Ratings Explained

Table of Contents


One of the downsides of modern living is that there are so many things you need to think about when planning a purchase. Not everyone is interested in the same things, which means that providing a simple yes or no overview of a product rarely works well. On the other hand, providing a lot of information at once can be confusing.

Every game rated on this site is evaluated on several different criteria, and most of the pages present the results in a small table or two. This page exists to help clarify what these ratings are intended for, and how to use them effectively when looking over the reviews that are available here.

About the Seal of Approval

The Seal of Approval

To make it easier to find the best games -- the ones that are really fun to play, very high quality, and stay reasonably close to strict Christian standards -- I mark them with a special "Seal of Approval". This image is placed by their title in listings, and it's also shown with a notice at the top of the game's review page.

If you're looking for something new to play, I would suggest these titles first. This way you can have your fun without worrying about stepping into potentially risky territory.

What the Ratings Mean

Since everyone has looks for different things when choosing their entertainment, each game being reviewed is given a rating in several different categories. From there, it's up to you to decide which ratings are more important. These break down into the following categories:

ESRB rating
In the United States, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, more popularly known by the acronym ESRB, is the official body that evaluates and rates video games. Publishers are not required to have their titles rated by this group, but it's generally a good idea for them to do so. If I have found their rating for a specific game, I'll list it here.

For more information about the ESRB, see this page.

Age rating
Just like the quality rating provides an overview of how well the game functions, this rating provides an overview of how mature the player needs to be in order to handle the concepts and content present in the game. Children need their parents to teach them what is and is not acceptable, but as you grow up and experience more things, you're increasingly able to make these decisions for yourself, and these ratings reflect this.

The lowest rating in this category is "3+", meaning that the game is fine for anybody that can be trusted to play games on the computer. However, this doesn't mean that only very young children will enjoy the game; many games are suitable for everyone.

One step up from there is the "6+" rating, which indicates that the game might be a little much for the youngest gamers (for example, it may contain a scary scene or some crude humor), but it's otherwise a good title for anyone that's mature enough to have attended Kindergarten. Above this are the "10+" and "13+" ratings, and by this point, there is content that parents should probably review before buying the game for their children. It may not be serious, but it's enough that the player needs to be able to understand that actions in a game shouldn't always be played out in real life.

Lastly, there is the "18+" rating. This is for games that have mature content that requires the player to be mature and well grounded. These games are also likely to deviate from Christian values to a larger degree, so tread more carefully when considering them.

Content Warnings
Following the age rating are the five categories used to rate the content of the game. There ratings go from zero to four, with zero meaning that the game has no problematic content in that category and four meaning that there is either a lot of questionable material or something very serious is present. In general, a rating of zero or one is reasonable, as this is more or less on par with children's television shows and movies. On the other hand, parents should consider avoiding titles with a rating of three or higher, just as they would consider R-rated movies off limits.

The five categories, from left to right, are Gore and Brutality, Magic and the Occult, Sexual Content, Behavioral Concerns, and Religious Objections. More detailed information about the five categories can be found in the next section.

General Notes
The above system handles most of the important details people look for in games they purchase, but there are some additional details that might be important to highlight. These are presented using small graphics (ie, icons) that represent various things that might interest people. For example, there is an icon that appears whenever a game has its soundtrack available, and another icon appears whenever a game can be legally acquired for free.

For more information about the different symbols used in the General Notes section, see this guide over here.

How objectionable content is rated

In the past, games were limited to simple concepts, and while there were some very deranged games out there, most of what was available to your average consumer were simple time wasters that didn't warrant much concern. Today, just about any topic can become the focus of a game's story. Because of this, the rating system I use to evaluate games is broken down into five categories. Rather than provide an overall positive or negative rating, this allows the reader to choose what sort of things they want to avoid.

Each category is rated on a scale between zero and four, inclusive. The higher the rating, the more often you'll see things from that category in the game. Here's an overview of the five categories and the content they look for.

Gore & Brutality
When you think about it, violence is just part of the way games work. However, that doesn't mean it's always shown in a safe and family friendly way. A lot of games use blood and gore to make their violence "better", while others incorporate ways for the players to inflict needlessly sadistic methods of removing enemy characters from the game. Hence, this category doesn't really look for violence; instead it focuses on how the violence is depicted.

When this a game is given a zero in this category, there is no violence to speak of. This might sound a little odd considering the previous paragraph, but some types of games (in particular, Puzzle games) manage to be entertaining without using any form of violence. A rating of one means there is some child-friendly violence, but this might not be a concern for most children. At three or higher, carnage is commonplace, with frequent depictions of blood and gore throughout the game.
Magic and the Occult
The use of magic and secret societies in fiction can be a problem for Christian households. The main reason for this is that the Bible repeatedly warns believers to avoid both magic and occult rituals in real life, as these can be serious risks to our spiritual well being. Different families handle this in different ways; some may prohibit any fiction with magical elements, while others only really get concerned when the stories are dark and deal with clearly evil rituals.

Either way, this category has you covered. When no magical or occult references exist, this category is rated at zero. If we're just talking about fairy tale magic or magical creatures like fairies and unicorns, then it'll be marked as a one. Disturbing and dark magics are found at three and four.

Personally, I would prefer that this category didn't need to exist, and that everyone could safely enjoy both the fluffy sweet dreams of unicorns and the macabre nightmares provided by today's good horror stories. Unfortunately, there are examples that prove that people take these elements out of the realm of fantasy, with very tragic consequences.
Sexual content
I think that most of us can agree that all forms of media have been using sex both as a cheap thrill and as a way of attracting audiences. TV shows and movies have gained a reputation for using sexualized content, but video games sometimes take the same route -- in fact, there's an entire genre of video games about characters finding romance (be it true love or a brief fling). How far a game takes this content varies widely however.

This category covers any form of sexualized content, be it some flirty conversations, revealing outfits, or straight up nudity. Since prostitution and even rape can appear in games, they are monitored here too. Of special note is the subject of homosexuality, which is becoming increasingly accepted in today's society. While it still counts as a sexual reference, it's primarily flagged under Religious Objections instead to avoid inflating this category's rating.
Behavorial Issues
Children learn by imitation. This causes a problem when the actions they imitate are bad behaviors or are otherwise inappropriate. The rest of us might not be prone to copying what we see in our entertainment, but that doesn't mean we should let things slide. For example, being around people that swear frequently tends to loosen our own tongues a bit too much. We might know that it's wrong, but it comes out anyway.

This becomes more of a risk when the media we consume features things like racism, sexism, or any form of discrimination as normal or a good thing. Many games also prominently focus on criminal activity, with the player's character doing a lot of illegal or immoral things throughout the story.

As the rating for this category increases, the more the game encourages violating ethical and legal boundaries. The highest rankings are reserved for promoting bigotry and hatred towards real people or ethnic groups, as these are as far from Godly values as possible.
Religious Objections
This last category covers everything that isn't directly covered by the other four categories. It's the natural result of classifying things; there will always be edge cases that don't fit in anywhere.

But, while they might not fit a general theme, there is one thing they have in common: the Bible has a negative view of them. Things like irreverence, corrupt religions, and even blasphemy can appear in a video game, and Christians should be trying to avoid this sort of material (or at the very least, be forewarned that they will run across it).

It's usually easy to find games that don't involve anything that would increase this rating, so it might be better to simply find another game rather than continue to play ones that attack your beliefs.

Are there limits to what I'll review?

In a word, yes. Some games are simply bad enough that there's no point in reviewing them; doing so only results in promoting something that isn't suitable for any Christian home, and they are best ignored completely. Put bluntly, there's no point wasting time playing through something that everyone will recognize as being corrupt and immoral. There are too many other games out there to focus on the worst examples.

For more on the topic, see this page.

A word about homosexuality in games

The world has been seeing a lot of changes in recent years, and one of the bigger changes is that homosexuality, once a serious taboo, is becoming more accepted by society. This is being reflected in video games, where characters with more diverse romantic interests are starting to appear more and more frequently. Some games just reference this in their storylines, while others use this trait as part of their mechanics.

Some people find that this is a positive thing and a feature worth highlighting, but while the world's perspective on the subject is slowly changing to become more accepting, the Word of God remains fixed. Put bluntly, the only time I see sex being accepted or praised in the Bible is when it occurs within a healthy, loving, and heterosexual marriage.

Since the basis of my ratings is the Holy Bible, I'm afraid I must also point out when a game includes alternate orientations, just like I note any problematic content that a game contains. But, to be fairer to non-Christians who are visiting this site (and Christians that have rationalized a way around those verses), I've chosen to list it under Religious Objections. Listing it under another category would often lead to odd ratings where games would appear to be worse than they really are.

For example, most games that feature sexual content treat a character's orientation like a technicality; this doesn't automatically make their content better or worse, just a bit more inclusive. There are also games that have no sexual content except for mentioning that a character happens to be gay. One example that comes to mind is a game where your character's orientation determines where the powerups are stored, but otherwise nothing remotely sexual exists in the game. Placing a warning about sexual content on games like these is just bias and will quickly undermine the credibility of the rating system I'm using.

If we are to serve God by our works, then we must also do them right and do them to the best of our abilities. This also means we should try our best to guide people from where they are instead of forcing them to follow our lead. I'm not rating games to win an argument or tell people right from wrong. This site exists to provide a road map to worthwhile interactive entertainment; the rest is up to you.