The Digi-Cult

A New Religion for a Digital Age

The ESRB and Personal Responsibility

Posted by Shannon O'Grady on September 21, 2008

After discussing morals so much in my last piece and with the number of game reviews about to go up on this site, it’s time for a bit of housekeeping.

The self proclaimed moral compass of the videogame industry is the ESRB. Many of you will recognize the rating marks from the packaging of your favorite games and you may have questioned the larger meanings of these ratings on several occasions. Consider this a crash course, with a practical bend.  You won’t find a cut paste from the official guidelines here, but all the research is based on my personal experience and information found on consumer websites as well as the ESRB homepage.

Face value: Kid safe beyond repute.  To get in to this category a game has to be as spotless as your grandmothers good sofa.  These are mostly educational titles featuring the likes Dora, Deigo and Sesame Street.

Going deeper: Children require a fair bit of supervision with electronics at this age, so don’t think about using this as a babysitter.  These games are wonderful teaching aids.  Playing these games with your children will be the experience of a lifetime for everyone involved and will open a world of possibilities for parent and child.

Who is it really meant for: Everyone with kids.  All good things in moderation though.  Make sure your children have other creative options like dress up and super hero coloring books to give them a well rounded toy chest.

Face value: This rating revolves around younger children, those in early grade school years.  Most of these games are educational at least in part, though the lessons are more cleverly hidden to keep children amused.  Consider this the same as a G rating in the movie theaters.  Games in this category feature characters like Barbie, Harry Potter, and Donkey Kong.

Going deeper: This category also contains most of the card and gambling games of the gaming world.  Though these games have no violence, no swearing and no scantily clad women, gambling may be a hot button issue for some.  This category also contains many of the Shockwave Games. These games are mostly non-violent (maxing out at comic violence), but may be too complex for some children.

Who is it really meant for: Anyone, but make sure you investigate the game before hand to determine the difficulty level and the age appropriateness of the content. Places on the internet such as Gamespot will provide the reader with good reviews, summaries, and screen shots. This category has a wide range of games for a wide range of players.

Face value: Take everything I said above, amp the violence and language up to the PG 13 movie level but leave out any sexual content. This category is where we start seeing more original series as well as franchise games based on older children’s cartoons. Chrono Trigger, Spyro, Avatar: The Last Airbender, NHL, and Star Wars all have games in this section.

Going deeper: These games need to reviewed on a case by case basis, not because the content is unsuitable for those over 10 years old, but because there are many difficult games in this section that are not designed with children in mind.  For example,  Civilization IV has the E10 rating but requires logic and strategy skills not found in the average 10 year old, or many 20 year olds for that matter.

Who is it really meant for: Again, anyone can play these games without being offended so long as they’re over 10 years old, but every game needs to be reviewed for personal values and difficulty.  Especially that last one.  Again, check a review or two before you buy these games for a youngster.

Face value: PG-13 to 14A movie ratings apply here.  Generally not for little ones or immature big ones.  Games like World of Warcraft are found here, as well as games featuring TNA Wrestling, Naruto, and The Sims.

Going deeper: These games vary widely in how “teen” they are.  Everything from mild language and blood you’d find in a PG-13 movie, titles with more realistic war violence (people dieing everywhere but they’re all nameless and faceless) and strange games made by American Mcgee which are violent and mentally warped in ways that make adults shudder.

Who is it really meant for: Adults and mini adults.  Maturity is the key to a good experience with these games.  A 14 year old who is not prone to violence, understands larger world issues like war and politics, and knows that imitating their games is not always wise will be fine playing many of these titles.  Some frat boys who can’t see a wrestling match without trying to body slam a friend shouldn’t be playing these (at least as far as I’m concerned).  The long and short is: check a half dozen reviews, and look at lots of screen shots before you buy these.

Face Value: You’re best to be at least 18 to play these.

Going deeper: Even adults need to look into these before buying them.  The AO games can be downright pornographic and may be offensive depending on your sensibilities.  Some of the Mature games might be ok for older teenagers if they’re mature enough to handle the game, but odds are if they’re mature enough for the game, they’re mature enough to wait too.

Who is it really meant for: The mature user looking for gore, violence, sex, swearing and scary storylines.  While some titles like Grand Theft Auto IV will be ok for older teens, but it’s a rarity.  I know this conclusion will upset most of the 16 year old gamers out there, but it’s for your own good.  Prove you can handle the game and you should have no problems getting a parent to buy it for you.

Now that we’ve got all that out of the way I hope our readers will feel more confident in our gaming reviews and thier own ability to judge the appropriatness of a videogame.  If you’re looking for more information on a specific game but you’re not sure if you can trust the game review websites, another good resource is your local videogame retailer.  The employees are happy to talk about the games and look in to a game for you.  They keep an ear out for poor reviews and are often warned by thier head offices which games need to be watched for content.  Rarely do these employees work on commission so they don’t worry about them trying to force a sale on you.  Developing a relationship with a friendly face at the store can be the best thing you do.

Thank you for bearing with us during this long, but neccesary post.  We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming.


One Response to “The ESRB and Personal Responsibility”

  1. And you do this by taking on the responsibility of leadership whenever it is required. Anita FairyTale

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