Most people know the phrase “T is for Teen.” But what does T really mean?

A 2012 survey found that a significant percentage of parents are aware that there are ESRB ratings and consider the ESRB ratings when purchasing a game, and 89% of parents are present and involved in the purchasing decision.

The survey also found that awareness of ratings does not always mean the parent will use ratings when deciding which games to purchase—a finding that could be of some concern. While the ESRB rating system is the most highly enforced rating system in the nation, it is only as good as parents make it.


We’ve heard time and time again from retailers who witness kids cajoling their parents into buying M-rated titles like Grand Theft Auto. While we don’t advocate censoring games, we do want parents to have the tools they need to make the right decisions for their families. For some, that might be buying Grand Theft Auto V for their 10-year-old and using it as a racing game. For others, that might mean putting a foot down and making the kids wait until the age matches the rating.

Here is the ESRB’s ratings breakdown:

esrb ratings symbol for ec games
Content is intended for young children.
esrb ratings symbol for E-rated games
Content is generally suitable for all ages. May contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language.
esrb ratings symbol for e10 games
Content is generally suitable for ages 10 and up. May contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language and/or minimal suggestive themes.
esrb ratings symbol for e10 games
Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
esrb ratings symbol for m-rated games
Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
esrb ratings symbol for AO-rated games
Content suitable only for adults ages 18 and up. May include prolonged scenes of intense violence, graphic sexual content and/or gambling with real currency.
esrb ratings symbol for rp rating
Not yet assigned a final ESRB rating. Appears only in advertising, marketing and promotional materials related to a game that is expected to carry an ESRB rating, and should be replaced by a game’s rating once it has been assigned.

Here’s what we think parents may not know, but probably should:

  • Not all games are created equal. Halo was given an M-rating for its (unrealistic) blood and strong language; Grand Theft Auto V was given an M-Rating for gratuitous torture, pornography, and racial and gendered slurs.
  • ESRB ratings do not exactly match up with movie ratings.
  • Content Categories are what the ESRB uses to designate specific content beyond the base rating. In Mass Effect 3, the Content Categories are Blood, Partial Nudity, Sexual Content, Strong Language, and Violence. This can give parents a clearer idea of what is in the game.



  • However. It’s important to note that the “Suggestive Themes” indicator in an M-Rated game like Mass Effect is not the same as “Suggestive Themes” in an E10+ game. Categories are given with the base rating in mind. “Suggestive Themes” in a T-Rated game might mean revealing clothing. “Suggestive Themes” in an M-Rated game might mean foreplay (though, to date, video games have far less sexual content than, say, your average TV show).

The best way to navigate these ratings is to get a good handle on two things: 1) what your kids are comfortable with and ready for, and 2) what the game content really is. Watching Let’s Play videos, looking at screenshots, and reading reviews are invaluable. If you’re in the store and your kids already have your wallet out, ask the clerk to tell you what they know—most of the people who work in game stores are happy to share their knowledge, and they might also be willing to look it up for you if they have time.

This article was written by

Keezy is a gamer, illustrator, and designer. Her background is in teaching and tutoring kids from ages 9 to 19, and she's led workshops for young women in STEM. She is also holds a certificate in teaching English. Her first memory of gaming is when her dad taught her to play the first Warcraft when she was five. You can find her at Key of Zee and on Twitter @KeezyBees.