The JoinTheConversation contest has inspired families across the country to share how the ESRB ratings make it easy to find and play age-appropriate video games.

Every contest submission was eligible to win a $25 GameStop gift card and be considered to receive one of four Grand Prize family trips to a 2019 PAX Games Convention.

The Grand Prize Winners will be announced in April 2019.
The following are the monthly gift card winners:

SEPTEMBER WINNERS

Tiffany C., Harrison, NY

My tip is to always discuss whether the game is appropriate for their age level and have rules set in place, like not revealing their identity online before gaming. We love to check the ESRB rating together and Mom and dad get some to try out the game too!

Mark J., Bountiful, UT

I’ve had several conversations with Cole about games that he wants to download, and I usually let him if the rating isn’t M. Even when it’s T we talk about the content and reason for the rating, how much blood and violence, how much nudity and sex, if any. He usually tells me there’s not any but when I show him that there is, he tries to tell me that he can keep the levels low in the options. But that isn’t usually an acceptable solution. For Grand Theft Auto I said no way. He said his friends all have it and that it’s just cars. I showed him in the age rating detail that it includes gambling, all kinds of violence, nudity, sex, drugs, and so on, and that was valuable information!

Connie S., Norfolk, VA

We have raised children, grandchildren, and are now assisting with great-grandchildren. We talk to the kids about the game ratings and whether they think the game is appropriate for them, given the genre and their age/interests. We then make decisions together regarding games. If there is no agreement, another adult is added to the discussion (never another child).

Rogers, Prescott, AZ

I think ratings are important since they let parents and kids know about the content present in the games they're buying. Overall, I believe ratings were a great addition to the entertainment industry.

Jen S., Philadelphia, PA

It’s important to not just read the ratings yourself, but to talk to your kids about the ratings and the games they play.

Chancey B., Chambersburg, PA

DAD’S GAMES FOR ADULTS AND DAD’S MADDEN TO PLAY WITH ZAIDY As a young adult myself these were just ratings, but becoming a mom, these now are like golden keys to what I or my boyfriend buys. Even if my children don't play the game, I now am very interested in the rating given. Being a mom is tough at times, but simple things, from before, become extremely important to me now. Can't express my true gratitude to making being a mom just that much easier.

Jill C., Cambridge, MA

My Son DEREK got a DS for his birthday on September 3rd. When he opened the system I explained how we could pick games with a specific rating. He was so excited some games were made for his likes and mine as well!

Holly S., Atlanta, GA

I’m an avid gamer, and I love to share my favorite hobby with my young siblings. I especially love games that we can play together, even though we don’t live in the same state! However, I know that not all games are right for every player, and even games rated E for Everyone aren’t necessarily a good fit for some kids. You really have to take their individual development and maturity into consideration. For my nieces and nephews, that means really communicating about the games we play… and those we don’t. Surprisingly, the kids are really good at talking through which games are okay for them, and which games are something they should wait to play. It’s a two-way conversation, beginning with the ESRB rating; but kids can really understand more than most people give them credit for. For instance, the youngest kids in my family have all heard of a certain death-match, battle-royale game that some of their older friends are playing. My nephew mentioned the game, and my niece said, “We don’t want to play that game, yet, because it’s rated T, and it has some real-looking violence. We only like cartoon violence.” She was practically quoting ESRB logos. This level of communication only happens because we discuss games as a family. We look at ratings, an adult watches the trailer and some game footage, and then we talk about the game with our kids. Choosing what games to get, starting with the ESRB, is part of the fun now. Another important tactic is using parental controls. I’ve become the expert in my extended family. Because we’re good at judging the appropriateness of a title within our family, it doesn’t mean a school friend won’t show up with a rated M game. With parental controls, our limits are in place, even if we aren’t on the couch beside our kids. My final strategy is to discuss safety and courtesy in any online play. My kids are younger, so they usually can’t go into open worlds where people can say whatever they want to them. However, even with that prohibition, we’ve already discussed with them what online communities can be like and how to respond to negativity. I believe it’s a caretaker’s responsibility to understand that online play isn’t necessarily covered in the ESRB rating, and so parents need to filter game and online messaging based on their children’s maturity. Gaming is about trust. With the ESRB system, I genuinely feel like I have a trustworthy partner helping me responsibly introduce the kids in my life to new games.

Jennifer K., Sarasota, FL

With so many kids in our big family we each have parent controls on each console in each Household. My child’s console is set at Kids "E". She isn't allowed to chat or talk to anyone. If anyone asks to be added as a friend I have to ok. The next Household has their consoles set at everyone and kid. Once every 4 months all the guys of all ages come over and play every game on 5 different consoles and have a guy day. Good Junk Food and Gaming. Playing FIFA, NBA 2018, Mario Kart, Grand Theft Auto, etc...

Adrian K., Beaver Dam, WI

I use ratings to choose games to rent so I can review them before my son plays.

OCTOBER WINNERS

Cathleen M.

My autistic son has been avid in his knowledge of the rating system for years. It's neat to see him looking around at GameStop and if the rating isn't correct for his age group (15 years old), then he will ask a question about the game or put it back knowing he doesn't get it if the rating is not for him.

Kevin O.

A great tip for other parents, if you see a rating on the front of a box and are curious about how a game gets that rating, you can usually flip the box over and find a box with what content and themes the game has in order to merit that particular rating.

James A.

I am a gamer, a content creator and previously worked for 20 years as a clinical care provider at a social skills/academic program for children and young adults with autism. Many of our clients loved video games but lacked effective coping skills or the ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality, which made it difficult for their parents to determine what video games were or weren't appropriate for them. The ESRB rating system provided us with a simple, concise set of guidelines which made it easy for us to explain to non-gaming parents how to choose the right games for their children.

Jaylen N.

I use game ratings to choose what games I play with kids I babysit.

Jim L.

Children process content differently depending on context. Thankfully, the ESRB publishes a longform rating on their website, so parents and guardians can contextualize any material that might be cause for concern.

Dunkman

As a kid, older brothers always showed off the latest and greatest T-M rated games to me. Fortunate for my mother, I never took the ridiculous violence or drinking of Conker's Bad Fur Day to heart. It's easy for ratings to fly under the radar, so we have to monitor what we want our kids exposed to.

Michelle H.

I always say, “the ratings are there for a reason. Just like you are ineligible to watch an 'R' rated movie, it's the same with a game. Besides try word games like your mother, it's much better for the brain!”

Tara W.

Who knew that not only are there video game ratings but you control what your child can play with parental controls AND you can set time limits by the DAY of the week! No more arguing about the time limits or what games they can play! THANK YOU!

Shawna S.

We have a 12-year-old daughter and for years we have utilized game ratings and other resources to determine what would be appropriate for her to play or even watch others play. In addition to the rating, I frequently check CommonSenseMedia.org for an idea of what we are getting into.

Young M.

Get involved with your children and discuss your favorite games together! Maybe even game together, to see if you approve of the games they play.

NOVEMBER WINNERS

Ryan V, Glen Mills, PA

Lucas and Miles, our two boys named after video game characters I enjoyed as a kid, have been watching and playing video games all their lives. Because we want to be mindful of what we are exposing our kids to, we utilize the ratings and exclusively choose “E.” In doing so, I know that I will enjoy playing but also rest easy knowing I feel comfortable with whatever they are playing. As they both grow older, we will adjust their selection of choices based on the rating scale. Fortunately, the “E” rating is easy to identify so the kids know what is and isn’t off limits for game selections. Lucas, the older brother, is well aware that some games are for “big kids” and knows that he can play them when he “gets bigger and bigger.” I am just thrilled to share my lifelong love of video games with my kids and am grateful that we can do so responsibly.

Andrew N, Raleigh, NC

I recently started working with a middle-aged mother of two. She has two sons, nine and 10 years old. She's not exposed to video games at all. She believes they are either a "waste of time" or "too violent and warping the kid’s minds." She’s made comments about how games are unregulated and violent games shouldn't be sold to minors. I took some time to show her the ESRB rating system and pulled up the website. She was rather surprised to see how detailed the ratings were and said it would be very helpful for her to make purchasing decisions in the future. This led to a lengthy discussion on everything from parental controls she can access on her son's PlayStation to showing her various multiplayer family-friendly games she could play with them, like “Overcooked.” She was surprised how much she enjoyed the game but was most surprised how much of a bonding experience it was with her two sons.

Paul H, Orlando, FL

One story that comes to mind is when I was a teenager, and I was looking to purchase an “M” rated game. I had played games like “Halo,” “Call of Duty,” etc., which are considered more along the lines of “soft M” as they don't have many in-game images or storylines that can easily disturb underage players. I went to my local GameStop with my mother, who at the time was still adjusting to a gaming household and went to pick up the game—I believe it was “Dead Rising 2,” a zombie game that features lots of blood, gore, swearing you name it. The GameStop clerk was very professional and informed my mother that this was an “M” rated game and its contents. She reluctantly said that it was okay, knowing how much I wanted it, but on the car ride home, she took the time to have a conversation about the game with me. She asked about it, who I would be playing it with (I had Xbox Live at the time), and most importantly she asked if I understood that this is a fictional game. She wanted to make sure that I realized that all the things I see and experience in the game wasn't real life—it wasn't meant to be a representation of anything I should mimic outside of the game world. She started doing this with all the games I played. She took part in something that she barely understood because she knew that it would be good for my development. At the time I found this annoying, with the responses, "Yeah, yeah, I know Mom." But now that I'm a young adult, I see exactly where she was coming from. I see so many kids/teenagers who are even more connected online than I was at their age. They don't understand how much content they are absorbing and the bad habits they are developing. It is a shame that more parents don't sit down and have that conversation with their kids so that their kids are well informed, and gaming as a culture can progress without the toxicity you may see in some individuals. I appreciate what the ESRB does as I feel gaming is still a young and sometimes elusive medium. In a weird way, game ratings are what made my parents start to pay attention to my then-niche hobby and they wanted to experience it with me rather than leave me to the TV to babysit. I truly believe my childhood was better for it.

Malin H, Warrior, AL

My first game system when I was very little was the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, and one game I really wanted bad was “Star Fox.” My mom refused to buy me the game cause she was somehow convinced that it was too violent and too adult-oriented for me at my young age. To my mom's credit, this WAS before the ESRB was founded. But in a shocking, ironic twist, my mom actually bought me “Wolfenstein 3D” around the same time. I couldn't even play “Wolfenstein” cause it scared me too much back then. You can certainly see how the ESRB ratings might've helped my parents make better decisions about the games they bought me, since my mom somehow thought a game showing a dude with a machine gun mowing down Nazis was somehow more child-friendly than a game showing a cartoon fox flying through space shooting down enemy fighters.

Elijah T, East Hampton, CT

My first game system when I was very little was the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, and one game I really wanted bad was “Star Fox.” My mom refused to buy me the game cause she was somehow convinced that it was too violent and too adult-oriented for me at my young age. To my mom's credit, this WAS before the ESRB was founded. But in a shocking, ironic twist, my mom actually bought me “Wolfenstein 3D” around the same time. I couldn't even play “Wolfenstein” cause it scared me too much back then. You can certainly see how the ESRB ratings might've helped my parents make better decisions about the games they bought me, since my mom somehow thought a game showing a dude with a machine gun mowing down Nazis was somehow more child-friendly than a game showing a cartoon fox flying through space shooting down enemy fighters.

Eric G, Marina, CA

Working in retail, I had a mother ask me what “Grand Theft Auto V” was about and if it was appropriate for her 10-year-old child. I told her that right on the cover it says it's rated “M” for mature audiences, briefly told her why it was rated as such, and that she should be looking for games rated “E,” or if she would allow it, “T” with mild violence (such as the “Super Hero games). She immediately looked at her son in disbelief that his friends wanted him to play a game with mature content one can find in GTA V. Many parents do not pay attention to the games they buy their children, but the ESRB ratings help them know what kind of content they can expect from the games their kids are looking into.

Jeremy H, Edwardsville, IL

Gaming together with your kids, and staying in the loop, is the best way to know what’s appropriate for them, and what’s not.

Tyler R, Orlando, FL

My parents followed the ESRB ratings, but they had some leniency. There have been many games where the three of us felt they weren't labeled correctly, like a game rated “M” for Mature because of "Fantasy Violence." So, my parents would look at the rating, read the label, and from there, they'd look at the game footage. Another example of this was when my dad bought me “Brutal Legend.” He didn't like the fact that it had so much gore and nudity, but when we found out that the game had its own censorship as an option, we were pretty happy with it. My younger brother even got to watch me play it! Because of how my parents raised me, I've always believed the ESRB system to be effective (for the majority). I just think parents are too lazy to actively look for these ratings and, you know, parent.

Bockhold, Georgia

I always use the rating system to make sure whatever game I am playing with my 5-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son are in the room is age appropriate and that there won’t be something that will scare them or that they won’t be subjected to something that is violent and/or vulgar. It has helped me a lot with finding family friendly games that are still a lot of fun to enjoy without having my kids see blood, gore, and hearing curse words while I’m playing a game!

Trenton T, Diamond Bar, CA

Different parenting styles means making dynamic recommendations, and I always point to the ESRB ratings because they are straightforward and broad enough to understand easily and encompass the game's content.

DECEMBER WINNERS

Ethan T.

“My parents paid close attention to the age ratings as I was growing up. Now, as an adult, I use them to make informed decisions about what games I buy for myself and others.”

Paul B.

“When my nephew visits, I'm responsible for making sure he doesn't play anything his parents don't approve of. By setting limitations based on his age, the ESRB has taken out the guess work.”

Joel T.

“I remember my mother almost buying my 10-year-old brother a copy of “Grand Theft Auto V” and if it wasn't for me pointing out the ratings descriptor box on the back she would have, and he would have been exposed to everything this game presents way earlier than he would have been ready for. Thanks, ESRB, for helping me to keep stuff out of the hands of my brother!”

Matt C.

“When buying a game for someone else, make sure to check the rating and speak with someone if you are unsure.”

Brandon O.

“The ESRB rating system helps us decide what games would be great for our family to play together.”

Kat C.

“When I was younger, I always wanted to play the games my dad played, like Skyrim, Far Cry 2, and Assassin's Creed. I never really understood why my mom wouldn't let me though! They just looked really cool and I wanted to do the cool thing my dad did." “When I started getting into gaming, I actually had to look at the ratings for things when I wanted to buy games for myself. I'm glad I waited to play a lot of M-rated games or I would've missed out on a lot of awesome titles in the T category.”

Shravan P.

“Video game ratings help me decide whether or not a game is suitable for my child to play. In some instances, it also details some aspect of the story or characters that I was not expecting. The ESRB also details if there are other things that are very helpful in deciding whether this game is suitable for my child or not.”

Chad G.

“I love my violent stupid games like “Grand Theft Auto” or “Red Dead Redemption” or “Halo,” but I also firmly believe that young kids should not be playing them. No, I do not all think that these games turn kids into serial killers. I do feel that the themes and images in the games are just at a level they're not ready for. That's why I respect the ESRB." “I like to shop often in game stores. Too many times I've watched a 12-year-old try to trick his parent into buying “Call of Duty.” Knowing how graphic it is, yeah, I've been the guy to say to the parent to look at the label. Does it anger the kid? Yes, it does. But it also makes gaming a safer place and helps the ESRB.”

Josh L.

“Now that I have kids that game, I try to pay more attention to the games I purchase and play. I think being a gamer myself helps that I know what types of games my kids play. So many will buy a game (like GTA) and not know anything about it for their 12-year-old.”

Reilly N.

“While the rating and overview on the front and back of a box are helpful in a hurry, the overviews on ESRB and other websites are good for more in-depth content review for people who can be affected more by specific things.”

IT’S NEVER TOO LATE TO
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Although the contest has ended, we hope conversations about choosing appropriate video games in your family never stop.

So continue to share with us, in your most creative way, your ratings story. It just may be the inspiration someone needs to join the conversation.

THE STORIES THAT
STARTED IT ALL

The best ideas often grow from ordinary conversations. When Penny Arcade and ESRB teamed up, we knew we wanted to hear from parents, gamers, and kids about their use of the ESRB ratings, but how?

Then, as if by design, someone said, “Let’s get this conversation started.” And a campaign was born. It didn’t take long to turn a passing comment into public service announcements featuring real-life conversations, and then to invite families to “Join the Conversation.”

Share these messages on your social media channels and let others know how you and your family decide which games are ok to play.

ABOUT THE ESRB RATINGS

ESRB age and content ratings are assigned to video games purchased in a store, downloaded directly to game consoles, downloaded for PC from stores such as the Microsoft Store and Steam, for games and apps in Google Play, and for virtual reality experiences such as those found in the Oculus store. These ratings, as well as other valuable tools and resources, help parents make informed decisions about which games are acceptable for their children and family.