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Know What’s in the Video Game

By — Video Game Special Edition Contributor
Updated on May 17, 2010

If it's important to you to know what's in the media your children consume - or, more specifically, the video games your children play - you're not alone. The vast majority of parents (87% of them, in fact) consider it very important, and to a certain extent that may be comforting. But, the question is not really one of whether we want to know, but how we become more knowledgeable. 

Video Game Rating Categories

Virtually every video game has an ESRB age rating category on the front of the package, and on the back you may also find one or more content descriptors, which are short words and phrases that indicate the type of content that may have triggered the rating assigned or may be of interest or concern to you. Using the ESRB ratings is a great first step in making informed choices, but the ratings are only that a first step. 

When parents want to delve deeper into a game's content, what they really need is a detailed, no-nonsense description of the content they'd want to know about - the violence, sexual or suggestive material, language, etc. The ESRB has recently begun providing exactly that, in the form of a supplementary source of information called "rating summaries." 

Easy Access to Ratings and Rating Summaries

Rating summaries are matter-of-fact descriptions of the context and relevant content that factored into a game's rating, with an emphasis on elaborating on the content descriptors. ESRB created a new mobile website at m.esrb.org so that parents can look up rating summaries right from the video game store, where the decision about whether or not to buy a game is most likely to be made. Parents can also find rating summaries before they go shopping by searching for game titles on ESRB's website at www.esrb.org, by using ESRB's rating search widget, or by signing up for a free bimonthly e-newsletter called ParenTools that offers a list of recently rated titles complete with rating summaries and customized to their preference of rating categories and game platform.

A survey conducted recently on MomConnection.com found that 98% of moms with kids that play video games think rating summaries will be helpful, with 78% considering them "very helpful." As president of the ESRB, it's my job to provide information and resources that help parents make sensible game choices for their kids. The ratings are a great resource, and checking them will undoubtedly give you a good sense of whether a game is right for your child. But for some, the extra help provided by the new rating summaries gives them the peace of mind they need.

When The Rating On The Game Box Isn't Enough

A parent confessed to me recently that the ratings aren't always enough to seal the deal for her. "What does it mean when it says 'Comic Mischief' next to the rating?" she asked sheepishly. "Or 'Suggestive Themes'? Those terms are helpful, but sometimes I feel like I need more information.  My son is nine," she continued, "and at his age I'd rather he not be exposed to sexual or violent content. Sometimes I need more detail than what's on the box, especially when he's got his heart set on a game and I'm more inclined to err on the side of caution." 

I completely understand what this mother is going through, as does every other mother out there. We all want to give our kids what they want, but when it comes to popular entertainment, making choices and setting limits can be tough for a parent. That's why it's so gratifying being able to provide yet another helpful tool to this parent and the many others out there who want to make the most informed choices possible for their children. 

The very fact that you're here suggests that being actively involved in your child's life and well-being is important, that you want to make good decisions for them using the best information available. ESRB provides tools and resources, like the ratings and the new rating summaries, to help make those decisions that much easier. Using rating summaries will help ensure that you'll never again have to guess what's in that video game your child is begging you to buy.  

Patricia Vance is president of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), a nonprofit organization that assigns age and content ratings for computer and video games. She is an interactive media expert and mother of two. For more information visit www.esrb.org.

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