The Entertainment Software Ratings Board, a voluntary industry organization, has developed a rating system that can help parents decide which games their children should be playing based on age.
On the front of a game’s box is the simple version of the rating, while the back contains a more extended version. For example, a game rated “E” (for everyone) has content that is considered suitable for people ages 6 and older.
On the back of the box, the rating may include additional information such as “may contain minimal cartoon, fantasy, or mild violence.” The complete list of ratings is as follows:
EC (Early Childhood): content that may be suitable for ages 3 and older. Contains no material that parents would find inappropriate.
E (Everyone): 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+: 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.
T (Teen): 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.
M (Mature): 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.
AO (Adults Only): 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.
Choosing a Suitable Game
Numerous public-interest groups research the effects of all types of media on children and families. Some of these organizations publish yearly report cards on video games. The following is a list of games that are extremely violent or have particularly repugnant forms of violence, along with a list of popular games that have very low or nonexistent violent content.
Games To Avoid (all rated M)
- Devil May Cry 5
- Red Dead Redemption 2
- Metro Exodus
- Persona 5
- Tom Clancy’s The Division 2
- Far Cry New Dawn
- Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
- Grand Theft Auto V
- Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
- Far Cry 5
This is a non-exhaustive list of particularly popular M-rated games available today. However, it’s important to check the age rating for any title before making a purchase in order to evaluate the game’s suitability for your child.
Below is a list of popular games with little or no violence. Nevertheless, some of these titles may still be unsuitable for very young children (i.e. under 10s).
Recommended Low Violence/Non-Violent Games (check rating for age-appropriateness)
- FIFA 21
- The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
- Super Smash Bros
- Rocket League
- NBA 2K21
- Forza Horizon 4
- Pokemon X
Selecting Games and Monitoring Your Child’s Play
Video games are a staple of modern entertainment for both adults and children. They can be both fun and entertaining, as well as completely harmless, as long as certain common-sense measures are followed. Generally speaking, the two pillars of healthy gaming habits are moderation and age-appropriateness.
Moderation: balance is healthy in all areas of life and gaming is no exception. You should strive to ensure that your child’s gaming doesn’t interfere with his or her engagement with school or their participation in social and outdoor activities.
However, attempting to ban video games altogether may do more harm than good, leading to resentment and avoidable behavioral issues.
Suitability: peer pressure is a tricky force to handle and you may find yourself grappling with a younger child’s wish to play the same games that their friends are talking about.
In these situations, it’s best to use your own discretion in deciding what your child should or shouldn’t be playing. If you can’t decide based on the ESRB (box) rating alone, then consider watching gameplay footage on YouTube or chatting with other parents about the game in question.
Afterward, don’t be afraid to assert yourself by refusing to purchase a game or allow it in your home. Game ratings are judged by experienced experts and if they indicate that a game is intended for older children than your own it is usually best to follow official advice.
Where can I find detailed game ratings?
You can search the ESRB website and find the official rating for any video game. This site also allows you to filter results according to console/platform, age rating, and particular kinds of objectionable content.
All video game boxes come with a printed rating but, increasingly, online sales and non-physical gaming platforms (such as Steam) are becoming the norm. Amazon product descriptions contain age-rating advice and platforms like Steam, while harder to monitor, also offer parental controls and ratings advice.