The Ultimate Video Game and System Buyer's Guide: Ratings

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The Entertainment Software Ratings Board, or ESRB, is like the Motion Picture Association of America: It sets the ratings for video games, like the MPAA sets ratings for movies.

If you're a parent or buying for a child pay attention, these ratings are important. While you may never have played a game and don't understand how or why they could be inappropriate, these ratings were designed to empower consumers to make educated decisions.

The ESRB ratings are as follows:

EARLY CHILDHOOD Titles rated EC (Early Childhood) have content that may be suitable for ages 3 and older. Contains no material that parents would find inappropriate.

EVERYONE Titles rated E (Everyone) have content that may be suitable for ages 6 and older. Titles in this category may contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language.

EVERYONE 10+ Titles rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) have content that may be suitable for ages 10 and older. Titles in this category may contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language and/or minimal suggestive themes.

TEEN Titles rated T (Teen) have content that may be suitable for ages 13 and older. Titles in this category may contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling, and/or infrequent use of strong language.

MATURE Titles rated M (Mature) have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.

ADULTS ONLY Titles rated AO (Adults Only) have content that should only be played by persons 18 years and older. Titles in this category may include prolonged scenes of intense violence and/or graphic sexual content and nudity.

You can find out more about the Entertainment Software Rating Board's rating system by clicking here.

But rating video games is a little more complicated than rating movies due to their interactive nature -- it's a bit more complex than giving a violent game an "R" and a non-violent game a "G."

In addition to ratings that appear on the packaging of every game submitted to the ESRB -- and therefore games carried by the nation's leading retailers -- the board uses "Content Descriptors" that specify what gamers and parents should expect to encounter when playing a given game.

ESRB Content Descriptors

Alcohol Reference -- Reference to and/or images of alcoholic beverages

Animated Blood -- Discolored and/or unrealistic depictions of blood

Blood -- Depictions of blood

Blood and Gore -- Depictions of blood or the mutilation of body parts

Cartoon Violence -- Violent actions involving cartoon-like situations and characters. May include violence where a character is unharmed after the action has been inflicted

Comic Mischief -- Depictions or dialogue involving slapstick or suggestive humor

Crude Humor -- Depictions or dialogue involving vulgar antics, including "bathroom" humor

Drug Reference -- Reference to and/or images of illegal drugs

Edutainment -- Content of product provides user with specific skills development or reinforcement learning within an entertainment setting. Skill development is an integral part of product

Fantasy Violence -- Violent actions of a fantasy nature, involving human or non-human characters in situations easily distinguishable from real life

Informational -- Overall content of product contains data, facts, resource information, reference materials or instructional text

Intense Violence -- Graphic and realistic-looking depictions of physical conflict. May involve extreme and/or realistic blood, gore, weapons and depictions of human injury and death

Language -- Mild to moderate use of profanity

Lyrics -- Mild references to profanity, sexuality, violence, alcohol or drug use in music

Mature Humor -- Depictions or dialogue involving "adult" humor, including sexual references

Mild Violence -- Mild scenes depicting characters in unsafe and/or violent situations

Nudity -- Graphic or prolonged depictions of nudity

Partial Nudity -- Brief and/or mild depictions of nudity

Real Gambling -- Player can gamble, including betting or wagering real cash or currency

Sexual Themes -- Mild to moderate sexual references and/or depictions. May include partial nudity

Sexual Violence -- Depictions of rape or other violent sexual acts

Simulated Gambling -- Player can gamble without betting or wagering real cash or currency

Some Adult Assistance May Be Needed -- Intended for very young ages

Strong Language -- Explicit and/or frequent use of profanity

Strong Lyrics -- Explicit and/or frequent references to profanity, sex, violence, alcohol or drug use in music

Strong Sexual Content -- Graphic references to and/or depictions of sexual behavior, possibly including nudity

Suggestive Themes -- Mild provocative references or materials

Tobacco Reference -- Reference to and/or images of tobacco products

Use of Drugs -- The consumption or use of illegal drugs

Use of Alcohol -- The consumption of alcoholic beverages

Use of Tobacco -- The consumption of tobacco products

Violence -- Scenes involving aggressive conflict

Online Rating Notice

Online games that include user-generated content (e.g., chat, maps, skins) carry the notice "Game Experience May Change During Online Play" to warn consumers that content created by players of the game has not been rated by the ESRB.

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