What Parents Should Know about Game Ratings - dummies

What Parents Should Know about Game Ratings

By Amy Lupold Bair

The primary game rating system in the United States and Canada is the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), which is a nonprofit, self-regulatory body that assigns content ratings for video games and mobile apps based on age and content ratings.

Founded in 1994 by the Entertainment Software Association, the ESRB works to empower parents to make informed decisions about the video games they purchase for their children and allow to be played in their homes. The ESRB doesn’t aim to prohibit certain games from being purchased and played, but rather hopes to provide concise and impartial information to parents and other consumers.


The three-part ESRB rating system includes

  • ESRB rating: An assigned rating category that suggests the age-appropriateness of that particular game

  • Content descriptors: Inform parents why the rating category was selected for that particular game

    These descriptors also inform the consumer what content included in the game may be of interest or of concern.

  • Interactive elements: Cover interactive features of the game, including capabilities, such as location sharing

Games are not required to have an ESRB rating, but many stores that sell video games will sell only those games that do contain an ESRB rating. Game console manufacturers also require games for their systems to include an ESRB rating.

The ESRB rating symbols rate only the content created by the game publisher — not online interactions or content created by individuals.

When assigning a rating, ESRB raters look at any content that reflects both the most extreme content in the video game and the overall frequency of this extreme content. Raters also consider factors such as the degree of player control and any other unique elements to the games, which are inherently interactive.

Seven ESRB rating symbols suggest the age appropriateness of video games. The categories are

  • Early childhood (EC): Video games receiving this rating are suggested to be suitable for children ages three and older. This rating indicates that the game does not contain material that parents find inappropriate for children.

  • Everyone (E): Games content may be suitable for everyone ages 6 and older. The games may contain minimal cartoon, fantasy, or mild violence, and/or infrequent use of mild language.

  • Everyone 10+ (E10+): These games have more cartoon, fantasy, or mild violence, mild language, and/or minimal suggestive themes than those with an E rating. Games in this category are recommended to be suitable for ages 10 and older.

  • Teen (T): These games have content that may be suitable for ages 13 years and older. They may contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling, and/or infrequent use of strong language.

  • Mature (M): The game may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content, and/or strong language. These games may be suitable for those age 17 years or older.

  • Adults Only (AO): The game has content suitable only for those age 18 years or older. Games receiving this rating may include prolonged scenes of intense violence and/or graphic sexual content and nudity.

Each ESRB rating symbol is easily recognizable. Locate ESRB ratings by looking on either the front or the back of nearly any video game. Be sure to show your children which symbol corresponds with each rating.

Video game manufacturers may use a Rating Pending (RP) symbol to advertise a game prior to receiving an ESRB rating for that game. Games shown (in an ad or online video) with the RP symbol may not yet appear for sale in stores.

How to search for game ratings

For information on a rated game, you can search ESRB rating summaries for nearly all video games rated by the ESRB since July 1, 2008. This supplementary information provides a content description highlighting the types of content characteristics that parents look for when selecting or approving a video game for their children. To locate these ESRB rating summaries, simply search by video game title.

When searching for a game title, you can search by game platform, too, because some games are available for multiple devices. The game platform choices available are

  • All Platforms

  • Mobile App/Tablet

  • Nintendo DS/DSi/3DS

  • PlayStation 3

  • PlayStation Vita/PSP

  • Wii/Wii U

  • Windows/Mac

  • Xbox 360

  • Other

When searching for a game rating, use the advanced search option to filter your search by rating category and by content. Filtering content choices allows you to include or exclude the following content types:

  • Violence

  • Blood/gore

  • Sexuality

  • Nudity

  • Language

  • Substances

  • Gambling

  • Humor

After you search for a specific game, you see a rating chart that includes the following information:

  • Title

  • Platforms

  • Rating

  • Content descriptors

  • Other

  • Company that manufactures the game


If the game you’ve searched includes a rating summary, a short synopsis of that summary will appear in the search result. Click the search result for that game to read the full rating summary.


The ESRB at your fingertips

ESRB rating summaries are available through mobile devices for parents interested in learning more information about a game’s rating while visiting a video game retailer. To access the ESRB rating summaries, download the free ESRB Rating Search App for iPhone, Android, and Windows Phone.

This app is available by searching ESRB in your phone’s app store or marketplace. Use the ESRB Rating Search App to search by game title by saying the game title, taking a photo of the game box, or entering the game title into the search field.


You can also access the rating summaries on your mobile device through the mobile website at www.m.esrb.org. The ESRB mobile site allows you to

  • Search games by title.

  • Search games by platform.

  • Access the ratings guide.

  • Read the FAQ.

  • Contact the ESRB.