All Games Are Not Created Equal

A look into the video games rating system and what it all means for you and your gamer kids.

With everything happening in the news and at our local game stores, we thought we might want to help spread information on the ESRB rating system (and its international counterpart PEGI): how it works and what each rating can symbolize. We hope that by sharing knowledge we can continue to educate others (or ‘edumacate’ for those who exclusively read LOLCats) and continue to enjoy our hobbies without anyone being hurt, blamed or run out of business.

First of all, we have the full rating system from eC (early Childhood) to Ao (Adults only) using the ESRB as well as the PEGI system of suitable ages from 3 all the way to 18+.

Notice that each has a suggested age and examples of the kind of materials consumers can expect in each game described. Unlike Movie ratings, where PG-13 movies can vary greatly without any additional detail as to why they each have the PG-13 rating, every game has a listing beside the rating as to why this particular game received its rating. That’s right, they’re not standard. The front cover of the game contains the rating, but on the back cover you have the per-game details of the rating as well.

In this close-up of the back cover of DmC (the new Devil May Cry reboot), we can see it is not only M for Mature, but all the reasons this game was designated M are listed out. The back also lists support of Family Settings, which means that if you put a block on M games on your children’s Xbox 360 they can’t play them without a password you have set up. This allows you to play games separately (if you, the parent, are a gamer) without worrying about your children playing your more mature titles without permission or supervision. (This can be done in the Family Settings section of the Console Settings.)Each game also has an Interactive Elements icon (when applicable) that tells you if the game or app shares personal information, displays the user’s location or if it allows online user interaction. This is also shown in “Online Interactions Not Rated by the ESRB”. This is because they have no way of knowing who you’re going to talk to on Xbox Live or what anyone will say while you’re on there; A little obvious, but important to know for watching the younger generation of us gamer geeks.

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I also managed to find a pie chart showing us the ratings earned in 2011. As you can plainly tell, there were more E for Everyone and E10+ (everyone over the age of 10) games than T for Teen and M for Mature combined. Only 9% of games in 2011 earned an M for Mature rating and I probably own most of them at this point.

Not only is the ESRB good just for the rating system, but if you go to their website, they actually have a search engine specifically to let you search for a game’s name. Using the search engine you can learn what the game is about in addition to its rating. You can also search by platform and category, meaning if you don’t know what games are out and suitable for different age groups, you can literally search by the console owned and then filter for the ratings and the content types to Include or Exclude and it will give you a list of all the appropriate games!I was also extremely pleased when, while discussing the issue at my local game store, the young woman behind the counter showed me that they are also trying to educate parents and have a simple pamphlet explaining all the codes and all the possible reasons for those codes as well. I happily grabbed one for myself in order to show you and share with you, just as GameStop is trying to do in many of its stores right now. The content descriptors are as follows:

So to recap: knowledge good, ignorance bad. ESRB good, blaming games bad.And also: “Fire bad, tree pretty. “ – Buffy The Vampire Slayer

For more information on the rating system, the content types, and for the video game rating search, go to: