by Staff Writer
Rating systems used to be so simple. Everyone understands the standard film industry rating system, and each rating is carefully described before the movie begins. Video games are different. They come in individualized packages, and gaming sessions can go on for hours on end, making it difficult for a parent to determine how appropriate a game actually is. Video game ratings may vary greatly depending on region or country, so you'll want to learn and understand the rating used in your area. In the United States, Canada and Mexico, the Entertainment Software Rating Board, or ESRB, is the authority on video game ratings. These ratings will help determine the approximate suitable age levels for games, but keep in mind that all ratings are merely recommendations that you may agree or disagree with. This step-by-step guide will help you interpret the different video game ratings, so you can better shield your family from offensive or questionable content.
Determine what you deem to be offensive. Some parents may allow their children to play video games with mild violence but are very wary of even the slightest hint of sexual content. Others may censor both. Sometimes ratings don't reflect families' personal belief systems. Generally, if you are particularly careful in choosing other forms of entertainment, you'll want to stay away from games with higher content ratings.
Familiarize yourself with the rating system in your region. Visit ESRB.org to study the rating symbols and content descriptors to better understand what a game may contain. The Website also has a search feature which allows you to type in the name of any game and view the rating it received from the board. If you are looking for more child-appropriate games or non-offensive games, stay away from games rated T for Teen, M for Mature and especially AO for Adult Only.
Be aware of different categories or ranks within some ratings. For example, "Rated E" is something to watch out for because there are different categories of E. Don't just grab the first game that says "E for Everyone" on it. E10+ actually has some cartoon violence, mildly off-color language and questionable situations. Just because your child is twelve years old, it doesn't necessarily mean that you'll find an E10+ game acceptable.
Study the content descriptors that accompany ESRB rating symbols. If there is some specific content that you find particularly offensive, such as blood, language or sexual themes, be sure to check any video games you rent or purchase for the related content descriptors.
Ask friends and neighbors for their opinions on game ratings. After all, the best way to determine a game's rating is to play through it, and talking to someone who has played the game will give you a better idea of what to expect.
Read or watch previews, reviews or game descriptions via the Internet. Many of the hottest video games are accompanied by detailed Websites, which may include gameplay trailers, screenshots, movies, FAQ sections and more to help you understand more about the game and its content.