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What makes a video game mature?

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With the release of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, the term many are using is “mature” in relation to the game. As Han has already touched on, maturity isn’t just nudity and revealing clothes; it’s not just sex scenes or graphic violence.

To explain I just need to highlight one of the most mature games I’ve played, Always Sometimes Monsters (see my review), which has basically no sex or violence in a graphically intense way at all - due to the basic graphics.

With Monsters, we had a situation where everything was awful; you were not the centre of attention or focus. Indeed, you were an annoyance to your landlord, your lost love, your publisher and so on. You scrambled to make ends meet, to try basically live just one more day. Many of us know that feeling of desperation, of worrying about money, of recognising we live in a world not designed to meet our wants. Life is hard for everyone - but harder still for others who don’t have the luck or privileges many others do.

Keza MacDonald highlights that unlike, say, Dragon Age games, Geralt is also not the centre of attention, is mostly tolerated but regarded as a freak. Again, nothing is easy in the world and people are all kind of awful in the Witcher universe.

Mature themes that deal with the harshness of reality seems to be reminders of how displaced we are from the universe’s centre. To me, a mature game deals with morality not in binary ways, but stitched into the fabric of play. Moral choices are not even explicitly stated or viewed as moral; they’re merely choices. After all, as in life, basically every choice is a moral one - it affects others and their outcome makes lives better or worse. We tend to think of moral choices in grand ways but we need not. A reminder that there are consequences, and that we can’t predict those consequences, is a sign of maturity.

Games can and often do badly with maturity. GTA V likes to think it’s mature, but it’s actually a wealthy kid, who’s seen Quentin Tarantino flicks and is wearing dad’s clothes. Unlike Saints Row, for example, GTA wants to have its cake of maturity, yet eat it, too: One of GTA V’s failings is its inability to know what it’s doing. Is it trying to deal with family or mock Sopranos? Does it care about Trevor or is he actually a scary, violent incomprehensible avatar for the caricature of a GTA player? I don’t know and neither does the game.

Maturity isn’t about age restriction, it’s about theme. That’s why GTA V can have a high age restriction but not be mature. Always Sometimes Monsters can have a low age restriction but be mature.

Even film ratings boards agree that something can have a high age restriction, but not be explicitly mature. I have my own issues with giving age restrictions to games (I think there should be warnings of all sorts that lets people decide for themselves: not arbitrarily say people who are teens can’t play a game).

In summary: Maturity is a theme, that can be done better or worse depending. It’s not dependent on blood, gore, or sex. We too often confuse or equate the two, when what we should want is more mature games - and less boring violent, bloody ones.

Tauriq: Twitter / MWEB GameZone: Twitter | Facebook

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Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not MWEB Connect (Pty) Ltd

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