We’re all familiar with the square markings on video game boxes that suggest whether a product is age-appropriate. But some may seem complex and resemble ancient hieroglyphs more than a direct message. So how can we know which game to choose?

Buying a video game can be challenging – especially when it’s a gift for a child. The gameplay descriptions are often enigmatic and do not necessarily help while interpreting the chosen title content. But to help with such choices, many official organizations came to life to inform consumers about the recommended age of the recipient.

In North America, it is ESRB, and in Europe, it is PEGI. Their work is not limited only to releasing colorful squares but extends to other areas of awareness about what video games are.

Would you like to know more about their work? Or maybe want to learn the meaning of each icon to make gift shopping easier? Whatever brought you here, you’ll find all the answers in the ultimate PEGI vs ESRB comparison!


The first difference is the origin of both of these major organizations. The ESRB started its excellent work in response to many hearings and complaints about violent video games in the 1990s. These games were Night Trap and Mortal Kombat, which featured exceptionally realistic scenes of violence without warning buyers about such content. PEGI is a slightly younger association founded in 2003 that quickly became popular in 38 countries in Europe. But there are still nations that prefer their own video game ratings systems, like Germany or Russia.

And although each of these organizations does the same work, the country in which they operate can hugely impact video game age ratings. The same title can receive completely different classifications in Europe and the US, influenced by vital factors like cultural preferences, religion, and general level of violence acceptance.

A perfect example of such a game is The Sims 4, which in the ESRB and PEGI systems (North America and Europe) received a similar age rating for teenagers. But in Russia, it was considered too controversial and functions as an 18-game.

Video game age ratings

The most significant contrast between the ESRB and PEGI systems is the meanings of their ratings – their appearance, age range, and any further information. Both organizations issued several prime and sub-classification icons, where the essential one indicates the recommended age of the recipient. The additional information relates to potentially threatening content.

The European game rating system consists of five colorful icons: PEGI 3, PEGI 7, PEGI 12, PEGI 16, and PEGI 18.

PEGI Rating

The smallest numbers start with green, progress to yellow, and end with 18 in red. As you can see, it’s a very intuitive method that shows age right away and helps determine the level of content at a glance – without even acknowledging the number.

In addition, PEGI issues the second classification level, indicating a content description. Smaller icons clearly suggest bad language, violence, discrimination, drugs, fear, gambling, sex, and in-game purchases. It is vital to know the exact explanations of what the particular PEGI icons mean, as age-based content alone may not be enough.

The ESRB assigns ratings in a slightly less readable system that does not immediately reveal age. Among their icons, you’ll find labels for Everyone, Everyone 10 , Teen, Mature 17 , Adult Only 18 , and Rating Pending. They function as E, E 10 , T, M, AO, and RP.

This system is not as direct and intuitive as PEGI, but it does a lot better with content descriptions. Their list for PEGI is short and general. In the ESRB, you will find additional information like Comic Mischief, Crude Humor, Strong Lyrics, and Cartoon Violence.

There are about 30 ESRB content descriptions featuring extremely beneficial information. It even features Some Adult Assistance May Be Needed, so you can see what to expect from your chosen video game.

PEGI vs ESRB – which is better?

Both organizations issue video game ratings, but each has a slightly different approach to the process. PEGI focuses primarily on age-appropriate video games and the well-being of children. There is no leap from Everyone to 10.

Instead, the content divides into appropriate for toddlers, seven-year-olds, twelve-year-olds, sixteen-year-olds, and proceeds to eighteen-year-olds. In the case of the ESRB, the recommended age is more general, describing the entire age group rather than specific age frames. But it is definitely better at explaining the content. PEGI is limited to just a few extra icons that briefly inform about controversial gameplay features. This ESRB list is more impressive, with around 30 additional scoring categories. So which is better?

We’ll go with the verdict that PEGI is better. But just because the graphic and more readable design features a more accurate age division.

The ESRB ratings can be a challenging puzzle for those unfamiliar with the classification, especially during Christmas or birthday rush shopping.

So in the most important “at first glance” differences category, PEGI is a tiny champion. But when it comes to the second rating stage, meaning content description – the ESRB fares much better.


The ESRB and PEGI effectively defend video games against the stereotype of being ultimately harmful. Simultaneously, they keep consumers safe by informing them of potentially dangerous content, making everyone very happy. But please remember that a perfect or wrong purchase is always the buyer’s responsibility. The icons of both organizations are only a hint and suggestion of the recipient’s age, and matching the content can be a very individual matter.

Some twelve-year-olds may be more resilient to highly vulgar language, and some adults may faint at the sight of blood. We strongly recommend visiting the official websites of both organizations if you want to learn more about the benefits and risks of playing games. ESRB.org and PEGI.info are excellent sources of in-depth information on ratings, gaming, age matching, parental controls, and online safety.