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Video game content is all over the board, but is supposedly confined within a strict system of specific ratings. How much do you know about what these ratings mean?

In this article

Much like movies, before publishing, each video game is reviewed and assigned a content rating by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). You can use this as a quick tip-off to any offensive or questionable content a game may contain before buying it.

Where Are the Ratings?

It’s usually displayed as a large letter on the front or back cover of a physical game, and will be listed on the main page when purchasing a game online or via the console itself. Unlike movie ratings tucked away on the case, a game’s rating is often displayed prominently on the front cover.

There’s a content overview as well

Not only is the letter rating displayed, but next to this will be a snapshot of the game’s content. It’s typically listed as a handful of items such as: “Mild language,” “Suggestive themes,” “Cartoon violence,” etc. These will tell you what kind of things someone can expect when playing the game.

Rating: E

Rated for everyone

E-rated games have very little to no violence. If there is violence, it’s usually in the form of cartoon, fantasy, or mild violence. Also can include very light/mild language. 

This rating is going to be the most common on games geared toward families and kids, and as such is also one of the broadest categories.

Multiplayer and online capabilities

Many of these games will include online or local multiplayer options. When playing online, most modern games don’t allow voice chat and instead will limit any text-based chatting to preset words, phrases, or emotes (character performing a recognizable action such as “dance” or “wave”).

Additional billing and charges

Even E-rated games can contain additional purchases, downloadable content, and even unlockable items via real money. Often, this will mean the game stores a credit card on it, and if you’re not careful it can quickly rack up charges.

Another common option is virtual or in-game currency which can be purchased with real money. This is a safer option since it typically doesn’t store a credit card on file, but instead will take online codes or redeeming gift cards in order to load the balance.

Rating: E10+

Rated for everyone ages ten and up

Similar to the E-rated games above, these are more aimed toward families as well as slightly older children and pre-teens. Games in this category will likely contain a little more violence, language, and suggestive themes, but will still refrain from anything gory or explicit.

Multiplayer and online capabilities

It’s not uncommon for games at this level to include online gaming and interactions, though the text will still be filtered similarly to those rated E.

Additional billing and charges

Just like E games, many E10+ ones will have additional content that can be purchased with real money. As above, keep an eye on where your card needs to be entered and if the game supports virtual currency.

Rating: T

Rated for teens ages thirteen and up

At some point, most kids will move on from E-rated games and crave something a little more mature. This is where the Teen rating comes into play. Games in this category will have stronger language, more violence, and sensuality potentially tipping into light sexual themes. 

Multiplayer and online capabilities

Games in the T category with online capabilities typically have nearly-unmoderated chat lobbies including options for both text and voice chatting.

It’s also worth noting that many adults play these games as well, meaning that children and teens can converse freely with adults during gameplay. This is a common place for online predators to begin grooming as well as cyberbullying to occur.

Additional billing and charges

A lot of the popular T-rated games are filled with extra purchases, cosmetics (things that change visuals but don’t influence gameplay), and a slew of other things to spend money on.

Be sure you understand and check that your card isn’t saved on file to allow your kids to freely rack up a huge bill.

Rating: M

Rated for Mature audiences ages 17 and up

Potentially the largest and widest category of games in our list are for ones rated M. Like the name implies, this rating is for mature themes, mature language, and often mature sexual content.

That being said, the actual content can vary wildly from game to game, so it’s recommended you also pay attention to the content warnings next to the rating. Titles in this range can be rated M simply for high levels of violence but have absolutely no sexual content.

On the flip side, a game may simulate or even encourage sexual acts, portray nudity, and contain explicit language.

It’s always recommended that you do your research about a game in this category before buying it for a teen.

Multiplayer and online capabilities

Surprisingly, many of the games in this category do not offer online play but are instead intended as single-player games. Those with online multiplayer, however, will almost always have text and voice chatting.

Unfortunately, there’s not a strict standard for filtering or moderating any of these chats, so if you’re a concerned parent, check out our video game safety features included in iDefend.

Additional billing and charges

As with the other categories, these games often include additional purchases.

It’s worth noting for most of the single-player games, however, that the bulk of purchasable content is actually further expansions or modules for the same game, expanding gameplay and the storyline rather than simply throwing money at cosmetic items.