Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Rated "M" For Misnomer

NOTE: This article contains certain expletives not normally used on the site.

In North America, the ESRB (Entertainment Software Ratings Board) uses a series of ratings to properly identify who a game's content is appropriate for. The major ratings are as follows:

  • EC = Early Childhood (3 years and older)
  • E = Everyone (save over children under six years old-- go figure there)
  • E10+ = Everyone over 10 years old
  • T = Teen for ages 13 and up
  • M = Mature for ages 17 and older
Let's zero in on that last one, shall we? Mature. Ma...ture... Before we can understand whether or not such a title for the rating is completely accurate, we'll have to get down to the very basics of the defintion of the word and how it relates to video games. For conveniency's sake, let's cherry pick the definition as it is intended to be portrayed in the industry.

ma⋅ture - intended for or restricted to adults, esp. by reason of explicit sexual content or the inclusion of violence or obscene language: mature movies.

The video game industry has definitely seen a large expansion in demographics since the renaissance of gaming back with Super Mario Bros. For the longest time up to the 16 bit era, the vast majority of games were created with younger audiences in mind. Now that isn't to say that all of those games were only suitable for children, it's to say that the content was appropriate for everyone to play without psychological trauma. Of course, games with more "mature" content were around at that time and even earlier. On October 13, 1982, the virtually immediately infamous Custer's Revenge attracted an abundance of attention, and none of it was for positive reasons. The game had you play General Custer as you saunter your way across the screen, dodging arrows, all for the purpose of planting your visibly erect pole inside a bound, big-breasted, and in the buff Native American woman. I make it sound much more descriptive, but it's essentially a game about raping an indian woman. Then you have Mortal Kombat which was an adequate fighter that gained notoriety (government attention included) due to its excessively violent and over-the-top "fatalities". This game brought forth the industry to create a self-regulating body to rate games for consumers. It would eventually become the ESRB that we know today.

When you think of a movie that you would consider to have "mature subject matter", what would come to mind immediately? Let's narrow it even further. How about a movie that you'd just consider "mature"? Let me help out by replacing the word mature with a synonym. How about cultured or sophisticated? Ooh... I like that one. Sophisticated. Are there any movies that you can think of that you would consider sophisticated? I'm sure there's more than you can count. The Godfather, Million-Dollar Baby, Schindler's List, and so forth (I'm just pulling them out of hat, folks). Now let's shift to video games. The industry is still young compared to the movie industry, so obviously some leeway/slack needs to be given. What games would you consider to be sophisticated? I don't mean when you play them you feel better than everyone else or anything snobby like that. Let's not get pretentious-- I do that enough so my readers don't have to. Let's examine a bunch of recent games that are armed with the "M" for Mature rating, and see how they hold up.

Gears of War 2 (360)

"I don't think this gun is cool enough."
"I know! Let's put a chainsaw on it!"
"Awesome! That is greaaaaaat!"
*high fives all around then beer pong*

That's honestly what I picture the developer roundtable at Epic Games being. Despite being heavy on cheese in storytelling, Gears of War 2 is just cringe-worthy most of the time. "There's a giant worm taking down cities!!!" And who doesn't love roided up space marines so the pre-teen kids and the 30 year old man-children who think like them can hop online and call people completely repulsive names from the safety of their bunkers made out of empty cans of Mountain Dew Gamer Fuel! Hell yeah!!! When a player's main enjoyment is the way they can viscerally kill their opponent, there's something wrong here.

Killzone 2 (PS3)

There's an exhausting amount of backstory and lore that the writers placed into the Killzone universe from planets to races-- you could get filled in on as much of the universe as you want. How did it translate into a 7-8 hour campaign? Well, it's as if an entirely different group wrote the dialogue of the game.

"Shit! Shit!"
"Get the fuck down!"
"Fuck me!!!"

You get the idea. It's as if some man-child game designer recalled his days of playing with his G.I. Joes while watching a rated R movie and saying to himself, "man, cussing makes everything cool!" Seriously, it's actually far away from hyperbole to say that Killzone 2's characters swore every five seconds per discussion. Speaking of G.I. Joes, what's with all of these young 25-35 year old developers making futuristic military shooters? This is essentially Halo with a different skin and gorgeous visuals. Yelling racial and sexual slurs at people while blasting away other ADD people online is great for frat parties, but for a sophisticated experience, this is game is nowhere near "mature".

Madworld (Wii)

Despite all of the incredibly entertaining ways to kill an enemy whether it's slamming a signpole straight into their skull or ripping out someone's still-beating heart, MadWorld suffers from an extreme amount of juvenile content. However, for this game it seems to work as the entire game does not take itself seriously at all. Does that make it sophisticated? Of course not, but at least it doesn't pretend to be. The game does suffer from the annoyance of the commentators-- while oftentimes hilarious-- seem to have caught the "If I say fuck five times in five seconds, that is fucking funny, you fuckface! ...Fuck." It's the horribly lack of wit sense of humor that abusing cuss words is funny when in fact making something funny or funnier is based on timing-- y'know-- something actual comedians have in spades.


That's enough calling on these games. There's certainly nothing wrong with playing and enjoying any of them. I'm just saying that when you have a rating that can be exchanged for "cultivated" and "sophisticated", perhaps a better rating would be in order. Regardless, that isn't to say there aren't any games that are rated M and are sophisticated in a too violent for children, some tasteful sexual conduct, etc. as well.

I'm going to list some games, and we'll see if we can agree upon whether these are actually mature (as opposed to [im]mature like the ones listed above). Now these have to already be rated M to be counted.

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots (PS3)
Dead Space (PS3, 360, PC)
Call of Duty: World at War (PS3, 360, Wii, DS, PC)
Bioshock (PS3, 360, PC)
Tenchu: Shadow Assassin (Wii, PSP)
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (PS3, 360, PC)
Fallout 3 (PS3, 360, PC)

The main point of this article was not to say that any game is horrible because of the immaturity of the content. It's just that so many people seem to have the idea that those playing Mario and the like are childish or immature while they go forth and play games rated "M" but full of adolescent content that a 13 year old would be giggling over. The mindset that a game with color or for everyone is less sophisticated than a game where you can shove someone's limb down their throat and pull it out their ass is more popular a philosophy than it should be. It's very frightening that even some developers share this ideology, too, and many show it every day. If this industry wants to be taken seriously and grow up, then it has to start from within.

Feedback Appreciated!

What do you think about this article? What views would you like to express to the public on this subject? Let your opinion be known!

1 comment:

SpinachPuffs said...

The most mature game I've ever played was Hotel Dusk and that was rated Teen - go figure.

Sadly I haven't played any of the titles you've mentioned, but from what I've heard/seen, I'd say that MGS4 was a pretty mature game. But that may be due to the rather excessive amount of cutscenes...