Age Ratings On Games

Welcome to Cthulhu Mom Games – a blog dedicated to my experiences raising a child in a gamer family.

This is an article I started a long time ago. I wanted to do some research on it before putting out completely false information. Also, I had a hard time getting my thoughts down in a coherent manner, so I apologize if parts of this make little to no sense grammatically.

One of the biggest questions I see asked on forums is “what game is good for age X?”. Which leads me to think most gamers don’t trust the age ranges on the box. Though I can’t fault them on that assumption in some cases. I mean, really?-  “Ages 0 – 99”? I don’t think so. All right, maybe there are a few games out there that are approachable for really young kids, but intriguing enough for a mature mind. But on average that just isn’t the case.

However, there is a lot that goes into deciding an age range, including government regulation. I use them as a guide when we  choose games for Yog (to ignore…). A game designer tests the game many times prior to release (in a lot of cases anyway) and knows who their target audience is. One assumes that various ages have played the game and suitable range was chosen.

On the legal end of the scale the US Consumer Product Safety Commission requires third-party testing  for any product marketed to a child under age 12. There are several tiers with even stricter tests the lower the age bracket, however the biggest distinction is for lead content. Some paints contain trace amounts of lead and the younger the child smaller amounts can have a negative effect on them faster.

For toys targeted to children ages three and under the tests even tougher – they need to be tested for choking, aspiration, and ingestion potential. Basically the CPSC has a tube and if the toy fits in the tube, it’s not allowed to be marketed to children under three. They also beat the toys up in a way it is presumed a child could and any parts that fall off are stuck in the tube. So even though a toy looks like it should be fine for a toddler, it may not be. When you see a product marked “not intended for children under 3” that is usually because the manufacturer can’t guarantee that pieces won’t be broken off and become choking hazards.

Of course all of that only applies if you want to market your game to people age 12 and under or if your game is considered a kids product by the government.

What is considered a kids product? Well, that’s not as easy as it sounds. A deck of cards, while appropriate for children is most often marketed toward adults. Therefore, it is generally considered a “general use” item. However, take that same deck of cards and slap a Paw Patrol theme on it and it’s suddenly a children’s product and subject to more rigorous testing.

If you want some in-depth reading on what is a child’s product and what isn’t and what that means for testing and marketing check out this site ––Manufacturing/Business-Education/childrens-products/

Age labeling is generally up to the manufacturer, however the CPSC will determine what tests to require and use the most stringent testing on the product. They will determine this by the labeling, child development information, and common opinion. So it’s really important for the manufacturer to accurately label their product. Mark it for an age range too low and you may find yourself paying for a lot of unnecessary tests. Mark it for an age range too high and have the CPSC tell you to test it anyway.

If you really want to know the ins and outs of product safety testing the Consumer Product Safety Commission has this .pdf to answer all of your questions.

It’s a bit fascinating. For a while. About fifty pages in my eyes started to glaze over. Which is probably why I’m not in this industry. The document breaks toys down into several categories and, yes, games get their own section, though they are basically subject to the same rules as toys. Each section is then broken down by ages, months and years for infants and toddlers. Though to be fair, for some categories (like sports) the data for infants is “N/A”.

All of this is to say that age ranges on games, while sometimes seem to be useless, kind of aren’t. You’ll get an idea of how rigorously the game was tested for safety. It’ll also give you a base idea of who the creator believes will play the game. They make that choice based on averages. So if you have a child that excels in a certain area, it makes total sense to age up.

For example we chose to play Guess Who with Yog at age 4. It is rated for ages 7 and up. So we know that there are pieces in it that pose a choking hazard to anyone under three. This is a game to put out of reach of toddlers. We also know that it was tested for other factors that a game for someone over 12 wasn’t tested for. We can also assume that the game designer thought that the skills needed to play the game effectively were more likely to be seen in kids seven and older. To fully play the game (to be able to identify the names) reading is a needed skill. However, Yog knew her alphabet, so in lieu of reading the names when she guessed we would have her spell the name to us. We would then say the name back to her.  She wasn’t completely proficient in the game, sometimes flipping down the wrong characters or not flipping down a character who should have been flipped. She also had a tendency to use the same questions over and over. However she enjoyed the game and would play several times in a row.

I will say though, that it’s really frustrating to lose to a kid who decides with four characters left to choose when her tactic is to randomly guess until she gets it right. And I still had ten characters left. But then I got to model good loosing.

So the short version is – use the age ranges on the box a guide, knowing that a part of that is safety, but read the game play description and make sure you adjust for your kid’s skill in that genre.

Happy Gaming!



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