Parenting and Technology: Understanding Video Game Ratings


In the early days of video games, there were no real rating systems for the content of those games, often because they were mostly simplistic and limited to a fringe audience. The video game industry has since adopted its own standard, similar to the film industry has with the MPAA rating system.

And just like with movies, not all games are made for, or marketed toward, children. Parents should be on the lookout if their kids are requesting games that contain content not appropriate for them. All video games are labeled with a rating from the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). You can find the rating letter, with accompanying information, on the front of every game box. You’ll even notice ratings on many ads for new games.

ESRB Rating Breakdown

  • E (Everyone): Games labeled E are considered safe for everyone over age 3, containing no material that is considered offensive or inappropriate.
  • EC (Early Childhood): An Early Childhood rating marks games that may contain fantasy or cartoon violence of a mild nature, possibly with mild, but not offensive, language that might not be meant for very small kids. All EC games are recommended for adults and children over 6.
  • E10+: The Everyone 10 and older rating marks titles that have an elevated level of fantasy or cartoon violence, with mild language and suggestive themes that some parents might find objectionable for kids under 10.
  • T (Teen): Teen titles aren’t meant for children under 13 years-old. They may portray violence, crude jokes, gambling and even use of strong language. More violence is also allowed under a T rating, possibly including minimal blood.
  • M (Mature): This is a 17 and older category, marking game content that is probably meant for players 17 and older. That could include intense amounts of violence and gore, very strong language and sexual themes or images.
  • AO (Adults Only): While many game developers attempt to avoid the Adults Only rating, as some game platforms won’t allow such games to be publish for their systems, there are games which the ESRB rates for only people over 18 years-old. Adult games may have significant amounts of graphic violence, sexual content and nudity.
  • RP (Rating Pending): You’ll typically only see this rating in ads for games that haven’t been released yet, but are being promoted prior to receiving a rating. It will be replaced by one of the other ESRB ratings before being released.

Ratings are not a replacement for good research

Parents can’t rely on ratings alone. You’ll notice that the above ratings descriptions are pretty vague; they’re that way by design. If you buy games just based on the rating, you’re really just outsourcing the parenting decision of what type of media you’ll allow your children to expose themselves to. The ratings are often based on subjective judgments by the ESRB, judgments that you would have made differently, and possibly given the game a different rating had you been in their seat.

Just like with movies, video games contain images, content and themes which may not fit into the nice little categories that the ESRB has set out. Before you buy a game for your kids, check out game reviews, critiques and advice from other parents. A simple Google search could ward you away from content in a game that isn’t made clear by the rating. Ultimately, only you can truly decide what type of entertainment is right for your kids.

About the Author: David Malmborg works with Dell, and enjoys writing about technology. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, the outdoors, and spending time with his family. If you’re looking for a laptop or desktop for your children or yourself, you can visit Dell here.