A Parents Guide to Video Game Ratings

It’s Christmas morning, and my sister in-law’s 10-year old nephew, Jason, is opening his presents. He’s ecstatic to unwrap a copy of “Saint’s Row the Third”, a video game that he asked for weeks ago and his parents blindly bought for him. After all, it’s a video game, and video games are for children, right? Jason’s parents were in for a world of surprise when they walked into his room a few days later to find him playing the game they bought for him. The character on-screen was a foul-mouthed nude woman, who was beating up another person with a bat.

Now I’m not a parent myself, but I like to hope that most parents would like to be aware of the content in the video games that they buy for their children. It’s obviously the decision of the parents to decide what they allow their kids to see. But many don’t know that there’s an easy way to gauge how graphic each video game is before deciding if it’s right for their son or daughter to be exposed.

The Entertainment Software Rating Board (or ESRB) is a non-profit organization who has developed a universal system to provide a rating for software as it is released to the public. The goal is to give parents the opportunity to make informed decisions about which video games to allow their children to play. Think of the rating system put together by the MPAA that we are all familiar with. The labels shown below are printed on the outside of the box to give a quick idea as to whether the game will be suitable and age-appropriate for their kids.

In addition, the ESRB’s web site gives clear, specific details as to what is in a game so that a parent may be well-informed when considering purchasing. We’re talking about full paragraphs including full quotes from the games. Parents who read these descriptions won’t be surprised as the information provided is very thorough and doesn’t hold anything back.

With the craziness of the holiday season approaching, it’s easy to overlook something like video game content, but parents need to be informed as they make purchases. Video games aren’t just for kids anymore, and parents now have an easy resource to make decisions that aligns with their own parenting style.

Here’s a breakdown of the video game rating labels and what they mean:

Early Childhood

Video games with this mark on them are geared for young children (under the age of 10).

Examples of games in this category are:

  • Reader Rabbit: Kindergarten (Nintendo Wii)

  • Team Umizoomi & Dora’s Fantastic Flight (Nintendo DS)
  • Bubble Guppies (Nintendo DS)


If you see the letter “E” someone on the box, it means that the content should be appropriate for everyone. You might see some very mild violence/language, but nothing to get overly worried about.

Examples of games in this category are:

  • Angry Birds Star Wars (Mac, Windows, PC)

  • New Super Mario Brothers U (Nintendo Wii U)
  • Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two (Mac, Windows PC, PS3, Wii U, Xbox 360)

Everyone 10+

This is very similar to the “Everyone” rating above, but might have a bit more of the mild violence/language and recommends gamers of ten years of age or older.

Examples of games in this category are:

  • LEGO The Lord of the Rings (Windows PC, PS3, Xbox)

  • Just Dance 4 (PS3, XBOX 360, Wii U)
  • Rise of the Guardians: The Video Game (Windows PC, PS3, PlayStation Vita, Wii U, XBOX 360)


The “PG-13” equivalent of the video game rating system will have the violence, language and suggestive themes ramped slightly, but not to the extreme.

Examples of games in this category are:

  • Power Rangers Super Samurai (Xbox 360)

  • WWE ’13 (PS3, Xbox 360)
  • 007 Legends (Windows PC, PS3, Wii U, xbox 360)


Video games with this rating may have intense violence, graphic sexual content or strong language.

Examples of games in this category are:

  • Halo 4 (Xbox 360)

  • Saint’s Row: The Third (Windows PC, PS3, Xbox 360)
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 (Windows PC, PS3, Wii U, Xbox 360)

Adults Only

This rarely-used rating is reserved for video games whose content is not suitable for children.

Examples of games in this category are:

  • Manhunt 2 (Windows PC)

  • Playboy the Mansion: Private Party (Windows PC)

Ratings Pending

This rating means that they haven’t decided on what the rating should be for the video game. It is only used in advertising and promotional material before the game is released, so you shouldn’t see it very often.

FatWallet Asks the Expert:

We asked Jacqueline Cromwell, a home school mom who blogs at NerdFamily Things and Geek for the Real Girl if she had any tips for parents buying video games this year.

    Ratings on video games are kind of a funny thing some times. They can’t replace a parent reading reviews or just asking a few questions of a knowledgeable store associate.

    I realized the nuance of video game ratings when I was shopping last Christmas. I was looking at getting used copies of both Lego Star Wars: Clone Wars and Star Wars Clone Wars. The Lego game had a rating of E for Everyone but the Clone Wars had a rating of T for Teen. When I inquire why it was explained that in the Lego version they are just battling Lego figures but in the other they were fighting people. That generated a higher rating but didn’t bother me.

    Conversely, Just Dance 4 (which I have and love) has a rating of E for Everybody. I personally find the music and club dancing a little suggestive for my 9 year old daughter. I mean their version of the dance for Umbrella by Rihanna is just a little more suggestive than I feel comfortable with.

    It is all about what you feel comfortable with. Don’t count count completely on the ratings system but it is good advice if you have never heard of a game. If you aren’t sure about a game just go rent it for the night before you buy it. Then play it when the kids go to be and you will be informed (and their Christmas won’t be ruined either).

Now that I have explained the rating system, do you have any “what the @#$% were they thinking” stories that you have witnessed?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *