For The Parents: Video Game Ratings Explained

September 4, 2007

If your child plays video games, then you should be familiar with what they are playing. As difficult as that sounds, it’s actually quite simple to keep an idea on what your kids are playing to ensure they are not being exposed to overly mature content. The video game industry has adopted a rating system much like what the Motion Picture industry uses. As video games continue to push their way into the mainstream, it will become even more important that parents know what these ratings mean.

The rating system was designed and is managed by the Entertainment Software Rating Board, or ESRB for short. The system was designed to provide concise and impartial information about the content of interactive entertainment so that consumers can make informed purchasing decisions. The current system is broken up into 2 parts: a rating symbol and a set of content descriptors.

The rating symbol is one of a number of symbols that gives you a quick way to identify the overall age group that this particular game is appropriate for. Ratings include: EC, E, E10+, T, M, AO, and RP. Here is a quick breakdown of the rating symbols and a summary of what they mean, as taken from the ESRB website:

  • Early Childhood – Titles rated EC (Early Childhood) have content that may be suitable for ages 3 and older. Contains no material that parents would find inappropriate.
  • Everyone – Titles rated E (Everyone) have content that may be suitable for ages 6 and older. Titles in this category may contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language.
  • Everyone 10+ – Titles rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) have content that may be suitable for ages 10 and older. Titles in this category may contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language and/or minimal suggestive themes.
  • Teen – Titles rated T (Teen) have content that may be suitable for ages 13 and older. Titles in this category may contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling, and/or infrequent use of strong language.
  • Mature – Titles rated M (Mature) have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
  • Adults Only – Titles rated AO (Adults Only) have content that should only be played by persons 18 years and older. Titles in this category may include prolonged scenes of intense violence and/or graphic sexual content and nudity.
  • Rating Pending – Titles listed as RP (Rating Pending) have been submitted to the ESRB and are awaiting final rating. (This symbol appears only in advertising prior to a game’s release.)

These rating symbols will appear on the front of every video game you see available for purchase. For a more thorough idea of what type of content is contained within each game, the ESRB also includes content descriptors. These content descriptors are a listing of which type of elements you can expect to find in a game and often times explain why a game was assigned a particular rating. The content descriptors for a particular game are listed on the back of the game where the rating symbol appears a 2nd time. The list of content descriptors is quite lengthy so we won’t include the full list, but here are a few that you are likely to run across:

Animated Blood – Discolored and/or unrealistic depictions of blood

Comic Mischief – Depictions or dialogue involving slapstick or suggestive humor

Fantasy Violence – Violent actions of a fantasy nature, involving human or non-human characters in situations easily distinguishable from real life

Lyrics – Mild references to profanity, sexuality, violence, alcohol or drug use in music

For a full list of the content descriptors that the ESRB uses you can go