A guide to ESRB ratings for parents with a Wii, PS3, or Xbox 360 in their home

November 22, 2007

A guide to ESRB ratings for parents with a Wii, PS3, or Xbox 360 in their home Whether buying gifts for nephews, nieces, cousins, or your own children, are you making sure you’re buying an appropriate title for them?

Every holiday season the same thing happens.  I’m wondering through the game section of a local retailer when I come upon an Aunt or Grandma with some kids.  The kids are doing everything and more to convince the adult that they should buy it for them as a Christmas gift. 

Having pity for the poor soul, I stop and explain to the adult that they should look at the ESRB rating.  Most of the time they won’t know what that is, or doesn’t believe it is that bad.  Of course this follows with questions on what really is in the game.  When grandma figures out that the game "Fluffy Bunny Killer" isn’t a cute little kids game, but instead is about a crazed rabbit on a killing spree in Kitty Katropolis, she isn’t happy with little Jimmy.

This entire scenario is actually all too common.  Many people will buy video games as presents and never think twice about whether it is appropriate for the person they are giving it to.  So today I wish to go over the ESRB rating system and the reality of what you would find with that rating.

  • Early Childhood: Games found with this rating are suggested for anyone 3 years or older.  Usually the game in question will be an educational game to help children with numbers, letters, shapes and colors.  You won’t find any text intensive games in this category.
  • Everyone: Just like a Disney animated movie, anyone in the family can enjoy this one.  Violence found in these games will usually have no blood loss attached to it.  Other topics you won’t see in these games are sexual references and the type of language the kids will learn from Uncle Bob.
  • Everyone 10+: You’ll find the same degree of violence and swearing as you would on cable television during the afternoon and early evening with these. Usually you’ll find games placed into this category due to stronger language than what would be found in E. Don’t feel too bad about buying these for pre-teens, even if they think they are 12 going on 21.
  • Teen: Probably the biggest category to choose from, if you have no clue about video games you will easily get lost here.  These games will have a fair amount of violence, gore, language and references to sexual activities and nudity.  Teenagers will not see anything new here that they haven’t seen on television or learned from their peers at school.
  • Mature: If you’re buying one of these as a gift, make sure it’s what they want.  Games earn this rating for having blood baths and mild sex scenes along with dialog that can contain multiple f-bombs.  It’s best to just make sure that no kids are around at all when playing these.
  • Adults Only:  This mainly contains games that are nothing BUT nudity, or almost pornographic in nature.  These are not commonly found in most stores.
  • Rating Pending: For some reason a rating has not been released yet.  Usually that just means the game isn’t finished therefore not submitted to the ESRB for rating.  If the game is released and has this rating, I suggest some research into why it has this rating before buying the title.

A few more pointers:

  • Due to copy write laws, most stores won’t refund opened games.  If you’re at all unsure about what you are buying research the game before purchase.
  • Always ask for a gift receipt.  Most major stores provide this service and it will help out immensely if a refund is needed to go to a different store.
  • If looking at purchasing an online capable game, assume that it is one rating higher than on the box.  Online chat, verbal or written, is notorious for 13 year olds trying out newly learned swear words and adults trying to run the "kids" out of their video game by verbally assaulting them.

Just remember that no matter what you buy this year that there is only one way to protect against improper content.  Sit down and play games with your kids.  You’ll know what’s going into their head and they’ll love you all the more for taking interest in spending time with them.

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