Tips for the Christian Gamer – Know Your Game Ratings

by Yo Snyder

I was surprised last year when a survey released by the
Harrison Group and Activision Publishing revealed just how many parents are
aware of and use the ESRB ratings when purchasing video games. Why was I
surprised? Because with the amount of concern and criticism video games often
garner, especially the violent ones, it would be easy to assume that the
industry is completely unregulated and that any kid anywhere can get any video
game without any idea of what sort of content it might contain. Having 62% of
parents conduct research before buying or allowing their kids to buy a video
game is pretty good, and we here at The Guide want to be a resource to help
with that research by providing some good information from a Christian perspective.
Still, we felt it might be a good idea with our first Tips for the Christian
Gamer feature to quickly go over what the ratings for video games are and what
they mean. It never hurts to freshen up on the basics. You can also find all of
this information along with more resources as the Entertainment Software
Ratings Boards website at esrb.org.

Early Childhood These games are for kids 3 years old and
older. They contain no inappropriate content, and make up the smallest
percentage of games released in 2010; about 1%.

Everyone These games are forwelleveryone, at least
everyone over the age of 6. Think a G rated movie as an equivalent. There might
be some mild content like cartoon violence and mischief, on occasion even some
very mild language. Read the content descriptors (which well get to in moment)
to see whats in the game. This category was actually the largest percentage of
games last year; around 55% of games had an E rating.

Everyone 10 and up These games are for the slightly older
kids, again as the name states, kids 10 and older. This is like your PG
category of movies. About 18% of the
games released last year had this rating.

Teen These are games appropriate for teenagers and above.
Here, youre roughly at the equivalent of a PG-13 movie. At this level, you
might find things such as suggestive themes, violence, occasional strong
language and so forth. Again, check the descriptors for details. 21% of games
in 2010 were rated T.

Mature These games are intended for a mature audience.
This is kind of like an R rated movie. Things can get sketchy here, but not
always. Games in this category may have intense violence, gore and blood,
sexual content, strong language and so forth. These games are intended for
audiences 17 and older. And although they often receive the most press and the
biggest sales, these games are the second lowest percentage of games available;
only 5% were M rated games in 2010.

Adults Only This rating is pretty much sales poison as
many retailers wont even carry titles with an AO rating, so most games work
hard to pare it down to an M rating. This is like an NC-17 movie and pretty
much any content in it will be fairly graphic and explicit. Less than 1% of all
games last year carried this rating.

There’s also an RP – Rate Pending – label which pretty much means what is says, the game hasn’t been rated yet.

Now as I mentioned, each game not only carries a rating, but
also a list of content descriptors. These tell you in more detail why a game
got the rating it did based on the content it has. You can read the full list
of content descriptors and what they represent, though most are fairly
self-explanatory, at the ESRBs website. Now keep in mind, just because one of
these descriptors is on the box, doesnt mean the game is all about that
content. A game may list something like partial nudity, but that may be
something that you can only see after a pre-determined set of choices have been
made, and if you dont make those choices, you may never even come across that
content. Still, they are a good guideline for what you will likely encounter
while playing a particular game.

Its also good to keep in mind that these are more a rule of
thumb than truly stringent categories. There are some games, like Halo, which
could get by with a T rating, but they have a better reputation as a M rated
game among hardcore gamers. Ive also come across some T games that probably
should have been M games, and some M games that should have been AO (and
probably were and were just re-edited to squeak by with an M rating). So while
the ratings can be informative, they shouldnt be your only source for making a
decision on a game purchase.

Knowing and understanding the game ratings system is a good
start to making smart game purchases, but it never hurts to go beyond that.
Looking at reviews from trusted sources, both mainstream and Christian ones
like The Guide, can also give you lots of insight into what a game may be like.
Talking to friends or to your kids friends is also another source to consider
when deciding what to purchase and what to play. When you have all these
sources of information, youll rarely end up with a game that you regret
having. So whether youre a parent or just another discerning gamer, be smart,
be informed, know your ratings and you wont have to worry about wasting time
or money or finding yourself knee-deep in a bunch of objectionable content.