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Video Game Ratings For Parents: ESRB, PEGI Explained

video game ratings for parents ESRB collage

Discover video game ratings for parents and guardians to use to better inform themselves before purchasing games for their children.

The ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) has set out video game ratings for parents and guardians to refer to when buying video games. As a parent, I want to get video games for my children that are going to be fun and enjoyable. And while I have a pretty good idea of what a game is about before I buy it, there are plenty of game suggestions my kids will give me that I’ve never heard of.

I have two boys in particular that want nothing more than to play every zombie apocalyptic shoot em up they can get their hands on. I don’t even have to look at the rating of the game to know that they’re too young to play it. But, what about the games that aren’t titled “Zombie Kill Fest Boom Boom Bang Bang”? Or whatever the title may be. That’s where these ratings listed below come in handy.

ESRB Game Ratings Explained (North American System)

  • EC – Early Childhood
  • E – Everyone
  • ET – Everyone 10+
  • T – Teen
  • M – Mature
  • AO – Adults Only
  • RP – Rating Pending
video game ratings for parents

Early Childhood:  Content that may be suitable for persons aged 3 and older. It contains no material that parents would find inappropriate.

video game ratings for parents

Everyone: Content that may be suitable for persons aged 6 and older. Titles in this category may contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language.

video game ratings for parents

Everyone 10+: Content that may be suitable for ages 10 and older. Titles in this category may contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language, and/or minimal suggestive themes.

video game ratings for parents

Teen: Content that may be suitable for ages 13 and older. Titles in this category may contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling, and/or infrequent use of strong language.

video game ratings for parents

Mature: Content that may be suitable for persons aged 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content, and/or strong language.

video game ratings for parents

Adults Only: Content that should only be played by persons 18 years and older. Titles in this category may include prolonged scenes of intense violence and/or graphic sexual content and nudity. Microsoft does not support AO titles on Xbox 360, Xbox LIVE or as part of the Games for Windows branded program.

video game ratings for parents

Rating Pending: Titles listed as RP (Rating Pending) have been submitted to the ESRB and are awaiting final rating. This symbol appears only in advertising prior to a game’s release.

The ESRB also has what they call content Descriptors. These can be found next to the rating of the game on the box and are intended to help distinguish why the game has a particular rating.

ESRB Content Descriptors

Alcohol
Reference 
Reference to and/or images of alcoholic beverages
Animated
Blood
Cartoon or pixilated depictions of blood
Blood Depictions of blood
Blood and
Gore
Depictions of blood or the mutilation of body parts
Cartoon
Violence
Violent actions involving cartoon-like characters. May include violence where a character is unharmed after the action has been
inflicted
Comic
Mischief
Scenes depicting slapstick or gross vulgar humor
Crude
Humor
Moderately vulgar antics, including bathroom humor
Drug
Reference
Reference to and/or images of illegal drugs
Edutainment Content of the product provides a user with specific skills development or reinforcement learning within an entertainment
setting. Skill development is an integral part of the product
Fantasy
Violence
Violent actions of a fantasy nature, involving human or
non-human characters in situations easily distinguishable
from real life
Real
Gambling
Betting like behavior
Informational Overall content of product contains data, facts, resource
information, reference materials or instructional text
Intense
Violence
Graphic and realistic-looking depictions of physical conflict.
May involve extreme and/or realistic blood, gore, weapons,
and depictions of human injury and death
Mature
Humor
Vulgar and/or crude jokes and antics including “bathroom”
humor
Mature
Sexual
Themes
Provocative material, possibly including partial nudity
Language Mild references to profanity, sexuality, violence, alcohol, or
drug use
Lyrics  Mild references to profanity, sexuality, violence, alcohol, or
drug use in music
Mild
Violence
Mild scenes depicting characters in unsafe and/or violent
situations
Nudity Graphic or prolonged depictions of nudity
Partial
Nudity
Brief and mild depictions of nudity
Sexual
Violence
Depictions of rape or other sexual acts
Some
Assistance May Be
Needed
Early Childhood Descriptor only
Strong
Language
Profanity and explicit references to sexuality, violence,
alcohol, or drug use
Strong
Lyrics
Profanity and explicit references to sex, violence, alcohol, or
drug use in music
Strong
Sexual
Content
Graphic depiction of sexual behavior, possibly including
nudity
Suggestive
Themes
Mild provocative references or materials
Tobacco
Reference
Reference to and/or images of tobacco products
Use of
Drugs
The consumption or use of illegal drugs
Use of
Alcohol
The consumption of alcoholic beverages
Use of
Tobacco
The consumption of tobacco products
Violence Scenes involving aggressive conflict

The PEGI Age Labels (European)

PEGI (Pan European Game Information), outline video game ratings for parents and/or guardians in Europe. Very similar to the ESRB, PEGI wants consumers to be informed about video games before purchase.

PEGI 3

The content of games with a PEGI 3 rating is considered suitable for all age groups. The game should not contain any sounds or pictures that are likely to frighten young children. A very mild form of violence (in a comical context or a childlike setting) is acceptable. No bad language should be heard.

PEGI 7

Game content with scenes or sounds that can possibly frighten younger children should fall into this category. Very mild forms of violence (implied, non-detailed, or non-realistic violence) are acceptable for a game with a PEGI 7 rating.

PEGI 12

Video games that show violence of a slightly more graphic nature towards fantasy characters or non-realistic violence towards human-like characters would fall in this age category. Sexual innuendo or sexual posturing can be present, while any bad language in this category must be mild. Gambling as it is normally carried out in real life in casinos or gambling halls can also be present (e.g. card games that in real life would be played for money).

PEGI 16

This rating is applied once the depiction of violence (or sexual activity) reaches a stage that looks the same as would be expected in real life. The use of bad language in games with a PEGI 16 rating can be more extreme, while games of chance and the use of tobacco, alcohol or illegal drugs can also be present.

PEGI 18

The adult classification is applied when the level of violence reaches a stage where it becomes a depiction of gross violence, apparently motiveless killing, or violence towards defenseless characters. The glamorization of the use of illegal drugs and explicit sexual activity should also fall into this age category. 

The PEGI Content Descriptors

Violence

The game contains depictions of violence. In games rated PEGI 7, this can only be non-realistic or non-detailed violence. Games rated PEGI 12 can include violence in a fantasy environment or non-realistic violence towards human-like characters, whereas games rated PEGI 16 or 18 have increasingly more realistic-looking violence.

Bad Language

The game contains bad language. This descriptor can be found on games with a PEGI 12 (mild swearing), PEGI 16 (e.g. sexual expletives or blasphemy) or PEGI 18 rating (e.g. sexual expletives or blasphemy).

Fear

This descriptor may appear on games with a PEGI 7 if it contains pictures or sounds that may be frightening or scary to young children, or on PEGI 12 games with horrific sounds or horror effects (but without any violent content).

Gambling

The game contains elements that encourage or teach gambling. These simulations of gambling refer to games of chance that are normally carried out in casinos or gambling halls. Games with this sort of content are PEGI 12, PEGI 16 or PEGI 18.

Sex

This content descriptor can accompany a PEGI 12 rating if the game includes sexual posturing or innuendo, a PEGI 16 rating if there is erotic nudity or sexual intercourse without visible genitals or a PEGI 18 rating if there is explicit sexual activity in the game. Depictions of nudity in a non-sexual content do not require a specific age rating, and this descriptor would not be necessary.

Drugs

The game refers to or depicts the use of illegal drugs, alcohol or tobacco. Games with this content descriptor are always PEGI 16 or PEGI 18.

Discrimination

The game contains depictions of ethnic, religious, nationalistic or other stereotypes likely to encourage hatred. This content is always restricted to a PEGI 18 rating (and likely to infringe on national criminal laws).

If you have any questions about video game ratings for parents and how to better understand them, leave your comment below. Also, check you might be interested in these articles as well: “Stop Kids Using Microtransactions: Tips For Parents” or “Playing Too Many Video Games? How Much Is Too Much?”.

More information on video game ratings for parents to read and digest can be found at these official sites: PEGI, ESRB

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