As many other moms, video games are one of the top requested items on my kids' Christmas list (of course, they are only allowed to ask for one item, so it better be good). Fortunately, I'm glad I don't have to go into the gaming world blind. All video games have an ESRB rating (Entertainment Software Rating Board), so make sure you check it out before making that purchase. Here's the rundown:
EC: Early Childhood (ages 3 and older), contains nothing questionable so it's a good buy.
E: Everyone (usually ages 6 and up), this is the stuff my kids use. It may contain very minimal cartoon violence but all in all, pretty safe.
E 10+: Everyone 10 and up (usually ages 10 and up), this may contain mild cartoon or fantasty violence, mild language, or suggestive themes. You want to be careful here if you are buying these games. Make sure they are appropriate for your child's age and (just on a personal note here) if they are not allowed to play these games, make sure you tell them that before they go to a friend's house and play them and end up grounded for two weeks.
T: Teen (ages 13 and up), this may contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, gambling, strong language. This is where I draw the line, so check it out carefully and read plenty of reviews.
M: Mature (ages 17 and up), intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content, and strong language. Yuck! This is where you give those shoppers picking these items up the "evil mommy eye" and walk away.
AO: Adults Only (ages 18 and up), these contain prolonged scense of intense violence and/or graphic sexual content and nudity. You could buy these, but why not save money and just lick the inside of the dumpster outside the porn shop?
RP: Rating Pending. This hasn't been rated yet, so read lots of reviews and talk to like-minded parents.
Personally, I am so glad to have a rating system like this. It helps me be a smart shopper around the holidays. Also, there are some great ways to set the parental controls on your gaming system (just in case Billy from down the street decides to come over for a visit and bring along Grand Theft Auto). For more on this, check out this link: http://www.esrb.org/about/resources.jsp