ESRB- What every parent needs to know

ESRB Being a gamer mom, I have to stay on top of not only the current games, but what type of content they contain. With everything from a Wii to a DS (Blessings to Nintendo) to a PlayStation and X-Box 360 as well as computer games, I see just about every new game that rolls out. Being a mom of kids ranging in ages from 6-14 not to mention the fact that I enjoy playing these games as well, I have to stay up on the ratings of each new game. That is where the ESRB ratings come into play. Do you have any idea what I am talking about when I say ESRB ratings? If you plan on buying any video games for your family– especially your children– you need to know what this means. In short, ESRB stands for: Entertainment Software Rating Board. ESRB is a non-profit, self-regulatory body established in 1994 by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA). They are the ones who assign video games and computer games their ratings based on their content.

What does that mean to you?

In short, “know before you go” exactly what the industry has to say about the game you or your children want to buy. Meaning… is this age appropriate? It may seem innocent, but without knowing the rating you can unknowingly set yourself up for a shock.

How does it work? Here is how ESRB explains the process. (There is more to it. Go check it out.)

Prior to a game being released to the public, game publishers submit responses to a detailed written ESRB questionnaire… specifying exactly what pertinent content (as defined by ESRB) will be in the game. Along with the written submission materials, publishers must provide a videotape or DVD which captures all pertinent content, including the most extreme instances, across all relevant categories including but not limited to violence, language, sex, controlled substances and gambling. Pertinent content that is not playable (i.e., “locked out”), but will exist in the game code on the final game disc, must also be disclosed.

Once the submission is checked by ESRB for completeness, which may also involve ESRB staff members playing a beta or alpha version of the game, the video footage is reviewed by at least three specially trained game raters. ESRB raters must be adults and typically have experience with children, whether through prior work experience, education or by being parents or caregivers themselves.

I will break it down for you.

More…

eC Early Childhood It contains content that may be suitable for ages 3 and older. There is nothing objectionable in these games.

E (Everyone) These games have content that may be suitable for ages 6 and older. These may contain minimal cartoon violence and possible frequent use of mild language.

E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) This is where many parents draw the line with their younger children. (Meaning 10 and under.) I suggest that children under the age of 10 stay away from these games unless you feel they are mature enough to handle such content as cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language and/or minimal suggestive themes.

T (Teen) This is where parents really need to start using their own judgment. You have to know what your teen can and cannot handle and what you are and are not willing to let them be subjected to when playing a video game. These games are geared toward ages 13 and up. The content may contain crude humor, minimal blood, violence, suggestive themes, simulated gambling, and/or infrequent use of strong language.

M (Mature) This is similar to a movie with an “R” rating. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language. Parents should really see the game in action before agreeing to buy them. Again, your best judgment is your guide.

AO (Adults Only) This one is pretty self explanatory. Adults. Only. These are the games that may have scenes of intense violence and/or graphic sexual content and nudity. They are not suitable for children at all.

RP (Rating Pending) Finally, we have the Rating Pending. Simply put, that means that they game manufacturers have put in for a rating and have not yet received it. It does not mean that it will fall under a more “mature” category. It just has not yet been rated.

Mama Divas have a great article that explains an additional bonus these ratings can provide for you and your family.

The Wii, X-box 360 and the PS3 are all equipped with password protected parental control functions that will enable you to lock out games and DVDs based on their ratings and even limit certain online and multiplayer activities depending on your preferences.

With all of the information out there, it can be overwhelming when your child/teen begs for a game that “all of his friends are playing” but you see that rating and question it. The truth of the matter is there are games that some kids are playing that are just not suitable for their age. That is a fact. As parents, you have to decide what is and is not allowed in your home.

From Bobby Sharpe’s blog Opyn Mindz:

With the holiday shopping season in full swing, the National Institute on Media and the Family presented its 12th annual video game report card Tuesday to help parents decide what games are appropriate for their children.

“There’s an endless stream of new games that will never be suitable for children,” said Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., who joined institute officials and other lawmakers at a news conference.

Last but not least, one thing that you should take away from all of this ratings talk is that games are not made exclusively for children. There are games out there for adults to play and enjoy. Personally, after a hard day, give me a great, graphic game of World of Warcraft and let me loose on some “enemies” to get the frustration of the day out in a fun, safe way. Does my 6 year old play? No. Is it up to me whether or not my teen and pre-teen play? Absolutely.

A post on the blog Random Bloggings completely understands what I mean.

In my opinion the issue here is that the media/parents see games as things for children, not for adults. As a result they have this idea that they may pick up any game at a store, and it should be fine for their child. The fact of the matter is that this isn’t reality. There are games designed for a variety of age groups. All games have a rating icon that is more clearly displayed than most movie ratings. They don’t take a rocket scientist to decode (E – Everyone, T – Teen, M – Mature). These rating icons also include, much like DVD movie rating icons, the reasons the game was rated at the level it was. I can only think of one game that I’ve played and enjoyed rated M, and that’s the Halo series. But I’m fine with there being M rated games, in much the same way I’m fine with there being R rated movies.

So, my plea is to parents. But, as a youth pastor, I also try to do my part. In particular, we don’t play Halo at a youth ministry gathering because of its M rating. I personally don’t have a problem with the game, and I have yet to figure out why its rated M and other FPS games are rated T. But, my opinion doesn’t matter. It has been rated M by the ESRB, and so since we have students under 17 at our youth ministry, no one plays it. I get complaints, and will get them in the future. But that’s life, I suppose.

I know that is a lot of information, but at this time of year when parents want to know what game is the best for their children, these ratings can help prevent many embarrassing, unfortunate and down right inappropriate results.

Now that you know what I am talking about with the ESRB ratings, stay tuned for my holiday guide of the Top 10 Games for Gaming Families later.

Jennifer is off to go hide in a corner with her DS because I have used up all of my computer gaming time for the day. Kids can be strict with the limits!

8 Comments

  1. That is a very good post. I have known about the ratings for a while but never really looked into them or thought about them and this is excellent information. I wish I had the time to sit down and take out my daily frustrations with a game of warcraft. I guess I will just have to settle with a video game of Warcraft at the theater when hubby and I can let loose on our date night. LOL

  2. My 9 year old played “Super Smash Brothers Melee” at a friend’s house. He absolutely freaked when he later found out it was rated “T” and was afraid he would be in trouble with me. Fortunately, the friend’s parents (who are my best friends) had seriously monitored the game before allowing their child to play it, and found that it was fine. I believe the “T” rating is because of cartoon violence – but since it’s basically Nintendo characters from different games punching each other, no blood or anything like that, it’s really not bad. I have since played it with him several times and have no problems with it.
    BUT that having been said, I have seen a couple of “T” games that I would not even consider letting him play. You just have to monitor them and pay attention!

  3. I love you. Thanks so much! My brother is buying my kids a Wii for Christmas. And it will need games. Lots of freaking games, sigh. Even though there is a PS2 languishing in the corner….

    Looking forward to your suggestions!

  4. Thank you for doing this, so that I can point others here. I am often quite amazed at the point you make so well here that parent’s need to be aware of such things.

    I will add the one caveat that is sort of brought of by one of your quotes though. These rating are subjective and done by humans so opinion does play a crucial part. So it is entirely possible to get a T – Teen game that somebody else may consider M-Mature, and vice versa. It is a good “guide” but it is just that… a guide. You don’t have to (necessarily) approve off all games that are for “everybody” and like the example given of “Halo” it is entirely possible that it may be OK, despite the ESRP deciding that this particular game (unlike others of its genre) is rated M rather than T. So, even using the ESRP doesn’t take ALL the guesswork out of it, a parent still needs to think and decide on their own.

    The ESRP guide is still (just to re-emphasize the point), an excellent starting point though.

  5. I am in awe of you – you PLAY those games?? I can barely manage PacMan. Found your blog through Blog365 and I’ll definitely be back. 🙂

  6. Good information, but I must admit, I only skimmed the content of this post. I think Buzz and the Empress are old enough to chose their own games. And they’re the youngest kids I have.

    Happy New Year! Have a wonderful 2008.

    Cas

  7. I found your blog through Dawn at Because I Said So. I read your series on starting a blog but haven’t been back to check you out more until now. BTW, that seriers was very helpful. We just got a Wii for Christmas for our daughter (and my husband) we also have an xbox 360, nintendo DS, and gamecube. I kind of understood the ratings, but your detail was very helpful. I usually leave the game buying to my husband. I’ve never been good at computer games, even as a kid. I have had trouble in the past trying to find something appropriate for my 5 year old’s gameboy that she can play.

  8. We would like to wish you and your family a happy 2008!
    Don and Carol

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