a father and daughter sitting on carpet at home playing video games

Understanding video games age ratings

Every parent wants their children to be safe online, but how do you know if the video games that they’re playing are age appropriate?

Most games contain an age rating on either its packaging or online, and this rating will differ depending on where the game was released. In the United States, Canada and Mexico, the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) system is used to help distinguish what games are suitable for different ages and in the UK and most European countries the PEGI (Pan European Games Information) system is used.

These age ratings help consumers to decide whether a game is suitable for the intended user and ensures children are not exposed to inappropriate content. The ratings should not be misinterpreted as to who will enjoy the game or how difficult the game is, it should only be used as an age rating.

But what do the various video games age ratings mean?

ESRB system - United States, Mexico and Canada

EC Early Childhood. Suitable for children aged 3 or older, there will be no inappropriate content. E.g. Dora the Explorer, Dragon Tales.
E Suitable for all age groups. The game should not contain any sounds or images likely to scare young children. No bad language should be used. E.g. Just Dance, FIFA.
E 10+ Suitable for those aged 10 or above. There could be mild forms of violence, and some scenes might be frightening for children. E.g. Minecraft Dungeons, Plants vs Zombies.
T Suitable for those aged 13 or above. The game could feature more realistic and graphic scenes of violence. E.g. Fortnite, Sims 4.
M Suitable for those aged 17 or above. This rating is used when the violence becomes realistic and would be expected in real life. Bad language, and the use of tobacco, alcohol or illegal drugs can also be present. E.g. Ark: Survival Evolved, Destiny 2.
AO Suitable for adults aged 18 or above. The adult classification is used when there are extreme levels of violence and motiveless killing. Glamorisation of drugs, gambling and sexual activity can also be featured. E.g. Grand Theft Auto V, Fallout 4.
RP Rating Pending. Titles with the RP rating have not yet been assigned a final ESRB rating.

The age ratings are also accompanied by descriptors that show what the content of a video game may contain, e.g. bad language, fear and violence.

PEGI system - United Kingdom and most European countries

PEGI 3 Suitable for all age groups. The game should not contain any sounds or images likely to scare young children. No bad language should be used. E.g. Just Dance, FIFA.
PEGI 7 Suitable for those aged 7 or above. There could be mild forms of violence, and some scenes might be frightening for children. E.g. Minecraft Dungeons, Plants vs Zombies.
PEGI 12 Suitable for those aged 12 or above. The game could feature more realistic and graphic scenes of violence. E.g. Fortnite, Sims 4.
PEGI 16 Suitable for those aged 16 or above. This rating is used when the violence becomes realistic and would be expected in real life. Bad language, and the use of tobacco, alcohol or illegal drugs can also be present. E.g. Ark: Survival Evolved, Destiny 2.
PEGI 18 Suitable for those aged 18 or above. The adult classification is used when there are extreme levels of violence and motiveless killing. Glamorisation of drugs, gambling and sexual activity can also be featured. E.g. Grand Theft Auto V, Fallout 4.

The age ratings are also accompanied by PEGI descriptors that show what the content of a video game may contain, e.g. bad language, fear and violence.

We would suggest that before you purchase a game to check the ESRB or PEGI age rating and the content descriptors, as these will provide good guidance on whether a game is suitable for your child. Following the games age ratings will ensure that children only play games that are suitable for their age group, and that they are not exposed to inappropriate content or language. Another way to stay informed about the game’s children are playing is to set up parental controls. Taking advantage of both these options will keep children safe while playing video games.

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