Demystifying M Rated Video Games: A Guide for Parents

As an avid gamer and parent, I often field questions from concerned parents about video game ratings. Games rated Mature (M) in particular cause confusion and worry over their suitability for kids. In this guide, I‘ll provide an in-depth look at M rated games – from what the rating means to how parents can make informed choices about allowing their kids to play them.

What is the ESRB?

The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is a non-profit organization that independently assigns age and content ratings for video games in the United States and Canada. Their ratings provide guidance for parents, with the goal of helping them determine which games are appropriate for their children.

The ESRB was established in 1994 by the Entertainment Software Association in response to controversies over violent video games. While the ESRB has no legal authority over game sales, most retailers enforce their ratings voluntarily.

ESRB Rating Categories

The ESRB uses the following age-based rating categories:

  • EC (Early Childhood): Suitable for ages 3 and older. Contains no objectionable content.
  • E (Everyone): Suitable for ages 6 and older. May contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence.
  • E10+ (Everyone 10+): Suitable for ages 10 and older. May contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, and mild language.
  • T (Teen): Suitable for ages 13 and older. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood and infrequent use of strong language.
  • M (Mature): Suitable for ages 17 and older. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
  • AO (Adults Only): Suitable for ages 18 and older. May include graphic depictions of sex and/or violence. Virtually no major retailers sell AO-rated games.

ESRB Ratings by Age

What Does an M Rating Mean?

Titles rated Mature contain content suitable only for ages 17 and up. This includes more intense depictions of violence (e.g. blood, gore, mutilation), stronger sexual themes, and frequent use of strong language.

Some common content descriptors for M rated games include:

  • Intense Violence
  • Blood and Gore
  • Strong Language
  • Strong Sexual Content
  • Use of Drugs and Alcohol

While there are no set quotas for the amount of objectionable content, the ESRB carefully considers the overall context when assigning age ratings. Interactivity and realism are also factored in, as controlling virtual violence can have a different impact compared to passive viewing.

M Rated Games vs R Rated Movies

The M rating for games is analogous to an R rating for movies by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). Both indicate the content is restricted to ages 17 and up unless accompanied by a parent. The main difference is R ratings place more emphasis on language, nudity and drug use, while M ratings focus on game violence.

The MPAA‘s NC-17 rating is the closest movie equivalent to the ESRB‘s AO rating for extremely graphic or explicit content unsuitable for ages under 18. However, AO rated games are exceptionally rare compared to NC-17 films.

How Common are M Rated Games?

Despite public perceptions, only a minority of video games actually receive an M rating. According to ESRB data, M rated titles accounted for just 11% of games released in 2021. By contrast, E rated games made up nearly 50% of releases.

ESRB Game Ratings 2021

However, M rated games often generate strong sales. Popular franchises with recent M rated installments include Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, God of War, Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil. Parents may allow their teen to play these games even if they are below the 17+ age rating.

Violent Games Research

The most common concerns around young people playing M rated games involve exposure to graphic violence and potential impacts on aggression. But the scientific research is nuanced and still debated.

Some studies have found correlations between playing violent video games and minor increases in aggressive thoughts and behaviors. However, the observed effects tend to be relatively small and short-term. Critics argue this does not demonstrate a causal link to real world violence.

Many experts say game violence alone is not harmful for most teens, especially those with other protective factors like parental involvement. But more research is still needed on effects for vulnerable youth. Parents should take a tailored approach considering their child‘s maturity level.

Tips for Parents of Teen Gamers

For parents deciding whether to allow your teen to play M rated games, here are some tips:

  • Play the game yourself first or watch gameplay videos to assess the content. Don‘t rely just on the rating.

  • Set clear rules around what types of games are off limits based on your family values.

  • Use parental controls on gaming devices to restrict access to mature content.

  • Talk to your teen about your concerns over violence, sex or language in games. Discuss separating fantasy from reality.

  • Keep gaming spaces public in the living room versus alone in a bedroom. Monitor playtime.

  • Co-play games together so you experience the content firsthand and can provide guidance.

  • Focus on games with prosocial themes of empathy and cooperation to balance out violent titles.

Should M Ratings Be Legally Enforced?

Unlike movie theaters, retailers face no legal obligation to restrict the sale of M rated games to minors. Some groups like parents associations argue this policy should be changed to better protect children.

However, the game industry insists the voluntary rating system is effective as is. Enforced age restrictions would significantly impact the business model. Most agree parents should ultimately make the call for their own children.

I personally believe the current approach strikes a reasonable balance, although more public education on ratings is needed. With proper oversight by parents, M rated games generally won‘t cause harm for mature teens. But more research would provide valuable insights to inform policies.

In the end, determining suitability comes down to each parent knowing their child best. There is no one size fits all rule. With awareness and communication, families can thoughtfully navigate the world of gaming together.

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 0 / 5. Vote count: 0

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.