Video games were once the domain of dedicated game consoles and PCs, but today, gamers can easily access entire virtual worlds anywhere, across a wide range of devices. For parents, that presents a growing challenge: How do you know whether a game or app is right for your children and how do you manage their access? 

Rating the system

In 1994 industry leaders came together to establish the Entertainment Software Rating Board, a non-profit, self-regulatory rating authority for rating video games. In those days, you had to buy a game in a box at retail and bring it home. Today, those ratings can also be found on digital games and apps in online or mobile storefronts, like Google Play, Xbox Store, Nintendo eShop and PlayStation Store. Ratings are most effective when you know where they are displayed and exactly what they mean.

Fortunately, understanding the different parts of the ESRB rating system is easy and provides parents with useful information at a glance. Rating categories recommend age-appropriateness and include:

  • E: Everyone

  • E10+: Everyone 10 and older

  • T: Teen, 13+

  • M: Mature, 17+

  • AO: Adults Only, 18+

Content descriptors highlight content that may have triggered a particular rating, such as violence, suggestive themes, or language. Interactive elements provide details about certain features of digitally-delivered games and apps, including online user interaction, the ability to purchase digital goods, or whether unrestricted Internet access is provided.

In control

Parental controls are essential for helping parents manage which games their children play and which apps they download. All of today’s popular gaming devices have controls built in that allow parents to block titles by rating, ensuring your children don’t play a game that may be too mature for them. Depending on the device, parents can also control specific features like which users their children can play with online and whether in-game purchases can be made.

Learning about ratings and parental controls can make gamer parenting a breeze. A little window-shopping can also go a long way. Checking game reviews and trailers, reading a game’s description on a storefront detail page and simply playing the game in question can help you make informed decisions about which games are right for your family.