One of the most important guides to help parents determine the appropriateness of video games is the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) ratings. These ratings are designed to provide information about the content and age-appropriateness of video games. The six major rating codes include:
- EC (Early Childhood): Content suitable for ages 3 and older.
- E (Everyone): Content suitable for ages 6 and older.
- E10+ (Everyone 10+): Content suitable for ages 10 and older.
- T (Teen): Content suitable for ages 13 and older.
- M (Mature): Content suitable for ages 17 and older.
- AO (Adults Only): Content should be played only by people 18 and older.
In addition to the ratings, there are descriptions of the content including categories such as Alcohol References, Animated Blood, Crude Humor, Nudity, Sexual Themes, and Violence.
Many parents choose not to pay much attention to the ESRB Ratings. For example, it is common to hear of 10-year-olds playing the latest M-rated games, sometimes with their parents. While 10-year-olds playing M-rated games can sometimes be a function of inattention on the part of parents, it may also reflect parental perspectives about fantasy and video-game play. Parents may also observe when these games are not negatively impacting their children, or that their children are avid gamers who find these games to be a source of pride and enjoyment.
Suggestions as to how to best utilize ESRB Ratings:
- Use the ratings at a starting point. Consider other factors such as your children’s maturity levels, their ability to moderate the amount of time they spend playing video games, and the intensity with which they play.
- It matters whether you play with them. If you regularly play a game with your children you might choose to allow your 10- or 11-year-olds to play a T-rated game with you because you’ll have an opportunity to talk about any issues that come up in the game and use them as a learning experience.
- Pay attention to the content. Some children (and, for that matter, parents) react far more negatively to certain types of content than others. For example, some children are very frightened by zombies and monsters, others by blood and guts.
- Know your own value system. For some parents, violence is the most serious concern, for others sexualized content or gender stereotypes. If you are uneasy about a game, it is not for your kids (at least until they are teenagers).
- Use the ratings to your advantage. If you are uncomfortable with material in a particular video game, do not hesitate to inform your children that you will not allow them to purchase this game because they are not old enough for the rating. For example, in order to purchase an M-rated game, most teens need an adult to accompany them. Sure, they might play the game at a friend’s house, but you can make your viewpoint eminently clear.