What you need to know about video game ratings before Christmas shopping

Updated: Nov 17, 2019

Christmas is close and we all know what is at the top of most kids’ lists: video games. According to NPD (a company that tracks video game sales) the US will spend $44.6 billion on video games this year, which is a 6% increase over 2018. Whether the gamers you’re shopping for prefer to game on PC, Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch, or even phones and tablets, the content of the games can vary drastically. One game might have the player roaming the countryside to catch and train cute, furry animals and another might see them shooting people in the face in order to steal their car and go pick up a prostitute. What an age we live in.

There are a lot of games out there and it can be overwhelming to try to figure out which are appropriate for the people you’re shopping for. Luckily, back in 1994, the ESRB was formed. The ESRB (Electronic Software Rating Board) is tasked with assigning age and content ratings to all consumer video games and was formed in the wake of games like Mortal Kombat (1992) and Night Trap (1992) which were, not unfairly, deemed to be inappropriate for younger gamers due to blood, violence, and sexual content.

The ESRB uses similar ratings to that of the MPAA for movies or TV Parental Guidelines for TV shows. The 4 major ratings are as follows:

E (Everyone) - Content is generally suitable for all ages. May contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language.

E 10+ (Everyone 10 and up) - Content is generally suitable for ages 10 and up. May contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language and/or minimal suggestive themes.

T (Teen) - Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.

M (Mature) - Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.

Another important point to keep in mind is that multiplayer online games such as Fortnite may have E or T ratings but have no control over the players themselves. Some gamers can be pretty crude and even bully other players.

Below are some of the most wanted games this holiday season and some basic information for each.

Death Stranding

Rating - M for blood, intense violence, partial nudity, and strong language

Official website

ESRB summary

Set in the United States during the aftermath of the eponymous Death Stranding, which caused destructive creatures from a realm between life and death to begin roaming the Earth. Players control a courier tasked with delivering supplies to the fractured and isolated colonies that remain and reconnecting them via a wireless communications network.


Rating - T for violence

Official website

ESRB summary

This is an action game in which players build forts, gather resources, craft weapons, and battle hordes of monsters in frenetic combat.

Pokémon Sword and Shield (2 different games with the same premise)

Rating - E for comic mischief and mild cartoon violence

Official website

ESRB summary

As with most other main series Pokémon games, they chronicle the main character's journey in the Galar region, based on Great Britain, alongside rivals Hop, Bede and Marnie aiming to dethrone the Pokémon League Champion Leon and defeat Team Yell, a group of fans obsessed over Marnie.

Borderlands 3

Rating - M for blood and gore, intense violence, sexual themes, and strong language

Official website

ESRB summary

Borderlands 3 is a loot-driven first-person shooter. Players, either playing alone or in parties of up to four people, make a character from one of the four classes available, and take on various missions given out by non-playable characters (NPCs) and at bounty boards to gain experience, in-game monetary rewards, and reward items. Players can also gain these items by defeating enemies throughout the game.

Doom Eternal

Rating - M for blood and gore and intense violence

Official website

ESRB summary

Players once again take on the role of the Doom Slayer, an ancient warrior who battles the demonic forces of Hell, from a first-person perspective.

Resident Evil 2

Rating - M for blood and gore, intense violence, and strong language

Official website

ESRB summary

Resident Evil 2 is a survival horror game in which players control police officer Leon S. Kennedy and college student Claire Redfield as they attempt to escape from Raccoon City during a zombie apocalypse

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

Rating - M for blood and gore, intense violence, strong language, suggestive themes, and use of drugs

Official website

ESRB website

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is a first-person shooter that follows a CIA officer and British SAS forces as they team up with rebels from the fictional country of Urzikstan, combating together against Russian forces who have invaded the country.

For any games that aren’t included here or for more information, the website for the ESRB ( is a great resource that includes not just ratings but a paragraph summarizing why the game received that rating.

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