Whenever you boot up an online-enabled game, the familiar phrase “Online interactions not rated by the ESRB” will always be one f the first things you’ll see. It’s a preamble that has become so common that we hardly notice it anymore. Currently, games can only be assessed based on their content, with letter grades being assigned to easily tell parents the age-appropriateness of the game in question. Due to the unpredictable nature of online interactions, the Electronic Software Rating Board (ESRB) has historically been unable to provide an accurate gauge for what gamers (and parents) can expect. While this isn’t going to change entirely with  the new “Interactive Elements” rating system being introduced, we will at least know what kinds of interactions to expect moving forward.

The “Interactive Elements” rating system essentially provides pointers for what services and features that online-enabled games offer, specifically with what level of interaction you have with other gamers and what information of yours is shared. While the ESRB’s content grading system has several categories based on age, this new system is broken down into three distinct components. The first is “Shares Info”, which denotes your personal information (email, contact information, etc) can be shared with third parties. Second, “Shares Location” indicates that your physical location can be displayed for other users to see. Finally, there is “Users Interact” which means the game allows for uncensored interactions between users and access to user-generated content.

The aim of this new rating system is to address key concerns that come with online gaming today. The more security-conscious will definitely appreciate knowing that their personal information can be shared, prompting them to tinker with their privacy settings. Perhaps the most useful for parents is the “Users Interact” warning, since the conduct of others in even the most family-friendly games is unpredictable at best. Since online gaming often allows for unrestricted communication between virtual strangers, the same rules of caution that one would take on the internet apply here as well. Having these indicators on the game packaging is definitely a step in the right direction.

At this time, the new ESRB “Interactive Elements” rating system is voluntary for publishers. It is being rolled out for games on Xbox Live Arcade, Playstation Network, Playstation-Certified Devices, eShop, WiiWare and Windows 8. There are plans to introduce this rating system for games on mobile, social media and other platforms in the future.