What Makes A Mature Game?
Posted on 8th Feb 2010 at 13:57 by Joe Martin with 16 comments
“We really delved into the story with Game X,” you might hear a developer say. “We really wanted to explore the fiction and make it as mature as possible.”
It sounds good in theory and maybe I’m just being jaded and grumpy, but every time I hear someone label their title as having “a really mature story” or somesuch then alarm bells in my head start to ring. All too often the phrase is just a mask and the reality is that the game is, rather than being actually mature, tangibly immature.
When PRs and developers label a game as ‘mature’ what they really mean more often than not is that they’ve added swearing, boobs and gore beyond what the story and gameplay strictly require. Usually it’s part of an effort to appeal to a pubescent, sweaty-palmed audience too and the game is appealing more to adolescent lust rather than the wisdom that goes with maturity.
An excellent example of this is Dante’s Inferno, which based much of the marketing and promotional work around the developers themselves talking about how seriously they were treating the poem on which the game is loosely based. They talked at length about the levels and how they were meant to reflect specific sins, they orated about Dante’s character as a tragic, betrayed soldier and his epic struggle to redemption. They were desperate to persuade listeners that, while Dante’s Inferno was obviously a game that would be heavily based on chopping things up (and there’s nothing wrong with that), it also had merit as an interpretation of the poem and for it’s mature story.
The reality however was that the characters were built of little more than grimace and grizzle, the ‘maturity’ consisted of needless nudity and the level just had a lot of lava in it. The game had more tits that sense, subtlety or story. The developers had confused the inclusion of elements suitable only for mature audiences for a design that was approached with maturity. Dante’s Inferno was very much an adolescent game, not an adult one.
An adult game is one such as Mass Effect 2, which still has swearing and sex and violence to some degree, but it uses those things as a means, not an end. The fact that Beatrice is always naked doesn’t tell us anything about the character or the situation, whereas the fact that Subject Zero prefers to wear tattoos and a shoelace rather than armour says a lot about her fatalism, psychopathy and reliance on her biotics. When you hear someone swear in Mass Effect 2 then it tells you something about the importance of the situation or the nature of the character, but in Dante’s Inferno it’s usually just because of a stereotype.
The most mature game (in the good way) that I’ve ever played is one which helped my first understand the difference between these two concepts; Vampire: Bloodlines. Set in the seedy streets of mid-night LA, Bloodlines isn’t bashful about the use of sex and swearing and players can even indulge their sadistic side by addicting a human to their blood and then manipulating her as they wish. The world of Bloodlines is an intoxicatingly dirty one, but it’s a consistent and useful one that stays a shade away from sheer pornography and extrapolates these elements into something that defines the game as a whole. It’s never gratuitous and that’s what sets it apart from most other ‘mature games’, the type of which I’m frankly starting to get rather embarrassed about every time I have to try and justify the rest of the medium in spite of their childishness.