One of my pet peeves are ignorant parents who buy their children the wrong game then blame someone else for their mistakes. For example if they buy a game rated for adults and later find out that these games contains violence, nudity and what-not - who do you think they blame? Video games and the industry. So dear parents, here is a small guide on video games ratings that took me 10 minutes to research. You can even print it for Christmas shopping.
Europe uses a voluntary rating system called PEGI (Pan European Game Information). Though not legally enforceable in the majority of the countries, the ratings are pretty useful for people who wants to avoid buying games with certain content as they are well described and often accurate. Many game stores follow the PEGI rating system though not all the staff members do.
The ratings are printed on the front of games cases while the back contain additional content descriptor icons (up to six though most of my games only come with one descriptor icons). These icons are self-explanatory but just to clear any confusion, from top left to top right: Bad language, discrimination, drugs, fear, gambling, sex & nudity and violence.
Trauma Center: suitable for age 7+, contains killer spiders
In the UK certain games with film-like scenes such as sexual activity or extreme violence, will also be rated by the BBFC. These are enforceable and games banned by the BBFC makes it illegal to sell it (but it will be legal to own if for example you purchased it overseas). So far the only game banned by the BBFC is Manhunt 2, a truly naughty game probably worth banning because of how bad the game is. There is a difference on how the BBFC rate games too, for example the BBFC gave Resident Evil 4 a 15 rating where as PEGI rated it for 18+.
Resident Evil 4 is rated 15 in the UK by BBFC. The rest of Europe has to be 18.
In censor happy Germany, games are required to be rated by this organisation called the Unterhaltungssoftware Selbstkontrolle or USK for short. The coloured based icons meant to represent the ratings are hideously ugly (second only to Australia). Unlike PEGI there are no secondary ratings to describe content as the age rating takes into account the content.
Konami destroys Castlevania box art with two ratings and endorsements
America's voluntary ESRB system is similar to Europe's PEGI. The icons used are prettier though not as informative. The most common icon to look out for if you are buying your kids video games is E which means the game is suitable for everyone. Games rated mature are generally a no-go area for kids. There is an adults only rating that is rarely used, and even then games that receive an AO rating are not allowed to be published by major console manufacturers (Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft). The Kids to Adult rating is no longer used.
Like PEGI content descriptions are printed on the back of the case, though not in the form of icons. Instead to the credit (gasps!) of Americans they actually use something far more useful - actual words. Words such as 'Comic Mischief' or 'Crude Humor' and 'Animated Blood' are such examples and goes straight to the point. These content descriptors can be preceded by the term 'Mild'.
The ESRB content descriptor for Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth
I won't cover their CERO rating system here as there are hardly any Japanese visiting this site, and they are probably far more responsible than the rest of us. Australia's classification is very similar to the ESRB system and is colour coded. It is also very ugly and ruins box arts with its huge icons (just import). Australia is a censorship happy country is all I have to say. Hopefully it will change with a more liberal government in stow now.
Australia has a reputation for defiling box arts with its rating icon. Here Team ICO's beautiful Shadow of the Colossus cover is butchered.
The problems with these ratings however is it doesn't tell you which games are suitable for kids. For example Animal Crossing might be rated E for everyone but the gameplay really would not interest anyone above the age of seven especially if you do not want to subject your kids to the concept of paying off mortgages. It is similar with New Super Mario Bros. where the game would probably be too difficult to anyone younger than eight despite receiving a PEGI rating of 3+. In America games that are identified to be suitable for children and therefore educational are rated Early Childhood.
Perhaps the safest way to find out what is suitable for their kids is for parents to finally buck up and start playing games with their children. And stop buying crap licensed games.