Many children are into video games of all sorts and styles. With three new platforms for television play, countless computer games and even hand-held systems, and thousands of games available, how do you, as a parent, know what games you let your child play?

  If you are not a gamer and are worried about what games your kids are playing these days, the easiest method to understand it is the Entertainment Software Rating Board, or ESRB. This non-profit organization has set up a rating system to help parents stay in the know. The system has various ratings, much like a movie rating structure, to inform buyers of the game’s contents.

   The following are the ESRB’s standard ratings, and what each means.

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 EARLY CHILDHOOD (EC)

  Titles rated EC, or Early Childhood, have content that may be suitable for ages 3 and older. Games of this rating contain no material that parents would find inappropriate for young children.

 EVERYONE (E)

  Titles rated E (for Everyone) have content that may be suitable for ages 6 and older. Titles may contain “minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language.”

 EVERYONE 10+ (E10+)

 Titles rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) have content that may be suitable for ages 10 and older. Titles in this category may contain “more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language, and/or minimal suggestive themes.”

TEEN (T)

  Titles rated T (Teen) have content that may be suitable for ages 13 and older. Titles in this category may contain “violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling, and/or infrequent use of strong language.”

MATURE (M)

  Titles rated M (Mature) have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain “intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.”

ADULTS ONLY (AO)

  Titles rated AO (Adults Only) have content that should only be played by persons 18 years and older. Titles in this category may include “prolonged scenes of intense violence and/or graphic sexual content and nudity.”

  Any game in sold in the United States will have these ratings on both the front and the back of the game box. The back will also give a reason for the given rating. The reasons can be anything from comic mischief to violence, so make sure you look at the back of the box so you know what content is in the game.

   A parent or guardian will need to decide, given the information on the box, if those descriptions make the game suitable for your child or not, but with this knowledge, you will have the resources you need to make an informed decision.

  The ESRB is not a fool-proof system, and, depending on your own values instead of others’ is the surest way to make sure your child is not exposed to anything you find morally questionable. Search for any game your child wants on the Internet. It is easy to find reviews or previews for most games released in the U.S.

  Also, you should know is that online game play is not rated by the ESRB. The basic game experience does not change from the single player game. The only difference is that you can chat with the other players online.

  This sounds nice; you can talk to players all over the world. Just keep in mind, as a parent, you may not always want your child to have such access. Swearing and offensive language is just one example of things they will be exposed to with online play.

   Parents can either limit online play or not allow a microphone and headset to be sure your child is not exposed to or perpetrating this behavior. Visit ESRB.org online for more details on this rating system.