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Are books and tabletop games as “dangerous” as video games and movies?

Many different video Games Ratings vs no ratings for books

Yesterday, I was reading an essay about video games and realized that there are MANY different ways of “rating” which video games (or movies) SHOULD be good for each age.

I recall at least THREE rating methods:

Many different rating systems were created to guide parents to determine if the contents of a video game or a movie are okay for their children.

Of course, nobody expects a kid to swallow a blu-ray or a DVD. All those “ratings” are content-based. This means that, according to the rating institute, some content should NOT be shown to kids of a certain age.

Carmageddon PS4 box
This Video Game rating clearly shows that its content is targeted at people at least 18 years old.

Whether we agree with this assumption or not, this undoubtedly shows that the entertainment industry acknowledges that video games and movies have a strong influence on (young?) people’s minds.

When I realized this, I couldn’t help but think that (in my humble opinion) tabletop role-playing games, board games, and books have a very strong influence on people’s minds too.

The curious thing is: as far as I could tell, there is no “official”/worldwide recognized content rating system available for those media. page of "The Silence of the Lambs".
Amazon’s page of the book: the Silence of the Lambs. No clue can be found about its horror and cannibalistic contents.

So I asked myself: why governments and/or the entertainment industry don’t care about rating books and tabletop games?

Of course, I started looking for answers online.

Geeky Teacher Parent practically agrees with me: there is no rating system for contents in tabletop games. The tabletop (and toys!) age rating system is practically based only on the “difficulty of playing the game” and “choking hazard”. The only (rare) exception is when a game is rated 18+: that’s probably due to its content.

Looking for content ratings for books, I stumbled upon a nice website called My Book Cave and its “sister site” My Book Ratings. They are a small, nice community where people can autonomously rate books according to their own taste, like a wiki project. This is what their “final ratings” look like:

My Book Rating's badges
My Book Ratings badges

As you can see, these badges look like the ones used in the videogame/movies industry. My Book Cave has a very nice community, but as of today, their proposed ranking method is applied only to a minimal number of books. Additionally, many very famous titles (i.e., the Lord of the Rings, etc.) are not ranked, making it very difficult to make “comparisons.” Long story short, this is a very nice method, but it is used by a very limited number of people only. Another limitation is: this badge is shown on virtual pages only, it doesn’t appear on physical copies.

Finally, I looked for an RPG content rating system. The only positive feedback I found is one website called RPG rating. They propose a nice ONLINE RPG content ranking method, so a virtual player knows which kind of environment he’ll expect.

RPG rating's website "create your rating" interface.
You can create your own rating on the website

Actually, IMHO this could be a great idea. I played dozens of MMORPGs and other kinds of online RPGs: a rating like this could have shortened my time looking for the best community to join.

Mind you: such ratings would work perfectly in a controlled environment like an online RPG, where admins can ENFORCE rule-abiding. IMHO, such ratings are pointless on a tabletop RPG book you can play at home with your friends. In such cases, assuming everyone agrees and complies, nobody will ever scold you if you play “differently”.

That’s the great thing about RPG manuals that sets them in a “different” world if compared to video games: as long as everyone at your table agrees, you can do whatever you want. And nobody can tell you you’re wrong. That’s the great power of storytelling and imagination.

But let’s get back on our topic.

No matter how hard I tried, I could not find any official guidelines from governments and/or the entertainment industry in rating content in tabletop games and/ or books.

Why is that?

Are books and tabletop games deemed “not dangerous” if compared to movies and video games?

Probably, that’s the case. Whether we like it or not, governments and the entertainment industry probably believe that reading a random book or playing a random game is less dangerous for young people’s minds than playing a “random” video game or watching a “random” movie.

Okay, but… Why?

children lying on sofa and using gadgets
Photo by Jessica Lewis on
Possible answer #1

Perhaps, this different “danger perception” has some “practical” reasons. A “rating” system is surely helpful to decide which movie/videogame is the best choice for a family evening with the kids. I believe many families these days spend at least one night a week watching movies with their kids.
On the contrary, how many families play tabletop games together with their kids nowadays? Have you ever wondered if parents these days still read books to their children instead of letting them watch videos on tablets?

We could easily end up saying: “Nobody plays board games/reads books with kids anymore these days, so why should we bother making a content rating for such media?”

Possible answer #1

We could eventually settle for this answer, but we won’t. Not yet.

multiethnic family playing toys together around table
Photo by Keira Burton on
Possible Answer #2

Passive fruition vs Active fruition.

You cannot interact with a movie. You simply have to watch and “accept” it. The only thing you can do if something hurts your sensibility is stopping watching it. That’s probably a good reason why movies contents are “rated”. Better knowing beforehand if the movie I am going to buy will tell me things I dislike or I don’t want to hear.

Sadly, many people think that video games’ fruition is as “passive” as watching a movie. That’s why governments think they need a content rating badge. IMHO, they are sorely mistaken, but alas this is only my humble opinion.

On the contrary, playing a tabletop game (especially role-playing games) requires people to be “active.” They create the game, putting their own content, their own feelings, and their own mood in it.

Possible answer #2

This could be a good reason why governments deem rating contents of a tabletop game pointless. But that’s just my speculation.

And what about books? Are we “active” or “passive” when we read a book? That’s a great question. IMHO, if we read a book on our own, we surely are “passively” receiving what the Author says. Probably, the governments think that kids/fragile people do not read books on their own, but they have “responsible” people who decide what’s best for them to read. And eventually, those “responsible” people read the books to them, skimming the “dangerous” parts. So, if this was the case, that could be the reason why governments do not deem it necessary to create a content rating system for books. But is this really the case?

love people woman art
Photo by Olya Kobruseva on

The final question: do we actually need a content rating system for books and tabletop games?

This is probably the most difficult question.

Probably: no. And the main reason is: avoiding the “dangerous” label. Sad as it might be, media gain a content rating badge only if they are deemed “potentially dangerous”. This means that government so far do not deem tabletop games and books “potentially dangerous”.

And that’s a good thing.

Personally, I would appreciate having a content rating system for books, and for one reason only: to know beforehand the “topics” covered. Nowadays, the only way to know something about a book (without spoilers!) is by reading the synopsis and looking at the cover. I would personally appreciate it if there was a content rating system that told me more about the kind of topics covered in the book and about their “intensity”.

Anyway, that’s all for now. I am still speculating on the matter, and I will surely go deeper in this subject.

What about you?
Do you like the idea of having a content rating system for tabletop games and/or books?
Do you know about different content rating systems?
Why do you think the governments do not deem books and tabletop games “as dangerous” as movies and video games?

Let me know, I am very curious!

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