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Video game ratings board adds 'summaries'

New program will allow parents to see more substantive explanations of the ratings the ESRB has given games.

Parents trying to figure out what video games are appropriate for their kids have a new tool at their disposal.

Already, they've been able to look at games' ratings--"E" for everyone, "T" for teen, "M" for ages 17 and up, and "AO" for adults only. But now, the agency that decides which games are right for which age groups, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, will be offering what it calls "summaries" of each game's rating.

The idea, the ESRB said in a release Wednesday morning, is to allow parents to see some of the thought process behind the agency's decision.

"The new rating summaries explain in objective terms," the release stated, "the context and relevant content that factored into a game's ESRB rating assignment."

Beginning Wednesday, parents and others will be able to view these summaries for all new games, as well as those the ESRB has rated going back to July 1, 2008. The information will be available on the agency's main Web site, on a mobile site ( or through a special "rating search widget."

To be sure, many games are bought on impulse, so this service will go unnoticed and unused much of the time. But by making the information available via a mobile site, the ESRB is ensuring that parents aware of the program will be able to check the summaries while at retail outlets. Many others will be able to look into the games that their children are asking for, allowing them to make the decision about whether to buy the titles based on more information than just the rating itself.

All in all, this is probably a good move by the ESRB, which has taken heat in the past for its ratings--and which is clearly striving to be seen as more transparent, and therefore more relevant.

The ESRB is an arm of the video game industry's organizational body, the Entertainment Software Association and all major (and most smaller) publishers agree to subject their titles to the ESRBs ratings.