Violent Video Games: Guide to Game Violence & Video Game Ratings

Violent Video Games: Guide to Game Violence & Video Game Ratings

Posted 07.13.2012 in Articles by Neil-Denny

Back in the day, video games were as violent as deflecting a pong to the opponent's side of the screen or jumping on a turtle shell. With the advent of games like the gruesome fighting game classic Mortal Kombat and shoot 'em ups like Grand Theft Auto, the necessity of a rating system and its reinforcement became more and more apparent to warn consumers, especially parents, which video games were too hot to handle. Whether you're a fanatic for violent gaming, or are seeking to avoid these controversial titles altogether, here's a rundown of America's Most Wanted, a line-up of the primary suspects that pushed the boundaries of game violence and shaped the way we play and purchase video games forever.

“FINISH HIM!” The resounding directive prompted players to approach their defeated opponents and put them out of their misery in a variety of gruesome ways: a heart ripped out of the chest, a head yanked from the neck with the spine still attached, a human body burnt alive. When “Mortal Kombat” broke into the scene in 1992, it not only shocked the gaming industry but the general public as a whole, leading to a series of hearings in the United States aimed at violence in video games and its effect on society. Soon after, the Entertainment Software Rating Board was formed, preventing government intervention in the gaming industry. The first title to receive an M-rating for Mature audiences was “Mortal Kombat.”

In 1997, violence in video games was taken to a whole new level with the debut of “Grand Theft Auto.” While extremely gory, Mortal Kombat maintained a fantastical element that distanced itself from reality, whereas “GTA” hit close to home, set in an urban landscape made out to resemble New York City. The game gave players free roam to shoot guns and hi-jack cars as they please or engage in missions that involve drug dealing and assassinations. Concern that the youth were emulating the practiced violence in the real world provoked lawsuits against its developer Rockstar Games. This game along with the equally violent sequels that followed convinced the Guinness Book of World Records to name “Grand Theft Auto” the most controversial video game series of all time.

Much to the relief of angry parents and politicians across the nation, the Entertainment Software Rating Board was established in 1994 by the Entertainment Software Association, rating video games in the United States and Canada according to age appropriateness and content. Titles such as “Grand Theft Auto” prompted stronger enforcement of the ratings system on the retail level. A study conducted by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission showed that retailers complied with the ESRB system 87% of the time, turning down customers under 17 who attempted to purchase an M-rated video game.

To give parents and other consumers an idea of the level of violence present in any given title, the ESRB rating is marked clearly on the packaging of every video game and appears in all its advertisements. The rating symbol on the front of the package indicates the age appropriateness as suggested by the ESRB, and include E for Everyone (Ages 6 & up), T for Teen (Ages 13 & up), M for Mature (Ages 17 & up) and AO for Adults Only (Strictly Ages 18 and up). Content Descriptors marked on the side of the packaging provide a brief explanation for the video game's appointed rating. Descriptors can include Language, Drug Reference, Sexual Content, and different variants of violence including Cartoon Violence, Fantasy Violence, and Intense Violence.

Don't let the ratings fool you. A game rated E for Everyone could be just as fun for kids at it is for the adult adrenaline-seeking gamer. Mario Kart for the Nintendo Wii and the Nintendo DS is a great example of this, along with LittleBigPlanet for Playstation 3. Likewise a game rated M doesn't necessarily indicate gratuitous violence. Rated M titles may be highly acclaimed by gamers and critics alike, not for their violence but for their inventive gameplay and originality. Titles include the “BioShock” series for X-Box 360 and Playstation 3, and the “No More Heroes” series for the Nintendo Wii. 

Still, the M-rating was implemented for a reason. One gamer's dream can be one parent's nightmare. Titles that are Rated M for their viciously violent content include the “Gears of War” series for the X-Box 360, “MadWorld” for the Nintendo Wii, and the “Manhunt” series for PS2, with a downloadable Adult Only-rated version of “Manhunt 2” available on PC.

Image (CC) Silvio Sousa Cabral



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Posts: 1
MK and GTA more than just violence
Reply #1 on : Mon October 15, 2012, 10:00:35
I understand the concern of the parents. MK and GTA were both crazy when they came out... even just showing blood was considered edgy but this was going to happen eventually, especially considering the violence in cinema. We can't play pacman and burger time forever. Content needed to evolve and violence just comes with reality.

At the same time both MK and GTA offered more than violence. They offered gameplay that wasn't available in other games. Games are purely for entertainment and MK & GTA are just plain fun. Parents just have to deal with talking to their kids about why this or that video game isn't appropriate for their age level.
Last Edit: October 16, 2012, 10:46:52 by siteadmin  

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