Most of us understand what a game is, and for the most part we’ve all done something that equates to gaming, but we all have varying levels of knowledge of this ever changing industry. Games have gone from being a casual past times that parents used to keep kids occupied to a multi-billion dollar industry. Our parents mainly just got us a game at the store and most were easily kid friendly. There was no hassle, no confusion just simple purchase and forget about it. Today games have so many variations that that simple purchase has become a complicated mess of sorts. This series hopes to aid parents of modern gamers by covering all the intricacies of this past time in easy to understand editorials.
This particular piece will cover the importance of the rating system.
Similar to most other forms of entertainment, games have varying levels of appropriateness. Now what is or isn’t appropriate for your child is not for me to decide. Children mature at different rates, and different cultures view certain things differently. What I’m here to offer are guides to this industry to help parents choose appropriate games for their children. The rest is up to you.
Similar to movies and most other forms of entertainment, games have rating systems on them. The system you’ll need to use will depend on your geological location. These rating systems vary from region to region, but you should be able to find them on the cases games arrive in, digital storefronts or by using an online search. The two most popular rating systems used throughout the planet are the ESRB and PEGI. The ESRB is used mostly in the North and Central American region while PEGI is used by most of Europe, Africa, some of the Middle East and part of Asia. Other regions like Brazil, Germany, Australia, Russia, China, South Korea and Japan have their own systems. We’ll be focusing on the two most popular systems currently in use, the ESRB and PEGI, however this fundamental approach can be used with any rating system.
What is a rating system, and why should I know about it?
For a game to be sold in a region it first needs to be assessed by the video game governing body for that region. The system used to judge these games is similar to the motion pictures rating systems used in most counties. In most cases this is a self regulated system that is enforced by most retailers and online portals. Some retailers may even request photo id, but for the most part it’s the responsibility of the consumer. This means parents are responsible for what their children play, not the stores or game developers. This also means that you as the parent need to evaluate each game your child is interested in before purchase.
Here you can see the ratings used by the ESRB and PEGi:
- RP – This symbol is used in promotional materials for games which have not yet been assigned a final rating by the ESRB.
- EC – Games with this rating contain content which is aimed towards a preschool audience. They do not contain content that parents would find objectionable to this audience.
- E – Games with this rating contain content which the ESRB believes is “generally suitable for all ages”. They can contain content such as infrequent use of “mild”/cartoon violence and mild language. Until 1998, when it was renamed “Everyone”, this rating was known as Kids to Adults (K-A).
- E10+ – Games with this rating contain content which the ESRB believes is generally suitable for those aged 10 years and older. They can contain content with an impact higher than the “Everyone” rating can accommodate, but still not as high as to warrant a “Teen” rating, such as a larger amount of violence, mild language, crude humor, or suggestive content.
- T – Games with this rating contain content which the ESRB believes is generally suitable for teenagers (age 13 and up) and older; they can contain content such as moderate amounts of violence (including small amounts of blood), mild to moderate use of language or suggestive themes, sexual content, and crude humor.
- M – Games with this rating contain content which the ESRB believes is generally suitable for those aged 17 years and older; they can contain content with an impact higher than the “Teen” rating can accommodate, such as intense and/or realistic portrayals of violence (including blood, gore, mutilation, and depictions of death), stronger sexual themes and content, partial nudity, and more frequent use of strong language.
- AO – Games with this rating contain content which the ESRB believes is only suitable for those aged 18 years and older; they contain content with an impact higher than the “Mature” rating can accommodate, such as strong sexual themes and content, graphic nudity, extreme portrayals of violence, or unsimulated gambling with real currency. The majority of AO-rated titles are pornographic adult video games; the ESRB has seldom issued the AO rating solely for violence.
- PEGI 3 – Suitable for all ages. Can contain non-sexual nudity.
- PEGI 7 – Suitable for persons 7 and older. Compared to PEGI 3, the game has to contain possibly frightening scenes or sounds.
- PEGI 12 – Suitable for persons 12 and older. Compared to PEGI 7, the game has to contain slightly graphic violence or non-graphic violence towards human-looking characters.
- PEGI 16 – Suitable for persons 16 and older. Compared to PEGI 12, the game has to contain realistic violence or sexual activity; or extreme bad language and depictions of tobacco/drug use or criminal activity.
- PEGI 18 – Suitable only for persons 18 and older. Compared to PEGI 16, the game has to contain very realistic and extreme violence that may be repulsive to players.
Allow me to explain how they work. When you’re purchasing a game you’ll need to check the lower corners of the front and back of the packaging for all the information you’ll need. For parents who purchase digitally you’ll find the rating on lower the section of each game’s store page. Once you’ve identified the rating for the game you’ll then need to assess why it earned its rating. Next to the rating or on the back of the package you’ll find more details. These details can either be text in the case of the ESRB, or symbols as with the PEGI system. It’s important to check these extra details, because two games with the same rating may have earned their rating for very different reasons.
Example: The Legend of Zelda has cartoonish visuals and happens to be rated T. Likewise Uncharted 4 a game with photo realistic visuals, guns, and lots of violence also has a teen rating. Both games occupy the same rating, but one offers borderline mature content while the other doesn’t. This is where you the parent need do your research. It’s easy to spend $60 on a game, but is that worth exposing your child to in appropriate content?
Also ratings and games may vary from region to region due to cultural influences and other aspects that the rating body for that regions deems necessary.
Example: Games sold in Germany don’t carry any Nazi symbols. If a game has such symbols they will be removed or replaced. A good example for this are the changes in the Wolfenstein series.
It’s your responsibility to Adapt
It should also go without saying that games are no longer a past-time exclusively for child. There are games with references to alcohol, gore, drugs, sexual content, strong language and violence. These types of games are targeted towards a mature audience similar to the way websites like Pornhub target adults. This also doesn’t mean that kids won’t come into contact with things they’re not supposed to, but it’s your job as a responsible parent to limit their access as much as possible. On most modern consoles you’re able to use parental controls to limit the games a child can play based on its rating. This helps alleviate the possibility of your child playing inappropriate games without your knowledge.
Here are a few resources to assist in setting up parental controls for your child’s gaming device:
- PlayStation 4 parental controls
- Steam (PC) parental controls
- Nintendo Switch parental controls
- Xbox one Parental controls
Even with parental controls in place however, you’ll still need to be vigilant. This leads into the final and most import aspect of selecting appropriate content for your child.
Be involved, know what they play, what they like, and why they like it.
The most important things you can do to limit your child’s access to certain games is to be informed and involved in their lives. The easiest way to do this is watch game reviews, play games with them, watch them play and discuss their favorite games with them. This will ultimately bring you and your offspring closer together, and even if they end up playing something inappropriate you’ll be informed enough to explain it to them.
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