Image by Flickr user  Darryl Chan (CC)

Rated “M” for “Might Not Matter?”

Image by Flickr user  Darryl Chan (CC)
Image by Flickr user Darryl Chan (CC)

A couple days ago, an announcement hit the airwaves that the highly-anticipated Batman: Arkham Knight is going to be rated “M” for mature. (Rocksteady’s previous Batman games, Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, as well as WB Games Montreal’s Arkham Origins, were all rated “T” for teen.) In an interview with IGN, Rocksteady’s founder and Arkham Knight Director Sefton Hill noted some surprise about the rating. But he also pointed out that though Arkham Knight is “dark” and contains “bad stuff,” it will be the game the company wants to deliver to players. Responses to this seem to have mostly ranged from “Way to go Rocksteady for sticking to your principles!” to “So?” As for me, I’m just looking forward to playing it.

But then again, that’s easy for me to say. I’m an adult (so says my driver’s license), I don’t have children, and therefore I don’t have much reason to pay attention to game ratings. In fact, because of that second point (no kids), I don’t even feel like I have much to say on ratings themselves, because personally, they are a non-issue. Besides, we all know that ratings of any sort aren’t necessarily flaming adamantium gates guarded by Cerberus, the Sentinels, and Leatherface. Many of you have probably heard the 10-year-olds playing Call of Duty. Many of you have probably heard younglings quoting Scarface. And many of you know that the Internet itself is riddled with easily accessible illicit content of all sorts.

Thinking back to that time when the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) became a thing in the mid 1990s, which became a thing partially in response to all the hubbub surrounding blood-ridden violence portrayed in some video games of the time, such as DOOM and Mortal Kombat, video game ratings didn’t exactly mean much in my house. And that’s saying something because R-rated movies were pretty much off limits at all times. But those M-rated games…well, we had them, and we played them. For a long time my folks regulated our (me and my two younger siblings) video game habits by buying us all things Mario, Mega Man, and Donkey Kong. But they didn’t stop us from renting or borrowing (or even buying) the likes of DOOM or Mortal Kombat. It’s kind of interesting to consider in hindsight, because I know that one time we rented both Mortal Kombat II and The Lion King from the local video store, and my mother didn’t bat an eyelash.

While I don’t think my parents were completely oblivious to the news surrounding video games at the time, I also don’t know just how much stock they put into the issue of violence in the media. The only time they got really hopped up on, say, violence in the movies, was when things got really gory (or sexy). Fantasy violence, science-fiction violence, and comedic violence all got passes, as did video game violence apparently. There were times where they’d watch a movie beforehand and make a decision as to whether or not it was appropriate for the children, but they never played a minute of DOOM (well, to my knowledge, anyway).

None of this is to downplay the effects violence can have on some children (and even some adults). If I had children, and if those children were interested in video games, I would probably steer them away from mature games until some vague point where I’d think they were old enough to handle them, if they wanted to handle them at all. I know that I’m not inclined to get really enjoyable M-rated games for my pre-teen niece. (Besides, she would probably play Minecraft all day, every day if she could. And there’s a game that, one could argue, is a little aggressive at times).

I’m also sure that Arkham Knight will likely top the charts this summer despite its “M” rating. But there’s an interesting question there, because in the IGN interview, Hill noted that Arkham Knight is not going to be replete with gore and curse words. Rather, it’s going to go to some “dark places,” which brings my traditional thinking of the “M” rating into a new light. Because with this game, it sounds like we’re not talking about a sex and violence “M” rating as much as a crises of choice and sinister actions and reactions “M” rating. More psychologically mature than blatantly mature (i.e. with obvious adult content)? Just a guess. To be sure, we’ll all have to wait until June to find out.

Where do you stand with game ratings? Are they useful and helpful tools for parents in charge of game-savvy children? Have game ratings evolved with the times, or do they need to evolve to include more nuanced definitions of age-appropriate standards?


8 thoughts on “Rated “M” for “Might Not Matter?””

  1. Great post and I completely agree. Ratings have no bearing on me in my purchasing habits considering I’m an adult, but I do feel it’s important for kids and children. Adults, who many not be as familiar with games as their kids, see a letter on the box and it helps give them a better sense of the material.

    Outside of the violence aspect, I’m thinking the mysterious “dark places” Arkham Knight is planning to go is definitely more psychologically related especially considering that the Scarecrow seems to be leading the cast of villains this time around.

    The Arkham games are plenty dark and brutal already so it’s interesting to think where this one is going that warranted a higher ESRB rating.

    1. I had read that too about the Scarecrow being the primary (maybe) villain, which sounds really great. I’m excited to participate in Arkham Knight’s story for that.

      As for the ratings, what’s interesting is that they seem to be becoming more and more detailed, which is probably a good things for the folks not in the know. Like, you only see the letter on the front cover, but then when you turn the box around, the list of why it’s rated as such can be pretty lengthy. If I had to make a judgment call on a game, those lists would be much more helpful than just a letter.

  2. Seeing kids play rated M games has always really bothered me, but I know a lot of people grew up on mature video games and they’re totally fine. Mortal Kombat is a great example.

    I do feel like with improved graphics, the violence is more realistic than ever. Maybe that makes it even more important to shield kids from mature games? I don’t know.

    1. I guess it really depends. When you think about it, many games are violent in that they somehow involve you eliminating enemies. The kicker is *why.* Any game that asks you to survive or save someone (or the galaxy) or become the best almost always has you “kill” as part of the process. Things now can get tricky, as you said, with hyper-realistic violence that permeates many of today’s games. Of my gamer friends with kids, I don’t know one that would knowingly allowing any of their young kids to play an “M” rated game. But they’ll also be the first to say that they can’t keep watch on them 24/7, so it’s good that there’s some system in place that helps them understand, even in shorthand, what may be in a questionable game ahead of time.

  3. I think ratings are pretty useful, but they aren’t always very accurate. Halo is rated M, and yet it contains far less swearing than my T-rated Jak and Daxter games. I also can’t comprehend why my newer Kirby games are for ages 10 and up. But, you bring up an interesting point that this Batman game is rated not for the usual things, but for being, well, literally mature. How do they accurately rate things like that? That’s a problem I run into a lot when I publish fan fiction. My stories don’t contain swearing of any kind, nothing dirty, no graphic violence, and yet I often write about topics that I don’t think younger audiences should read about, and so I always rate everything T, just to be safe. Yet, if my stories were rated by video game standards, they would be E.

    I usually avoid M-rated games because I don’t like swearing or naughty stuff, but if this game is mature because it’s simply dark, I’m far more intrigued to learn more about it.

    1. I don’t envy the folks who get paid to apply ratings to movies, games, and such. Like, sometimes it’s really obvious when something isn’t for kids; but when you get into questioning if/when kids might be ready to accept “dark” or “mature” material, I bet things get really iffy. Having just completed Arkham Origins, there are some scenes in it that are particularly disturbing (psychologically) and unusually violent. It’s rated “T,” but in my opinion it’s very “adult” compared to previous Batman titles. Then again, it deals quite frankly with Batman’s struggle to become a “trusted” vigilante, so it’s quite deep at points. I don’t know if younger players get that or just see it as a fun time being Batman.

      Your point about Halo vs. Jax and Daxter vs. Kirby is interesting. Since we all bring all our personal views into each game we play, I imagine that every player views ratings differently, if they pay attention to them at all. Ultimately, for the younger set, hopefully some parental guidance comes into play, sometimes.

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