There was a time when video gaming was the realm of the adolescent boy but those times have gone. According to the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), the average adult American has been playing video games for 12 years and two-thirds of American households are playing video games, which means moms and dads are doing it too. With so much game time in the home, rating systems and playtime rules have become part of a parent’s purview, as figuring out which games are appropriate for that certain age groups is tricky if you have teens, pre-teens, and single-digiters vying for the same games that the adults want to play.

Should He or She Even Be Playing Video Games?

Video game play has been under the scientific eye for quite a while. There are some bad aspects of video gaming, including violent behavioral tendencies and headaches, but researchers at the University of Rochester first started identifying the health benefits back in 2010. Reflex-based, first-person shooter games like Battlefield Hardline will actually increase a person’s decision-making speed without any loss in accuracy. Researchers of Motivation and Emotion at Springer have also found that teen video play leads to better social skills and acts as a cathartic outlet for stress. The question that parents need to ask themselves is when do the benefits of playing a game like Hardline outweigh the M rating given by the ESRB.

What is the ESRB and How Do Ratings Work?

In 1994, the Entertainment Software Association established the ESRB in response to parent’s and educator’s growing concerns about children having access to potentially inappropriate video gaming content. The ESRB currently has seven rating categories: Early Childhood, Everyone, Everyone 10+, Teen, Mature, Adult and Rating Pending. Game ratings are determined by a wide range of content classifications. Between childhood and teens, they differentiate between cartoon violence and realistic violence, certain suggestive language and degrees of crude humor. For mature and adult games, level of gore, nudity, drug use, and suggestive themes are what earn a rating.

Over the last two decades, the ESRB has been criticized for contradictions in its ranking rubric, making it difficult for parents to enact logical rules within the family. Fine points like the sophistication of the graphics in the game can flip a violent game from one rank to another. Batman: Arkham City is rated T for its violence, cursing and alcohol reference. Most consider it a hard T or a soft M but the ESRB does not have midrange ratings. Proponents of the system point out that the ratings are given as a guideline to help parents and that they should not be the one and only rule.

Reviews Over Ratings

For most of us, it is relatively simple to set a rule that our 12-year-old cannot play the M rated game Grand Theft Auto which is full of prostitutes and murder. Comparing the most mature pre-teen and the loses interpretation of the ESRB rating, we will generally have no overlap that allows for play. It is when the age approaches the rating that things get complicated. When you are trying to decide if your 12-year-old can play a Teen rated game or your 16-year-old is mature enough for Mature, use reviews to help. You can find game reviews that are written by people that have the same mindset as you, people of various ages, and people that can point you to other games if this one isn't right for your family.