Video and Computer Game Rating Systems

Unfortunately, video and computer games are still seen as “kids” entertainment by many, especially those of the older generations who didn’t grow up with them. I’ve spoken to many parents who let their young children play Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty because they’re “just video games”.

The video game industry is at least twice as big as the movie industry in monetary terms, and they generally haven’t been appropriate for children for many years, starting in the 80s with the Leisure Suit Larry series to name a common example. Even then, although the themes were very suggestive, the graphic quality was so bad plus what was generally accepted by society was quite different so the potential damage was significantly less.  It is a very different story now with games like Grand Theft Auto where the protagonist is expected to perform violent acts, partake in drugs and prostitution and assassination activities, evade police,  and generally cause havoc and unrest. Adults and older teens who can differentiate between real life and make believe can derive enjoyment and relaxation from playing these kinds of games. Young children under 12 are not equipped to make these kind of differentiation and shouldn’t be expected to decide what is ok and what is not.

Most parents wouldn’t let their young children watch an R or 18+ rated movie, and yet some let their children play games with the same ratings. it could argued that games are worse because the child is taking an active role in the activities. Movies are purely passive.

In South Africa, if films or games are age-restricted, it means that they are legally restricted for all children under the specified age, but advisory for children of and above the specified age. Other countries have similar laws. This means is is actually illegal to allow your children to play these games.

The Film and Publication Board rates most games that are for sale in South Africa.

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The FPB has various ratings from A (all ages) to XX (banned from distribution). See the FPB ratings site for more information.

Because most games are imported into South Africa, we also see rating from PEGI (Pan Eurpean Game Information) and ESRB (Entertainment Software Ratings Board). PEGI is the most common here in South Africa because of the fact that most games physical on physical media is improrted from Europe. The ESRB is the American rating system and can be seen on many digital purchases such as those from Steam, PlayStation and Xbox stores etc. The ratings are below and more info can be obtained at the PEGI and ESRB web sites.

PEGI

ESRB

Help on setting up parental controls on Game Consoles and PCs can be found in the Technical Help section of this site.

Games and Apps purchased from the iTunes and Google Play stores are also rated, although this process is a little less strict. Apps and games are rated by the developers based on guidelines provided by the store owners and are usually derived from a set of questions answered by the developer. There is some “checking” by Google and Apple, but it’s not fool proof. Parental discretion should be used when downloading and playing mobile games for your children.

Apple’s ratings are as follows:

4+ – This is the rating for an application with no objectionable material. You can think of it like a G rated movie. This means no cartoon violence, drinking or drug use, gambling and certainly no bad language or nudity.

9+ – This rating may include cartoon violence and/or mild suggestive, horror or fear-themed content not suitable for very young children. Think of it like a PG movie. You might see action and violence in a LEGO game rated 9+, but you won’t see a Call of Duty level of violence. An example of a game in this category is the LEGO Lord of the Rings game, which does contain some fighting between characters, but some kids younger than 9 may be fine with the game.

12+ – This category of app may contain infrequent mild language, intense cartoon violence, realistic violence or mild use of mature or suggestive themes. It may also contain simulated gambling. It’s subject matter may be similar to a PG-13 movie. While this rating does allow some “realistic violence”, which generally means blood shown when enemies are hit, this type of violence is relatively infrequent or cartoonish within the game. The 12+ rating excludes games like Mortal Combat and Call of Duty, which are regulated to those 17 or older.

17+ – These applications contain mature themes like frequent realistic violence, sexual content and references to alcohol, tobacco and/or drugs. It is not suitable for anyone under 17 and can be treated like an R-rated movie. This is the highest rating. While these apps can show sexual content, actual nudity is banned from the App Store. However, 17+ apps include apps like web browsers that have access to the unrestricted Internet.

Google uses a very similar system but is a little more granular. More information can be found on Apple and Google Parental Controls websites.

Help on setting up parental controls on mobile devices can be found in the Technical Help section of this site.

We hope this has helped you understand the dangers and given more insight into the ratings systems put in place to protect younger users of these systems. Please leave comments to ask any questions or if any further clarification is needed.

About Duncan Rae

Duncan is passionate about technology and has turned this passion into both a career and a hobby. He is married to the girl of his dreams and is the father of two boys. Keeping children safe in this digital world we live in has inspired him to put this site together to assist in educating parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles etc. to make their homes and devices safer for young children to use.
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