Navigating Video Game Ratings

By Stephanie Haibloom, Psy.D.

Video Game RatingsYou are at the multiplex with your family and your 13 year old wants to see an ?R-rated movie because “All the kids in my class have seen it and are talking about it. I’ll be left out if I don’t see it!” Do you buy your child a ticket and let them see it without you there to see it with them? Probably not.

Now take this scenario and substitute any of the “Call of Duty” or ‘Grand Theft Auto” video games. These games are rated “M,” for players ages 17 and older, yet many parents, grandparents and well-meaning friends buy these games for 13-year-olds and then are surprised at the games’ content.

A little information about the ratings will help you can make an informed choice for your child. And a bit of preparation will help you say “no” to M-rated games when they’re not appropriate, and suggest alternatives.

The ESRB Ratings and You

The Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) is a not-for-profit body that assigns ratings for video games and apps. It is not a government entity, but a voluntary entity formed by the video game industry.

Here are the rating categories from the ESRB site:

ESRB_ECEARLY CHILDHOOD: Content is intended for young children.




ESRB EEVERYONE: Content is generally suitable for all ages. May contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language.




ESRB_E10EVERYONE 10+: Content is generally suitable for ages 10 and up. May contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language and/or minimally suggestive themes.




ESRB tTEEN: Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.




ESRB_MMATURE: Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.




ESRB_AOADULTS ONLY: Content suitable only for adults ages 18 and up. May include prolonged scenes of intense violence, graphic sexual content and/or gambling with real currency.




RATING PENDING: Not yet assigned a final ESRB rating. Appears only in advertising, marketing and promotional materials related to a game that is expected to carry an ESRB rating, and should be replaced by a game’s rating once it has been assigned.

These ratings are on every game that is published, and they are there for your benefit. If you need or want more information on a particular game, you might want to consider getting a subscription to a gaming magazine such as Game Informer, Play Gamer, Video Gamer or Game Pro. There are also magazines specifically for gaming systems such as Xbox, Xbox 360 and Playstation. Websites that review games include,, and

Decisions, Decisions

Now that you have done some research, you are ready to decide whether the game your child wants is one you want to buy for them. Remember, you are the expert when it comes to your child. If, after reading about the game and looking at the rating for it, you decide that your child can handle it, go ahead and give it a try. If, however, you feel your child is not mature enough to handle the game they want, you need to be able to say “no” – and offer alternatives.

An open dialogue with your child will be much more productive than, “No, because I said so.” Ask your child what they find entertaining about the game. If it is the story, look for appropriate games with a strong story. You should be able knowledgeably discuss the game and any objections to it, and offer alternatives and have an open dialogue with your child about the game and video games in general.

Or consider playing the game your child wants with them, so that you can discuss the game play. This could open up an interesting dialogue and be an opportunity to impress upon your child how you see the world, and what is or is not moral in your point of view. This could be an excellent teaching and learning experience for you and your child to share.

Good luck and happy gaming!

Stephanie Haibloom, Psy.D., is a registered psychological assistant under the supervision of Charlyne Gelt, Ph.D. Dr. Haibloom specializes in adolescents, video games, and technology, in private practice in Encino. You can reach her at

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