The ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) is responsible for deciding what games and game content are appropriate for certain age groups. The ratings are assigned – early childhood (EC), everyone (E), everyone 10 and older (E10+), teen (T), mature (M), adult only (AO), and rating pending (RP). This seems to be pretty straight forward, right? From my experience, game ratings seem to be quite inconsistent. It is important for parents to understand that they cannot and should not rely entirely on the rating on the front of the box.
It all started a week ago when I purchased a copy of the fairly new game, The Saboteur, for my Xbox 360. The game has a mature rating. I have purchased games with this rating before, but I was shocked by the content of this game. Language and violence don’t bother me so much. However, the nudity in the game surprised me. The game opens with an exotic dancer dancing on a stage in a WWII era bar. I have to admit that this digital beauty was enough to make me blush. To make matters worse, the game also included an insert that had a code to unlock X rated content on the game.
My question is, how far does the content of a game have to go to get a adult only rating? It seems to me that ESRB considers the mature rating to be a wide category compared to other games. What confuses me is that I have never played a mature rated game that had such offensive content. My absolute favorite game, Modern Warfare 2, is also a mature title. MW2 is rated M mostly for violence, but pales in comparison to The Saboteur. Side by side, comparing the two would be like comparing an R-rated movie to Mickey Mouse.
I believe that it is very important for parents to understand how much the rating system is flawed. My advice to parents is to not use ESRB as the sole screening method for determining whether a game is appropriate for their children. Remember, ESRB ratings are decided upon by group of three game raters. The problem is that you are relying on the opinions of other people to tell you what your child should and shouldn’t see.
Let’s face it, video gaming has changed a lot since we were kids. For most parents, modern video gaming is as foreign as visiting an alien planet. Not to worry. There are several ways to determine on your own whether or not a game title is good for your child.
Read the reviews.Common Sense Media has a great website to help you find out what other parents are saying about each game. Not only can you read reviews written by other parents, but you can see what “actual” age that these parents give to each title.
Play the demo. The great thing about the newest generation of game consoles is the ability to download and try demo versions of most titles. Download and play the demo to get a good idea of what the full version will be like.