(AP) -- Video games come with ratings similar to movies, but plenty of parents buy games rated M for Mature for their kids under 17.
To give them more information about what's in the games their children are asking for, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board updated its free mobile app Tuesday to let users snap photos of the boxes of video games and find out what the ratings mean. For newer games they will also get vivid descriptions and examples of content that could be unsuitable to children.
The nonprofit industry group is responsible for assigning the ratings on every video game sold in stores. The ratings range from EC for Early Childhood to AO for Adults Only, though the latter is rare and major retailers don't stock games with that rating. The most popular shooters, such as "Call of Duty" and "Grand Theft Auto," are rated M.
For games rated before July 1, 2008, the app will bring what each letter rating means. For games that were assigned a rating after that date, it will fetch information about why they received that rating. For "Call of Duty: Black Ops," for example, this includes combat that "can generate pools of blood and dismembered limbs." On the other hand, "Kirby's Epic Yarn," rated E for Everyone, is a safer bet for young kids. In it, "enemies lose feathers, yarn or beads when hit (and) Kirby reacts to damage with an 'Ow!' sound effect," according to the ESRB.
The video game industry expects a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court next year on the constitutionality of a California ban on the sale of ultra-violent games to children. Parents' groups and politicians say games should be regulated like firearms and tobacco rather than like books and movies. The industry believes that its ratings system works well and negates the need for government regulation.
The app is available on the iPhone and on Android devices by searching for ESRB.
To use the photo feature, tap "Search by photo" on the app's yellow home screen. This should bring up your smart phone's camera feature. Use this to snap a photo of the video game's box, making sure it's centered in the screen. Tap "use" if you'd like to use the photo.
Explore further: M-rated video games contain unlabeled violence, sexual themes