Digital Polyphony

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What is "Mature?"

Posted on September 25, 2013 at 6:10 AM

What is "Mature?"

 Videogame Marketing has turned "Rated M" in to the "Cool" badge of honor. "Mature" has become a way to do adult things in games, but not really act like adults for gamers which is stagnating anyone looking at games beyond just "games."

I don't like labels, but I don't write the rules of the world, do I? So I'll skate around labeling and, instead, comment on the labels themselves. In this case: "maturity."


Specifically maturity as it pertains to video games.


Yes, that's right. Grab a chair, we're doing this.



Let's look at the definition of "mature." Mature, as it pertains to a person, is defined as reaching an advanced stage of mental or emotional development. Basically you age. You grow up. You come to understand your life, place and being and probably have some aching joints in the process. Anyone who is above thirty, thinking back to the stupidity of their teenage years can probably relate to that. It's about growth and understanding more than it is the number of candles on your birthday cake.


But, thanks to the complete awash system of the ESRB, "Maturity" is now a rating: A description of an "object" rather than a "mental state" or even an age. "M" for mature" that's tacked on to video game boxes and download screens has been the "R rating" for video games since it's implementation in 1994. The ESRB sees that "M" on a box as a way to inform consumers this game is full of "mature content." Supposedly, this means you have to be of a certain age (and, assumingly, mental development) to play said game.

But that's now how gamers saw it. The instant it was implemented, "Mature" in relation to videogames went through a transformation. Mature was no longer about age requirements, it was about content expectations.

The videogame industry took that "M" rating from the ESRB and turned it around on itself. THat's fine, the ESRB is flawed to begin with, but they arguably did something worse with it. "Mature" became a marketing term. "Rated M for Mature" at the end of a commercial wasn't there to say "Hey, if you're a kid you can't play this." It was there to say "Hey kid! Look at all this cool shit! Don't you want to be cool and act like an adult!? But this game if you want to be mature!"


What "Extreme" or "Xtreme" was to the 1990s video game marketing world (and the 90s in general), "Mature" became in the new millennium. It went from an ESRB Rating to a Badge of Honor.


In the world of gamers, we have a conundrum. "Maturity" is often the last term one uses when describing the gaming community. One five minute deathmatch on a Halo or Call of Duty, or a quick browsing of forums and Twitter, can show that. A broad stroke, maybe, and certainly a straw man, but even though the average age of a gamer 30, the maturity of the community itself doesn't reflect someone who is 30. However, no matter the age of the player, the "M" rating gets noticed more, sold more and marketed more. Maybe it has to do with those other labels, your "Casual" versus your "Hardcore," but having worked on many sides of the industry, I still see that young gamer not giving a lot of games a chance. Not when there's something with a gun to shoot sitting right next to it.

That's because nobody associates "Maturity" with actually acting "Mature." They associate it with being "cool." As a result, if you don't have an "M" rating on your product, many gamers might not bother with it or look twice because they fell in to that marketing ploy. And no, being that indifferent and narrow-minded isn't mature at all.



There are two types of maturity working here: the actual "sense of maturity" or "acting mature" where someone acts their age and the idea of "mature-only content" (i.e. what publishers and gamers think means "mature").  The irony of something that's violent, sexy and bloody being labeled "mature" is another thing, but I won't get in to that. But ask yourself this: Is playing a violent game over something like a Mario Galaxy, which as an "Everyone" rating, making you more mature?

You reading this are probably thinking "no." But to many, the idea of playing a game rated "E" is like going to see a PG movie or, God-forbid, a G-rated movie. The thing is, the gamer that dismisses a colorful, all-ages platformer in favor of the uber-violent game that has headshots as a statistic is less mature than one that is willing to.  Despite playing more "mature" games, they aren't mature enough to tell the difference because publishers sold them the "idea of maturity," not what being mature actually is.

Of course, then we need to start having a chat about living vicariously through videogames and what violent videogames being more popular says about human nature...or not. Up to you.

As a result, we have a whole gaming community not understanding the difference between something "mature" and something "cool" or between "acting like an adult" with "doing adult things." They especially can't understand that just because something has "Mature content" doesn't make it "Mature," it means the opposite but many younger gamers will judge a game based on that label, which is the most immature thing possible (see the cycle of awful happening here?)  Then again, if your snap-judgment when seeing a video, screenshot and especially a rating for a videogame is that there's not enough "mature content," then you're the problem.


Why? Because a mature person wouldn't be dismissive. That's what it comes down to and, for some reason that I can't quite put my finger on, labeling something an "M" seems to get noticed more, played more and simply given a better chance by a player.

Sure, you say you're mature because you play mature video games as though that qualifies you as an adult, but I say you're not mature because you only play those mature-rated titles. Your horizons aren't broadened like a mature person, it's whittled down to someone out there to get your money because they sold you that Badge of Honor of maturity. It's why Nintendo still can't shake that "for kids" stigma. People say they make "kids" games, I just see them making fun games while I see people not playing those games far too insecure to realize it.  Perhaps "M for Mature" is less about content and more as a way for a gamer to pound his chest and say "Look what I'm playing!"


We all want to have fun, don't we? So why be dismissive of a game you haven't played simply because it's not "Rated M for Mature?" Why not even give it a chance and sit for five minutes to play something that's different, new, unique or even colorful and happy?

This became incredibly apparent for me at E3. Over at the Sony booth, I found the Sony Lounge which was full of a bunch of screens with games to play and some nice couches to relax in. Plus you got a free bottle of water and free bottle-of-anything at E3 is pretty sweet. This lounge, though, primarily only showcased Indie-games or smaller titles such as Rain, Octodad and Ducktales Remastered- lots of "E for Everyone" rated titles with a few "T for Teens" thrown in for good measure.


I sat down to play me some Rain because it looked interesting. Another attendee sat down in the seat next to me and also began to play Rain. He played for about a minute then said "This fucking sucks" and threw the controller down and walked away. Ok, he didn't "throw" it but he did that "drop" maneuver where you probably get really annoyed you can't beat a mission and have to see that "you died" screen for the umpteenth time. In other words, you would have thought the guy just died because, apparently, playing free videogames that weren't "cool" enough was the worst thing ever.

He was about 30-something, easily my age, yet didn't have the maturity to sit for more than a minute to give the game a chance. It wasn't "sold" to him as "mature/cool/awesome." Not enough stimulation, not enough energy...not enough "maturity?" "Maturity" in the sense of marketing, not who he actually was because he reaffirmed my presumption of him being a man-child when he stepped away a few feet and met a few other "dudes" and said (and I'm paraphrasing, it was months ago) "Dudes. All these games are stupid. They're little games nobody gives a shit about."


Is that mature? Is being so closed-minded to gaming that all you probably care about are big, M-Rated AAA titles mature? Why the Hell was the line for Killzone, only shown by live-demo, twice as long as Knack which  Was it because Knack looked bad? Or was it because gamers are way too dismissive?  It's in their nature, yes, but haven't we learned by now?

Look, I enjoy face-planting a gangster in to a table saw in Sleeping Dogs as much as the next guy, but I'm also mature enough to have a hell of a lot of fun with Sly Cooper and not feel insecure about it. Sleeping Dogs, seen as a "failure" by its publisher, sold three times as much what the latest Sly Cooper game did. Similar reviews for both.

Ah, then I had it. It's not so much being dismissive as much as it is that marketing ploy working its wonders. Mature = cool, interesting and "good" where as any other rating means "meh..." Was that it? It's not that people are "worse" and more dismissive, it's that nothing has ever changed. What someone back in 1994 learned and bought in to about the whole "M for Mature" sales gimmick and expectations has carried on with them through their 20s, 30s and 40s. They didn't mature enough to realize that labeling something "M" doesn't mean a damn thing and at the end of the day, it's about what is fun and entertaining, Rating be damned.

How on earth can the industry grow when the player, despite being older now more than ever, hasn't grown up? That's insecurity for you. It's why so many demand to have videogames labeled as "art" yet become defensive when someone points out its flaws or criticizes it in any way (see the comments on any Anita Sarkeesian video or when Roger Ebert commented on the lack artistic value for example). It never grew up. Want to be taken seriously? Want your validation of having games considered as "art?" Then grow up. Mature. Earn that M-Rating.


Playing a "mature" game is feeding a comfort zone for a lot of younger players because it makes them feel "cool," not too much different than seeing an R-Rated movie before you're old enough: it's what adults do, they want to be adults, so it doesn't matter if the film is awful because they're cool and feel mature by seeing it. By Rating things E or T or M, along with the screenshots and videos, gamers make snap-judgments across all and, somehow, what Rating a game has that you play is reflective of who you are as you sink in to that hole of your possessions owning you and determining who you are (see Fight Club, a story about an adult who's emotionally and mentally stagnant and owned by his possessions).

I feel this thought-process is on its way out, though. This whole "labeling" is tired, old, and hopefully the gaming community can fully turn that corner down the road. Sure, that one guy that one time sounded like a complete tool, but there were a lot of people there in that booth (probably for the water, but still) and even more down on the show floor just playing their hearts out over "non-mature" games like Knack or small Indie titles because they're mature enough to appreciate it. Still, it's hard to have a conversation with someone like that, and I wonder if they'll ever become mature enough to realize that "mature content" really doesn't matter to begin with. Being dismissive isn't "mature." There's no difference in maturity between someone being dismissive of a game for being "kiddie" with someone who's dismissive of a film for having subtitles or, God-forbid, being in black and white. Both don't want to play or see something, fine, but don't sit there and tell me they're "mature."


Being mature is about understanding. You don't have to accept something or even like something, but you damn sure can't be dismissive of it and certainly can't be critical of it or the other people that enjoy it when, in all honesty, you have no idea what you're talking about because you never tried it to begin with. You're too rigid and too much in to holding to your own nonsensical viewpoint that was sold to you years ago that even trying it would be pointless. You've already made up your mind before you even picked up the controller and no matter how much fun you might actually have in, say, a Sly Cooper or Mario game, you'd probably never even admit it.

Now I know that if you're reading this, you're most likely not the person I'm addressing. The truth is, the person that I would be addressing probably isn't going to bother to read anything about games other than if it got a 9.5 or a 10 Rating. But understand that most gamers are that way. Gamers love to label things and to draw lines. I think it comes from the origins of the industry itself where games were classified in to genres, consoles relegated to "bits" and "casual" and "hardcore" suddenly became a "thing" for some reason. But "Mature?" I hope that one day the gaming community is mature enough to understand what that really means.


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