What Do Video Game Ratings Mean?

Virtually all video games have a rating symbol printed prominently on the box cover. The ratings are based on guidelines created by The Entertainment Software Rating Board, a non-profit, self-regulatory body that independently assigns ratings to video games. These ratings are meant to inform parents who are purchasing video games for their children.

What Do Video Game Ratings Mean?

Cathy Wing, the Acting Director of the Media Awareness Network, stresses the importance of looking at the ratings before purchasing a game for children. If you aren’t sure, ask the people selling the game, she suggests.

Wing added that it’s helpful to get recommendations from other parents or to play the game yourself to be sure that the game is truly suitable since she believes the ratings system is not perfect.

“Even for some games rated for everyone the content can be violent and it’s not suitable for all children.”

Matt Levitan, the Marketing and PR Manager for PlayStation Canada, agrees. 

“I have a 13-year-old nephew who’s always asking for games that are too old for him. I had to educate my sister on what the ESRB ratings mean.”

When selecting games for children, stick with E for everyone and T for teen games for older children. Avoid M for mature or Adults-only (AO) games since they are not suitable for kids.

Here are the ratings and what they mean:


EC-rated games are suitable for children aged 3 and over.


Games with an E rating are suitable for children older than 6 and may contain a minimal amount of cartoon violence and/or mild language.


Titles rated E10+ are suitable for children older than 10 and will contain more fantasy violence than games rated for younger children and may also contain more mild language and some suggestive themes.


T-rated games are meant for teenagers. They may contain some blood and violence, crude humour, stronger language and simulated gambling.


M games are not meant for children and should only be played by people older than 17. They may contain greater amounts of violence, blood and gore, sexual content and stronger language.


AO games are for adults only. They will contain prolonged scenes of violence and/or sex.

Just as important as the ratings symbol are content descriptors printed below. These indicate what aspects of the game are responsible for its rating. Example descriptors include Nudity, Mature Humour, Violence, Use of Drugs and so on. These descriptors are sometimes modified by the world mild, which means the offending content doesn’t appear often.