, and no one will care, except in lower ratings catagory (there are still some common words you have to watch out for in G & E ratings).

  28. Arell says:

    As cultural attitudes towards certain content change, it is reflected in the ratings system.  Flexibility is  part of what makes a privately run group work so well.

  29. Arcanagos says:

    Actually, this has been happening for quite a while. Anyone remember Enter The Matrix for the PS2?  Didn’t think so, but that game used the word several times, and still managed a T rating

    "Go ahead and hate your neighbor, go ahead and cheat a friend. Do it in the name of Heaven, Jack Thompson’ll justify it in the end." – nightwng2000

  30. CyberSkull says:

    The ratings creep doesn’t surprise me. I just hope the ESRB keeps the F-bomb out of T rated games and I will be happy. 

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