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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Episode 20 or What are ESRB Ratings?

If you frequent a video store you’ve come across this scene at least once:
What makes these games rated M?
Turn them over to find out.


“Mom/Dad, this is the one I want,” kid that has to be a pre-teen waves a copy of Grand Theft Auto, God of War, Mafia II, take your pick of any inappropriate M games.

“Well I don’t know, it’s rated M,” says obviously clueless parent.

“But we already played the first one at so-and-so’s house,” kid whines.

Mom looks at store employee, “Ok so what’s it rated for?”

“Well there’s a list on the back of the categories that put it into the M rating, but in this particular game you can do (insert list) and see this (insert list).” Says employee trying to be helpful and sway the Mom to making a good parenting decision.

“Well I’m not worried about violence, he’s pretty mature for an 8th grader,” says Mom.

Sigh, lady, your kid should not be playing this ultra violent, sexed up video game! Go buy him a book!!” thinks the frustrated worker but he/she actually says. “Well, I would have to remind you that every rated M game has to be purchased by someone 17 or older. We have to card for these games. They’re rated M for a reason, though there are varying degrees of M.”

“Well, we’ll take it, he’ll just play it at his friends anyway.”


This helpful site gives a description of what each symbol and each content descriptor means.

Each content descriptor can be preceded by ‘Mild’ which means low frequency or intensity. The ESRB listing of content descriptors is usually pretty accurate. The Irrelevant Gamer and I haven’t come across any games that were blatantly missing something from the description list. In fact a study done shows that “parents agreed with the ESRB ratings 82% of the time, while another 5% of the time the ratings were thought to be "too strict". A study, published in April 2007 by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), found that 87% of parents are "somewhat" to "very" satisfied with the ESRB ratings, and 64% agree with ratings "all," "nearly all" or "most of the time.”” (http://www.esrb.org/ratings/faq.jsp#19)

More people agree with the ESRB than with Congress!! ESRB for President!!

So how does a game get a rating?

Reviewers go through the games including gameplay and cut-scenes and fill out a questionnaire. Even scenes that don’t make the final cut have to be disclosed. That’s why some people wanted to investigate Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

The Irrelevant Gamer and I have always wanted to try our hand at being a ESRB reviewer, however, you have to be in New York City (Sad Panda!!)

Now with all the information out there, how can parents be so clueless? And what can be done? Well absentee parents aside, if they feel they need any further information the best resource is your local game shop employees. Any game seller worth his/her salt will be able to give you insights to why games are rated M since there are varying degrees of M-ness. (I lay claim to that word, M-ness.)

Of course they can do research online before they go to the game store with their children. The ESRB has a really nifty search for game ratings (http://www.esrb.org/ratings/index.jsp). If you know the title that’s the easiest way to look, but you can also find lists of games with specific criteria like, M rated games with nudity. Apparently there are 43 games that have been reviewed by the ESRB that are rated M and have nudity. Interestingly enough, there are 24 games listed with an AO (Adult Only) rating and they’re almost all for PC (only 2 for consoles).

The Irrelevant Gamer and I have been discussing kids and games a lot lately since we just welcomed our son into the world in late December 2011. Of course games are going to change a lot between now and when he’s a teen, but if he were a teen gamer now what would we let him play? Well it all depends on how he matures. We’d probably let him play games with less M-ness like Halo as early as 13/14. Something like Mass Effect/Dragon Age 15. Then we’d hope he’d be able to make his own good decisions by the time he’s 16, but until then we’d do a lot of gaming with him.


I guess that would be our central message. Game as a family and in moderation! There are lots of great games families with younger children can play together. Then as they get older play games with them so you can talk about them as they go.

The Relevant Gamer will be back soon with some new reviews and more about what’s coming up in 2012!

Until then, keep gaming friends!

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