Although video games have increased in production, quality, audience and any other quantifiable aspect, they have apparently taken a turn for the dark side. In recent years, games with a “Mature 17+” rating by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) have drastically risen versus the much less popular “E for Everyone” rating. Nearly all of the anticipated releases for 2016 have a Mature rating making them difficult for younger audiences to purchase and enjoy.
Once upon a time gaming was geared for youths but now they are all but forgotten (except by Nintendo – which we’ll briefly mention later in this piece before providing a standalone article on that topic). In this article we look to compare past and current games, their ratings and audiences, why they might look like they do, any outlying characteristics about certain games or time frames, and finally conclude what the ESRB and game developers need to do to make gaming fair once more.
The Good Ol’ Days.
Gaming began as a source of entertainment for younger audiences. Super Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog, Pac-Man, they were all oriented towards children. Gaming has since become more realistic, more gruesome, and more sexual, but it isn’t entirely for adults only.
I grew up playing the PlayStation 2 and games like Ty the Tasmanian Tiger, Sly Cooper, and Jak and Daxter; all appropriate albeit challenging games. However, the PlayStation 2 soon became one of the first consoles to really push for mature audiences. More mature games aren’t a bad thing, but kids aren’t so innocent that they had to be left entirely in the dark.
My first encounters with mature rated games were the Outlaw Sports series and the God of War games. Both are very worthy of a more mature rating, but one more than the other.
Outlaw Sports was rated Mature for a few reasons, most of them tame. Sexual themes, strong language, humor, use of drugs and alcohol. Basically what everybody sees in your average comedy movie. This game series could have easily been labelled Teen.
God of War is a different story entirely. Nudity, Blood and gore, intense violence, language, strong sexual content, this game was the most risque piece of work since sliced bread (who knew bread could be so sexy?).
The question the world needs to ask itself here is: what do we consider too much for younger viewers/players? What is mature versus teen versus everyone?
Is the ESRB too hard on games?
This is a huge controversial issue and I don’t want to start anything too massive, but are parents too protective of their children nowadays? Are we that scared to show our youths a bit of nudity or have a small amount of crude humor (which they probably wouldn’t even understand) in their games?
With so many sexual advertisements and dirty jokes in kids movies for the pleasure of accompanying adults, free nudity campaigns like Free the Nipple, and general behavior of the average human, it should be time that we start to re-expose youths to the world before they’re “legal.”
There once was a time when kids weren’t so protected. They could go outside and climb trees or – dare I say it – compete in a soccer league where one team really does lose! (There are actual sports leagues that don’t confirm winners on account of hurting the other team’s feelings.) It’s time to get back to reality in both reality and video games.
So, what should be appropriate for an “E for Everyone” rating?
- A small amount of nudity – children are aware that everyone has a body. Why hide it from them? Almost every single comedy movie out there has nudity in it and everyone has seen a buttocks or two. Let’s be honest, if children were more exposed to a small amount of nudity, there’s a good chance that over-sexualization of girls would be down, rape would probably be down, and kids would be more aware of sex and the responsibility that comes from it (don’t get me started on the sexual education of children in elementary schools).
- Strong language – if you never heard your parents yelling and screaming every curse word in the book, you had quite the childhood. Everyone swears. It’s just part of the culture. Not a very eloquent part, but a part nonetheless. Of course, certain very strong words should be omitted but that’s a job for the game developers and writing teams.
- Mature humor – chances are the kids won’t understand a lot of jokes thrown into less mature games anyways so what’s the harm? Lots of adults like to play games like Sly Cooper or Ratchet and Clank so what’s so bad about a little sexual innuendo every now and then? Disney Pixar and Dreamworks have been putting hidden jokes in their cartoons for years to keep adults happy while watching the films with their young ones.
- Use of drugs and alcohol – does watching people use drugs often make you want to use drugs? Not likely. Building on this, most children have little to no access to any sort of drug in the first place so there really is no harm in it.
- Blood and gore – we aren’t talking Game of Thrones decapitation here, but a little bit of blood is not a big deal. Oh my god, everybody has blood inside them and when they get cut they bleed! Big deal!
Now that we’ve seen a few of the content descriptors that often make games go from tame to Mature 17+, we can see why almost every game is rated maturely. If your character is walking along and stubs his toe on a desk and yells, “Shit!” ESRB jumps on it and says, “That has to be mature! He swore!” In the long run it’s parents that push the ESRB to rate more harshly. This generation of children has seen more protection than any generation in the history of mankind. At this rate the next generation will come out of the womb and enter directly into a big plastic bubble for the first 20 years of their lives.
Breaking the Law, Breaking the Law!
It’s more than just a kick-ass Judas Priest song, it’s something that younger gamers do all of the time. Who hasn’t had their parents buy a mature game for them? Almost everyone I know has gone a round in Grand Theft Auto before the age of 12.
Gamers aren’t the only people to break the law surrounding ESRB ratings. A lot of employees of Wal-Mart or other video game retailers will neglect to ask for ID when youths try to purchase mature games. It’s too much of a hassle. Everyone knows that if you refuse to sell a mature game to a minor they’ll just come back with their parents.
What is the ESRB going to do? Conduct unannounced inspections of everyone’s house to try to catch underage players? Just another thing to think about as we move forward through the article.
The Outcome of Poor ESRB Choices.
The ESRB has rated countless games Mature 17+. What has that done for the industry? Nearly every anticipated game of 2016 will be rated maturely, meaning younger gamers need not apply. We might as well move video games into the adult store next to the sex toys and the cigarettes.
If people were to abide by the rules the only system anyone with kids would have is the Wii U being the only system that can hold an Everyone rating on most games. Essentially, every other game on every other console/system being rated mature is what keeps Nintendo in business by having the only “family friendly consoles.”
Long story short, too many games have unrealistic ratings. Call of Duty for example is a war based game that has mild language and some blood and gore. To “legally” play that shooter players are required to be at least 17 years old. When was the first time you played CoD? Probably before 17.
Again, there is a bigger controversy at play here. Children in today’s society are ridiculously overprotected and need to be unburdened from that protection. The world is a cruel and unusual place and it will hit kids like a brick if they aren’t prepared for it.