538734-B6BB0B7E-9922-4B23-873A-71029ADAF535.jpg

If you’re an adult who buys video games for children, you’ve no doubt stood in a store and grappled with the Electronic Software Rating Board’s cryptic content descriptions. If you’ve bought more than a few titles, you probably know that video games have ratings, akin to movies. The three big ones are E (everyone), T (teen, or ages 13 and up) and M (mature, or ages 17 and up). There are a few other ratings such as E10+ and EC (early childhood), but those are largely self-explanatory.

If you’re the parent of a teenage gamer, you have your work cut out for you. Think of M-rated games like R-rated movies. There may well be games you’ll be comfortable letting your son or daughter play, depending on their maturity level and sensitivity. With its “Star Wars”-type violence and general lack of cussing, “Halo 3” is an example of a game commonly played by kids in their early or mid-teens.

Now, whether to let your son or daughter play “Halo 3” is up to you. But wouldn’t you like to have more tools at your disposal to make the decision than some of the following descriptions, all for M-rated Xbox 360 games?

“Halo 3:” Blood and gore, mild language, violence

“Fallout 3:” Blood and gore, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language, use of drugs

“Fable II:” Blood, language, sexual content, use of alcohol, violence

“Gears of War 2:” Blood and gore, intense violence, strong language

These descriptions don’t give you much to go on, although you can probably infer that of the four, “Halo 3” is the softest M. It only has “mild language” and “violence,” while other titles feature “strong language” and “intense violence.” Still, they’re not much to go on. Parents who actively police what games their children play know to look to independent sites, such as Gamer Dad or What They Play.

Now, you’ll also be able to look to the ESRB, the body responsible for the ratings in the first place. When the group rates games, it’s now writing recaps of potentially objectionable content, with more specific descriptions of what “strong language” they might feature. For example, recent PlayStation 3 blockbuster “Resistance 2” is described as follows:

“‘Resistance 2’ is a first-person shooter set in an alternate 1950s environment where the Earth has been overrun by aliens. Players must shoot their way through hordes of aliens, large-scale bosses and sometimes robots, using a variety of guns and grenades. Aliens and humans get blown up, torn apart, shot, impaled and killed in gushes of red blood and body parts. … Characters use strong profanity (e.g., ‘f—‘ and ‘s—‘) during gameplay and cutscenes.”

This information won’t be displayed on game packaging at retail, but it’ll be available at the ESRB’s Web site. Games the agency rated after July 1 already have summaries on the site.

Hopefully, there’ll be some pressure for retailers to get on board with displaying these summaries. Best Buy, for example, could print out the summaries and affix them to the vinyl dividers they use to separate different titles in their bins. Other retailers, such as the GameStop/EB Games chain, could keep the ratings info in a binder at the counter. In the meantime, though, you’ll just have to head over to ESRB.org.

One warning, though. If you’re a parent who may be playing some of these games, a handful of summaries thus far have given away plot points. (That’s why I took a sentence out of the “Resistance 2” summary above.) Clearly, the summaries are a work in progress.