I am a firm believer in the benefits of video games. However, that is not to say that every video game is appropriate for everyone.
Part of our job as parents is to filter the content we allow our children to consume. This can be a tough job with video games. You can watch a movie or read the lyrics to a song to see if it is appropriate. However, video games can take hours to complete, if completion is even possible.
So how can you make sure your child is not going to see something inappropriate? That is where the ESRB comes in.
The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is a non-profit, self-regulatory body that assigns age and content ratings for video games and mobile apps so parents can make informed choices.
The ESRB provides 3 levels of detail for each game. They are Rating Symbols, Content Descriptors, and Rating Summaries.
The first level of detail is the rating symbol. A game rating symbol is similar to a movies ratings. Here are the symbols the ESRB uses with their movie equivalents. You can find the full descriptions of these symbols here.
- Early Childhood (EC) – Movie Rating = G
- Everyone (E) – Movie Rating = G/PG
- Everyone 10+ (E10+) – Movie Rating = PG
- Teen (T) – Movie Rating = PG-13
- Mature (M) – Movie Rating = R
- Adults Only (AO) – Movie Rating = NC-17
Depending on the age of your child, a game symbol may be all you need to make a decision. I know I do not want my young children playing anything rated T or M. As they get older, however, I will need more information to make informed decisions. I will need to drill down to the Content Descriptors.
Rating symbols can only tell you so much. For example, The Passion of the Christ and Bridesmaids are both rated R. However, that rating means something very different for each movie.
You can use the content descriptors to get a better understand of a games content. These are included on the box with the rating symbol.
The ESRB will assign descriptors from their list of 30 possibilities. These include things like Blood, Intense Violence, and Nudity.
You will want to read through the descriptors when looking at a game for your child. If you are looking at an M rated game, it will be violent. I do not know of any M rated video games that are not violent. However, there may be other things in the game you do not want your child to see.
The Witcher 2 is an RPG that is rated M. It has the “Blood and Gore” and “Intense Violence” descriptors you would expect. It also includes the “Nudity” and “Strong Sexual Content” descriptors that you will not see in other games. This may not affect your view of the game but you will want to know about it before making a purchase.
Of course, sometimes even the content descriptors could use more detail. Thankfully, the ESRB includes full rating summaries on their website.
When evaluating a particular game, you may come across a descriptor you are not sure about. A good example is the “Partial Nudity” descriptor. Knowing what content triggered that descriptor can be helpful. You may not care if your teenage son sees a male backside but may not want him to see female nudity at all. This is when you will need to look at the game’s rating summary.
Unlike the rating symbol and content descriptors, which can be found on a game’s box, the rating summary is found on the ESRB website. Here is their definition of the summary.
Rating summaries are a supplementary source of information that go beyond ESRB ratings to give parents a detailed yet brief and straightforward description of exactly the kind of content they would want to know about when choosing a game for their child.
With this summary, you should have all the information you need to evaluate a given game.
I highly recommend you take some time to get to know the ESRB website. It can be found at esrb.org. You can check out their FAQ here.