The Entertainment Software Rating Board provides summarized, accurate information that allows users to see at a glance, the suitability of games for various ages. This Board is not a South African entity, but its ratings are an excellent guideline for parents when purchasing games for their children.

Games are rated for:

  • 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)

The ESRB rating applies to games and mobile apps and is extrapolated from information submitted by the publisher in the latter stages of game development, but prior to publication. The content is evaluated based on aspects such as violence, language, nudity, drug and alcohol abuse, sexual context and gambling – and a rating applied.

The game and its packaging are subsequently assessed again after publication to ensure that the initial assessment based on information disclosed was complete and accurate.

The game packaging is required to display the assessed rating, but online resellers of games often do not supply the rating on their website. Often, no reference material or mechanism is available on the website to assess a game’s rating. Legislation does not require such a mechanism but responsible resellers can provide a widget on their website, made available from the ESRB website.

This widget enables a concerned parent to type in the name of the game in question and it will then supply the rating for that game. In this way, parents intending to buy games for their children, or wanting to assess the appropriateness of any game, can readily and easily get that information.

The Film and Publications Board (FPB) is responsible in South Africa for rating games and the applicable ratings are self-explanatory, namely PG, 13, 16 and 18. To quote from Times Live news site:

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

The inherent problem, however, lies in the fact that the FPB does not enforce its ratings and the decision is left to the purchaser. It is for this reason, that the author suggests that parents use any ESRB ratings that are available on the online storefront in order to make an informed decision.

Parents are encouraged to check the latest games’ ratings prior to purchasing them in order to not 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.