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How to Know Exactly What's In Your Kids' Video Games

 A parent told me recently that the ratings on video game packages aren't always enough to make up her mind about whether a game is right for her child.  "What does it really mean when it says 'Comic Mischief'?" she asked.  "Or 'Suggestive Themes'?" 

"My son is nine," she continued, "and at his age I'd rather he not be exposed to sexual or violent content.  Sometimes I need more detail than what's on the box."

As president of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), it's my job to help parents make sensible game choices for their kids. That's why it's so gratifying to be able to provide yet another helpful tool to parents who want to make the most informed choices possible for their children: rating summaries.

Virtually every video game already has an ESRB age rating category on the front of the package, such as E (Everyone) or E10+ (Everyone 10 and up), along with content descriptors on the back. Now, with the new rating summaries parents can also get a detailed, no-nonsense description of the content in a game that factored into its rating.

For example:  

Nancy Drew: The White Wolf of Icicle Creek is a first-person perspective adventure game in which players assume the role of the detective Nancy Drew. Players investigate a series of suspicious accidents that have taken place at a lodge by interviewing characters and suspects. During the course of the investigation, players can be menaced by wolves, trapped in an avalanche, or fall through thin ice into freezing water.

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa is an action adventure game based on the movie of the same name. Gameplay involves platforming, mini-games (e.g. mini-golf and chess) and combat between animals - sometimes between animals and humans. Players can throw mangoes, perform "spin attacks," or just punch and slap an array of alligators, lions, scorpions, and villagers. Some of the characters engage in flirtatious dialogue throughout the game (e.g. ''the view from behind is his favorite view," and "junk in the trunk"). A slot machine mini-game allows players to gamble and earn in-game coins to purchase various items.

Little Big Planet is an action adventure game set in a whimsical land filled with puppets and platforming puzzles. Players can create, customize, and guide their character through levels of platforms, enemies and hazards. Hazards include bombs, spiked vehicles, stampeding bulls, and even giant shoes. One ancillary character makes belching noises while talking to the player's character.

Rating summaries are available for all games that were rated after July 1, 2008. Find them by searching for game titles on ESRB's website at www.esrb.org, by using ESRB and Parenting.com's rating search widget, or by signing up for a free bimonthly e-newsletter called ParenTools that offers a list of recently rated titles complete with rating summaries and customized to your preference of rating categories and game platform. ESRB also created a new mobile website at m.esrb.org so you can look up rating summaries right from the video game store using a web-enabled cell phone. 

We all want to give our kids what they want, but when it comes to popular entertainment, making age-appropriate choices and setting limits can be tough for a parent. Rating summaries will help ensure that you'll never again have to guess what's in that video game your child is begging you to buy.  

Patricia Vance is president of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), a nonprofit organization that assigns age and content ratings for computer and video games. She is an interactive media expert and mother of two. For more information visit www.esrb.org.

© 2009 Entertainment Software Rating Board.  All rights reserved.

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