Video Game Ratings Explained

The average American child spends 44.5 hours a week in front of a screen, and 83 percent have a video-game console.1 Many have several kinds of game systems, and this form of entertainment is growing steadily for both children and adults.

Because video games are so pervasive, parents need to be involved and informed. A useful parental tool is the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) rating system:

  • EC (early Childhood): Content is suitable for ages three and up.
  • E (everyone). Content is suitable for ages six and up.
  • T (teen). Content is suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain mild language, violence, and sexually suggestive themes. Parents should use discretion.
  • M (mature). Identification required for purchase. Games rated M are sold only to gamers over the age of 17. Material in this category may include sexual themes, violence, and strong language.
  • AO (adults only). Identification required for purchase. These games are restricted to persons over 18 and are often sold only in specific game stores. Material may include graphic sexual scenes, strong language, and intense violence.2 Seriously consider whether this material is appropriate even for you or your spouse.

Remember, as the parent you want to model good decision making to your children. In spite of the availability of ratings, 90 percent of teens say their parents "never" check the ratings before allowing them to buy or rent video games.3

Control is the key. The video-game phenomenon can add to your family's life if used in a controlled setting, or it can invade your home and take over the lives of vulnerable family members.

1 "MediaWise Video and computer Game Report Card/A Ten Year Overview," The National Institute on Media and the Family.
2 "ESRB Game Ratings," Game Rating and Descriptor Guide,
3 David Walsh, et al., National Institute on Media and the Family, "Interactive Violence and Children," Statement to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, United States Senate, March 21, 2000.

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