The video game industry has a self-regulated rating system that, unfortunately, is less than reliable for parents trying to protect their children from offensive content. A recent report by the National Institute on Media and the Family gave the current rating system a grade of B- with regard to accuracy, and a grade of D on enforcement with minors.
1. Check the rating of the game.
- 'E' for Everyone (ages 6+): E games are designed to allow younger players to play safely while still entertaining older audiences. These games are the equivalent of PG movies.
- 'T' for Teen (Ages 13+): These games may or may not be appropriate for younger ages. The determining factor is the reason a game is rated T. Many times a game is rated T just for having animal poop on the grass. These games are the equivalent of a PG-13 movie.
- 'M' for Mature (ages 17+): These games are not appropriate for children to play. If you do allow it, make sure they are mature enough to handle violence. Never let them play if there is any sexual content and/or unwholesome language. If they are not capable of playing a violent game, steer clear of these games completely. This is the equivalent of an R-rated movie.
- 'RP' for Rating Pending: This type of game has not been sent to the Entertainment Software Rating Board* for a rating or is in the process of getting one. You should be cautious about these games but shouldn't say no immediately. If you're considering one of these games, test it or rent it from Blockbuster® or another rental outlet.
- 'AO' for Adults Only (ages 18+): Never allow your children to play these. They usually include an excessive amount of violence, sexual content and intense, explicit language. Many times these games could be rated X.
- 'EC' for Early Childhood (ages 3+): These games are okay for children of any age, but they will not appeal to kids over 5 or 6. They require an adult to help a child read the words and use the controls. These games are the equivalent of a G movie.
2. Read reviews.
By reading reviews, you can know what a game is like and what a game may have in it. If you read reviews, then you can tell whether or not it will appeal to your children. Many reviews also include the opinions of expert gamers who judge whether the game is well made and appropriate for children of younger ages. Sometimes, reviews are biased rather than based on facts. You should always try to find a friend who has video-gaming children.
3. Rent video games, if possible.
You should always follow a try-before-you-buy policy. Whether you rent it from a game rental outlet or play it in the store, try to test a game before you spend good money on it. Some stores will have a customer service representative who can tell you whether a game is appropriate for young children.
4. Play/watch with your child.
It may not always be your first choice in entertainment, but spend some time at least watching your child play a video game. If there is objectionable content, you'll see it for yourself and be able to comment on it.