More than 250 million video and computer games were sold in the U.S. in 2010, according to the Entertainment Software Association. And if you or your kids purchased any of those games, then you might have spotted the game's rating. Just like movies and music, video games are rated to help people understand for whom the content is best suited. The video game rating usually appears as a letter on the front of the packaging -- and it can tell you a lot about what's inside.
Video game ratings are assigned by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), a voluntary, self-regulatory group created by the Entertainment Software Agency. The ratings system is pretty simple. It's based on identifying the youngest age group for which a game is appropriate. They determine that age based on how often and how intense certain types of content appear, including violence, nudity, sexual themes, crude humor, alcohol and drug references, and gambling.
Currently there are seven ratings:
EC stands for Early Childhood. These games are appropriate for kids 3 and older, and contain no objectionable content.
E stands for Everyone, and is appropriate for anyone over age 6. Any objectionable language or violence will be extremely mild and infrequent.
E10+ is similar to E, but is for children over age 10. Violence and language are both mild, though there may be some suggestive themes.
T is for Teens over age 13. There may be some violence and crude humor, but objectionable language and the appearance of blood is minimal.
M is for Mature, and is appropriate for people over age 17. These games might contain violence, gore, sexual themes and strong language.
AO is for Adults Only -- so, nobody under the age of 18. It's similar to M, but there may be prolonged or intense violence or sexual content.
RP means Rating Pending. That just means the game hasn't been rated yet.
In addition to the letter rating, there's usually a brief description of what gave the game its rating. So, for instance, you might see a rating of "M," followed by "Blood, Intense Violence and Strong Language." Words like "strong," "intense" or "mild" give an indication of the extent or severity of certain content.
On the next page, we'll look at who rates the games and how.