I'm crawling out of the hole I've been hiding from, recovered from a big head cold and wanted to write about something that has been bothering me for a while. It seems like the hardcore gaming community, both readers, stores, journalists and bloggers alike have a distorted view on evaluating the quality of a game, by its ESRB rating. Games that are not M rated are ignored by some circles of the gaming community with the assumption that the game won't be any good, too easy or skewed to a younger audience. After looking at my collection it occurred to me that despite being 27 years old, most the games in my collection are not M rated (I own four, count em FOUR GAMES that are M rated). Having said that I still consider myself a hardcore gamer. I don't think the games I play are too kiddie (maybe some are more colorful than others).
However, I constantly hear from gaming journalists the gripe about the importance of M-rated games to keep older gamers entertained and I wonder if I'm missing something. Some of them feel so strongly about that it makes me feel like I have maturity issues for loving games that are E or T rated. This stigma is bad for the industry, it's bad for developers, and it's bad for us to have that attitude.
Let's look at this from a few different fronts. The emphasis on only promoting/focusing on M rated games implies that the only way to keep adult gamers entertained is with extreme violence. Don't get me wrong. I'm not bothered by violence (although videos of Manhunt were a bit much). However it's not necessary for me to be entertained or to feel like I'm getting a "mature" experience. I don't want developers to feel like they have to make a violent game. Not to mention the politicians will only focus on the violent M rated games thinking that's all older gamers play, and all kids will want to play. After all kids want to be like adults right? If we want to change the politicians' outlook, they need to see that not all games are like GTA and that there are plenty of great games that older players enjoy in that category.
The other problem I see is the assumption that the rating implies a game for kids. People I know in the industry think that, calling certain titles "kids games" that I would never lump in that category (some are rated T and not just Mario). Go into EBGamestop sometime and see what they put in the kids section. I cringed at the sight of Kingdom Hearts in that section. The second game is extremely dark, despite the presence of Disney characters. 6 year olds would also be bored by all the reading and possible scared by some of the heartless and nobodies. Yet KH lies in the kids section right next to Dora the Explorer. It makes me think the companies don't understand the products they are selling.
I also wonder how many gamers out there missed out on a great game but avoided it because it was rated E10. My collection is filled with those niche JRPG's that fall in that category. I read people's concerns about the Wii's lack of "worthwhile" games, see games like DQ Swords, Opoona, a Baroque and wonder what people are talking about. I could also have strange tastes. Perhaps that wasn't the best example. I hope you get the idea.
Finally, consumers don't have this attitude towards movies and television, so why do we in video games? I will watch plenty of R rated movies, but there are plenty of PG movies in my collection. They are not necessarily movies for kids, and the ones that do (Disney movies) have a timelessness to them that most adults I know find endearing. My favorite movie of all time is The Princess Bride; it's not exactly the most "Mature" movie ever but I know of plenty of adults that love that movie.
Maybe I'm trying to justify my lack of M rated games, but I think this is a growing problem that no one really talks about. I think people discount games that aren't M rated on assumption that they aren't good. There are plenty of gems that they are missing out on, and it saddens me.
Excuse me while I go play my "kiddie" games now.