What Constitutes a Mature Game?
*WARNING! THIS BLOG CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS FOR METAL GEAR: GHOST BABEL*
Violence in video games has been a hot topic of discussion in politics and the media ever since Exidy released Death Race in 1976, an arcade game about running over pedestrians based on the movie Deaht Race 2000. It has died off a little and come back at multiple in the 32 years since then, but it has never gone away. With the release of Mortal Kombat came the earliest incarnation of what became the ESRB and their rating system used for video games today. The topic won't go away until something like, God forbid, there are no more video games. I hope politics and the media go away before video games do! Haha!
Anyway, it is easy to understand why the rating system is in place. Ever since about 1998 with the release of Metal Gear Solid, things such as sexual themes, smoking, cursing and violence have found an increasingly large home inside the world of video games. These things do help make a game more adult or mature. It makes them aimed at a more adult audience, but I've been thinking lately. Are they the only things that constitute a mature game? Are they the only things that can gear a video game toward an older audience? Allow me to explain.
Recently I picked up Metal Gear: Ghost Babel, a non cannon Me tal Gear game released for the Gameboy Color. It was released outside of Japan under the name of Metal Gear Solid. I have no idea why. Anyway, anyone that knows the Metal Gear series knows that they are mature games. They more than earn their mature rating. Sexual themes? Check. Violence? check. Smoking? Check. Cursing? Check. All of that stuff is there to continually earn the games an M rating. I pulled the cartridge out of my Gameboy Advanced SP last night and looked at it. The rating on the game is E. Yes. It is a Metal Gear game rated E for everyone. Why is this? Well, at face value, the reason is obvious to those that have played it. The smoking and cursing has been removed, and the violence lacks the intensity of the console games. It may be due to it being on an 8 bit handheld system, but it does lack the more realistic violence that the other games feature.
When you look deeper into the game, however, you will take note that the game is, just by nature of being a Metal Gear game, geared toward a more mature audience. It features a lot of your typical Metal Gear themes, such as the ever present threat that nuclear weapons present, and the horrors of war. the game does not go to the in depth detail of it's console counterparts (How can it? It is a GBC game after all. You are limited in what you can do) but the game does have some fairly descriptive representation of these horrors. One character in particular describes how the human body burns when set aflame, while another describes seeing her friends and family hacked limb from limb in a field. This type of thing is features in pretty much all of the Metal Gear games. Various characters have traumatic experiences that resulted in what they became today. A prime example of this would be when Drebin calls you to tell you what happened to each member of the Beauty and the Beast squad to make them what they are. While Ghost Babel isn't as descriptive as that was, it is very much still present.
With this being said, I ask again, why is this game rated E? Should it be rated E just because it lacks the violence and language of the console games, or does it still push forward more mature ideas that you would not want your kids thinking about? As far as I am concerned, the horrors of war and the threat of nukes are something that people shouldn't really be presented with until they are actually mature enough to understand it. Should this game not at least earn a rating of T? It makes me wonder just what the ESRB was thinking when they rat ed this game. How did something like this slip through their fingers? How did they miss these things in the game that, quite clearly, gear this game for a more mature audience? Does this mean that there is a massive flaw in the rating system? Should they reconsider how games are rated and take a long, hard look at the rating system as it exists today and, quit possibly, rework it from the ground up? What does it take to make a game mature? You decide.