While video games have definitely become a pervasive force in our society, one cannot forget how truly young this medium is. The first video games began coming out roughly 40 years ago, whereas films have been around for around 100 years and literature has been a part of our lives for thousands of years. Video games are by no stretch of the imagination a mature medium in age, but that doesn’t mean that our industry cannot act like it.
At this point in time, the gaming industry faces several truly juvenile problems that do not befit its status as one of the premier forms of entertainment in the world.
For example, rating systems have yet to be properly implemented around the world, with many games being banned from certain countries when films and books with similar content are given a free pass.
Even in the United States, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) has some problems with their ratings. In my opinion, their ratings are not properly delineated to encompass all types and ranges of mature content. The T (Teen) rating arguably does not truly mean that a game is appropriate for a teen according to the ESRB ratings. Perhaps it would be better to split the T rating into “13+” and “16+” ratings, which would allow for games to be more properly rated and categorized. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) did this some time ago by introducing the “PG-13” rating, and it has been successful in categorizing films more accurately.
In addition to ratings issues, I believe our industry has not truly become mature in its content and how it is tolerated. Violence is present in almost every popular game, and while that is not necessarily bad, it signifies that violence is the only way that our industry has been able to signify “maturity” in a game, when maturity can mean so many other things.
For example, nudity and sexual content are taboo in the industry, while these themes are an integral part of many films and books. Our industry has not grown up enough to accept that nudity and sexual content, along with more emotional themes such as loss, love, and friendship can be just as effective at conveying a mature narrative as violence and death.
While many games do include these emotional themes, they aren’t always the most successful and are always dwarfed by the token military shooter at the time. Similarly, games that dare to include sexual themes tend to get lost in the shuffle even if they should be commended for their audacious and sometimes effective use of these themes.
We as gamers often complain that we aren’t taken as seriously as movie buffs or book lovers. In order for people to take our industry seriously, we have to take ourselves seriously, on both a ratings and content front. Only then will gaming take its rightful place as a truly legitimate medium.