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

Understanding Video Game Age Ratings

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

Most games contain an age rating on either their 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, while the PEGI (Pan European Games Information) system is used in the UK and most European countries.

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 rating 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 game 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. Glamorization 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. Glamorization 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 suggest that you check the ESRB or PEGI age rating and the content descriptors before you purchase a game, as these will provide good guidance on whether a game is suitable for your child. Complying with game 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 games 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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