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Parents: Check the Age Rating for your Kids' Console Games

Updated on December 31, 2012

ESRB Game Ratings

South African gaming websites and online game stores generally do not limit the purchase of games with violence, sexual content and nudity, strong language, gambling, abuse of drugs and alcohol and other unsuitable material for children.

The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) provides brief, accurate sumaries that allow purchasers or users to see at a glance, the appropriateness of games for various ages. This Board is operable in the United States, not South Africa, but its ratings are a logical guideline for parents purchasing games for their children or trying to establish their suitability.

ESRB ratings for games are:

-early childhood (EC),

-everyone (E),

-everyone 10+ for children aged 10 and older (10+E),

-teen for ages 13 and older (T),

-mature for ages 17 and older (M),

-adults only for ages 18 and older (AO), and

-rating pending (RP)

ESRB Methodology

The ESRB ratings apply to games and mobile apps and they are established from information submitted by the game developer prior to publication. The content is evaluated based on aspects such as violence, language, nudity, sexual content, controlled substances and gambling - and a rating is then referred to the game developer.

The game's packaging reflects the assessed rating. The game and its packaging are subsequently assessed again after publication to ensure that the correct information was submitted to the ESRB for the rating. Astonishingly enough, ESRB employees even play the game for verification purposes - many kids and gamers would not regard that as work!

The game packaging displays the assessed rating, but online resellers of games in South Africa are not required to supply the rating on their website. Generally, no mechanism is available to purchasers on the website to assess a game's rating. Legislation does not require such a tool, but certain responsible resellers do provide a widget on their website.

This widget enables a concerned parent to type in the name of any rated game and it will then supply the rating for that game. Parents can assess the appropriateness of any game readily and easily, before buying the game for their kids.

Film and Publications Board Ratings

The South African Film and Publications Board (FPB) is tasked with rating games and those ratings are PG, 13, 16 and 18. An explanation of these ratings was given some time ago on the new website TimesLive.

"Games rated PG contain no references to drugs, no foul language and no nudity, but may contain “minimal violence in playful, comic or highly stylized settings”...

Further, games rated 13 are similarly restricted in terms of drug references, foul language and nudity, but may contain “sequences of mild violence”, provided there is “no mutilation or dismemberment of animal or human bodies”.

The 16+ classification makes allowances for drug reference — provided they do not glamorise their use — and some nudity, provided it is not tied to incentives within the game. But with regard to violence, the game may include sequences of intense violence in graphic detail. Mutilation and dismemberment may occur in animated contexts."

Interestingly, no explanation was given in the article for the 18+ classification. This rating might include prolonged scenes of nudity, drug abuse, and intense, sustained violence.

Parents: Check the Rating

The Film and Publications Board is not practically able to enforce ratings allocated - it is largely administrative in function and has little effectiveness. The author suggests that parents use any ESRB ratings that are available on the online storefront in order to make an informed decision and in the case of responsible stores offering a ratings widget, use that free service.

An example of a South African online gaming store that offers an age rating widget on its site for concerned parents, is Khaya iT games and figurines.

Parents are encouraged to check the latest games' ratings prior to purchasing them in order not to expose their children to inappropriate content. This is not a prerequisite for South African online console games' sites, and is entirely at the discretion of each individual.

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