Video Game Ratings: 10 Things Most Parents Don’t Know

Gone are the days when video games could show little more than blocky pixelated images on a screen. Games look nearly photorealistic nowadays, and many of them are full of violence, nudity, drug use, and all the other fun stuff that goes on in R-rated movies. The problem is that games appeal to kids, too. If you don’t want your children playing games made for adults, you’ll have to pay attention to what games they’re playing and what kind of potentially objectionable content is in those games.

Luckily, it’s easy to keep track of this stuff, thanks to the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (or ESRB). The ESRB operates much like the movie ratings board, assigning each game a content rating that ranges from “Early Childhood” to “Adult.” If your child is a gamer, here’s what you need to know about video game ratings.

1. ESRB ratings go deep

Nathan Drake and Sam ride a motorcycle.

Source: Sony

For each game rated by the ESRB, you’ll find an official rating that lets you know which age group the game is appropriate for. This is indicated by a letter you’ll find in the lower left corner of every game’s case. Turn the game over, and you’ll find a shorthand list of “content descriptors,” for things like Language, Violence, and Alcohol Use.

If you go to the ESRB’s website, you can find a Rating Summary, which digs deeper into specific things in the game that may be objectionable for children. For instance, here’s the Rating Summary for Uncharted 4, a game that received “T” rating, meaning it’s appropriate for no one younger than a teenager.

This is an action-adventure game in which players assume the role of Nathan Drake as he searches for a long-lost treasure. As players explore ancient ruins, they use pistols, machine guns, rocket launchers, and grenades to kill enemy thugs, soldiers, and mercenaries. Players can also use stealth takedowns and melee attacks (e.g., choking, neck snapping, fist fighting) to incapacitate enemies. Firefights are highlighted by realistic gunfire, large explosions, and blood-splatter effects. A handful of sequences depict characters getting stabbed or beaten with clubs; one sequence depicts the shooting of a defenseless guard during a prison break. During the course of the game, characters can be seen smoking cigarettes or cigars; a handful of scenes depict characters drinking bottles of beer or glasses of scotch. The words “sh*t” and “a*shole” appear in the dialogue.

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