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Parents' guide to holiday 2011 video games

Find out which holiday-season games are the best and worst for kids.

A tip from a new parent--avoid this. Libe Goad

As a generation of gamers becomes a generation of parents, it can be tough to know where to draw the line for what constitutes appropriate interactive entertainment for children. And if you're a parent who did not grow up in front of an Atari 2600 or Nintendo Entertainment System, it's even tougher.

At the recent 2011 CNET Gotham pop-up store experience in New York, one of the presentations I delivered in our mini-auditorium was titled "Video Game Boot Camp for Parents."

During the live 30-minute lecture, I attempted (through the magic of PowerPoint) to give parents, and those considering a video game purchase for young relatives or family friends, an overview of how game ratings work, and which holiday-season games are the best and worst for kids.

Despite the fact that nearly all games (and 100 percent of games for the major living room consoles) carry a rating from the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board), parents may not be as tuned into these ratings as they are for theatrical movies.

Fortunately, the two systems are very similar, beyond the fact that both are voluntary industry groups that exist to self-police content and keep impressionable young minds from being exposed to too much sex and violence (well, one of those, anyway).

As a simple guideline, remember that the major video game ratings roughly correspond to MPAA film ratings. It's not an exact one-to-one match, but the infographic here shows my interpretation of the correlation between the two systems. The ESRB also has a smartphone app for iOS, Android, and Windows phones that can scan the cover of a game and pop up more detailed ratings information, which is handy for in-store decision-making.

The ESRB video game ratings and their rough MPAA film rating equivalents.

To actually apply this information in a practical way, I grabbed a list of the top 10 best-selling video games that week on Amazon and highlighted the rating for each, along with a few notes on who it may or may not be appropriate for (note that the best-sellers list on Amazon is very fluid, and won't exactly match my list from early November). After all, these best-selling games will be the ones kids ask for, and many an argument will sound something like: "Yes, it's an M-rated game, but it's not that bad, and all my friends are getting it."

Click through to the gallery abovefor a look at the best-selling holiday-season video games, with an eye toward buying for children, plus a few extra family friendly picks.

What games do you consider appropriate or not for younger audiences? Do you get a lot of pressure to buy M-rated games for kids? Let us know in the comments section below or vote in our poll.