MPAA Rating Descriptors and their Definitions

The rating descriptors of movies rated by the MPAA vary greatly. The main purpose of these descriptors is to provide detailed information on the objectionable content that contributed to that film’s rating and are usually grouped under different levels of violence, profanity, sexual content, nudity, alcohol or substance use, and thematic material.

Initially used for films rated R in 1990, descriptors were encompassed for all ratings except G-rated films as an overwhelming majority of those films have little to no material that would offend parents for viewing by their kids.

Ratings also factor based on a film’s target audience, how people pay attention to them, and how they make sense.

Intensity factors

Most MPAA rating descriptors make use of intensity words to convey the level of content of each category present. These include:

FactorDefinition
BriefThis type of content occurs in only one scene.
MildAny type of content that isn’t severe or harsh.
SomeThis type of content occurs in at least two or more scenes, but does not appear throughout the film.
StrongAny type of content that is either graphic or coarse.
PervasiveThis type of content is prevalent throughout the film.

Sometimes you may see other adjectives that don’t fit with the ones above. Below are some examples of what I compiled.

FactorEquivalent
A substantial amount of XStrong or pervasive
SaltyStrong
Sequences ofSome
IntenseStrong
GraphicStrong
BrutalStrong
ViciousStrong
ThroughoutPervasive
NonstopPervasive
SustainedPervasive

Unblurring the Lines Between Certain Descriptors

A number of descriptors may be identical to the amount of content present in the films the MPAA rates, and some may be confusing, so let me unblur these lines in the following descriptors.

DescriptorDefinition
Sexual contentFilm includes references to sex or sexuality, or in some cases some sexually suggestive material, but no nudity.
SexualityFilm includes scenes of simulated intercourse without any references or dialogue.
Crude and Sexual Content/HumorFilm includes sexual references intended to be humorous in nature.

Now, let me include the adjectives that can help you unblur the lines between certain descriptors.

AdjectiveDefinition
BloodyIncludes realistic blood and/or mutilation of body parts.
ActionIncludes aggressive behavior against an individual, community, or themselves.
GrislyContent intended to cause horror or disgust. Usually reserved for violence.
DisturbingSame as above, but not as intense.
Bodily humorEquivalent to crude humor, anything involving flatulence and belching would fall under here.
ScaryContains material that could potentially frighten small children.

Here are some suffixes that would accompany some descriptors.

SuffixDefinition
ContentMostly reserved for sexuality, but can be used for violence (for example, disturbing violent content).
ImagesMostly reserved for the adjectives above (for example, grisly images, scary images, or disturbing images)
MaterialUsually reserved for sexuality or substance.

Examples involving Video Games

During the process of establishing a video game rating system, it was a shame the MPAA couldn’t step in and rate all games in the same way as films. If they did, then it wouldn’t make the process as confusing and parents could use the same ratings as films when deciding on games to buy for their kids.

GameMPAA Conversion
Grand Theft Auto V (2013)Rated R for strong violence and pervasive language throughout, some graphic crude and sexual content/nudity, drinking, and drug use
Doki Doki Literature Club (2018)Rated R for some disturbing violent content and bloody images, language, and suggestive references.
Omori (2020)Rated R for disturbing thematic material involving suicide, violent images, and brief strong language.
Maneater (2020)Rated R for graphic shark attacks and grisly images, some crude and sexual content, and language.
Gal*Gun (2011 – present)Rated R for sexual material throughout – all involving teens.

Half the Persona series is rated R, sexual material being the reason why. Below are the MPAA conversions of all games that carry a restricted rating.

InstallmentMPAA Conversion
Persona 3Rated R for some sexual content including nudity, language, and violent images.
Persona 4Rated R for language throughout, and for some sexual content and violent images.
Persona 5Rated R for violence and disturbing images, some sexual content including nudity, brief strong language, and drug material.

Let me touch on the games that would end up being rated NC-17, alongside their censored counterparts.

GameMPAA Conversion
Grand Theft Auto: San AndreasRated NC-17 for strong graphic violence and pervasive language including offensive slurs throughout, an explicit sex scene, and drug use.
Rated R for strong violence and pervasive language including offensive slurs throughout, some graphic sexual content, and drug use.
Ef: A Fairy Tale of the TwoRated NC-17 for explicit sexual content/nudity throughout, brief strong language, and some violent images including sexual assault.
Dungeon Travellers 2Rated NC-17 for bizarre sexuality/nudity, language, and some bloody images.
Rated R for sexual content/nudity, language, and some bloody images.
Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum LaudeRated NC-17 for explicit sexual content/nudity and pervasive language throughout, and for some drinking.
Rated R for pervasive crude and sexual content including nudity and language throughout, and for some drinking.

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