Nowadays it's a rarity to see a week of new releases where Mature-rated games don't make up a majority of the pie. Shooters, horror games, and other violence-heavy titles are so commonplace by now that the audience has simply become desensitized to this sort of adult content. Nintendo somewhat withstanding, the big console-makers don't shy away from licensing M-rated games. They understand the consequence of not embracing the gore: the gaming population bread and butter, namely the eighteen-to-thirty age demographic, would skewer their profit margins like a marshmallow.
Of course, that's only because it's what is expected from developers as the media has evolved. But it hasn't always been the case. At the beginning of the relatively short life cycle of video games just a few decades ago, there was no ratings system and no real need for it. The technology and limited genre field omitted the need to classify games into age categories. But even without factoring the limited technology, there still wasn't an outcry from the gaming public to bring forth the blood.
Why? Well, it goes back to the core age demographic. In the 80s, the brunt of obsessed gamers were preteens, in the 90s they became teenagers, and when we hit the 21st Century, those now-adult gamers expected the content of their games to mature with them. Developers and publishers followed this audience, but lost sight of the new generations of young gamers, who are now bombarded with M-rated titles. As a result, we have five- and six-year-olds playing games like Mortal Kombat, Left 4 Dead 2, and Saints Row 3. These are games they simply shouldn't be touching, but they don't have trouble getting their hands on them because parents either don't feel they're harmful to the child's psyche or are just plain lazy.
Remember, I'm talking about core games for a core audience. There are definitely exceptions out there, and some phenomenal family friendly entries are able to stand toe-to-toe with their M-rated brethren in the retail market. But thanks to peer pressure, there is a prejudice against these wholesome games that makes them a taboo topic in the schoolyard.
There's the ceaseless argument about whether video games cause people to commit crimes, and valid arguments on both sides. When you reach a certain age of maturity (and for most boys I think that's beyond the 17+ rating from the ESRB), you've pretty much decided the person you're going to be. If you're part of the psychologically stable side, then video games are not going to make you run out and steal a car. If you're on the unstable side, well then, you've just been given some ideas thanks to the gaming media. Granted, video game catalyzed crimes are rare, but the media certainly tries hard to draw a link between the two, and there are viewers out there that take this message to heart. Either way, it's hard to deny that children are impressionable, with minds that are still being shaped, and thus must be handled more carefully.
But before I get too preachy on the subject, let's jump back to the topic at hand. Do we truly need M-rated games? No, of course not. But then again, we don't need horror flicks, adult movies, or reality TV. And if you want to completely generalize the question, we don't need any form of modern entertainment to survive. Obviously they didn't have cable 4,000 years ago. But we live in a world of capitalism (for the most part, anyway), and entertainment is a profitable business. Companies figure out what people want and deliver it to make a fortune. It's all about wants. Gamers want the GTAs and Fallouts. There are plenty of M-rated games I enjoy, including every one I've mentioned in this article, and while I may go through serious withdrawal and mope for weeks if they suddenly disappeared, it certainly wouldn't shut me down permanently, physiologically or psychologically.
So again, no we do not need M-rated games. But don't worry, they aren't going anywhere unless the gaming market crashes, which is a speculation for another time.
Date: April 12, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central. This week's is also purely a work of fiction*