What images does that word conjure up within your mind? Something tells me words like ripe, full-grown or sophisticated don't accurately capture the thoughts bouncing around within your head. Instead, you're probably thinking about some combination of blood, guts, sex and profanity. The reality is that video games have essentially redefined what it means for a piece of entertainment to be mature, and as a result, poorly characterizes a mature gamer.
When I stepped up to Sony's booth to play God of War: Ascension at E3 several days ago, I was taken aback by the sheer amount of violence within the game that was completely void of context. At the conclusion of each multiplayer round—after the two teams have slashed each other to oblivion—the Spear of Olympus appears on the stage, and the player who manages to retrieve the weapon triggers a cutscene in which the chained cyclops in the background is brutally murdered.
After the beast's face is sliced down the middle, the player who recovered the spear is pictured plunging the weapon into his eye, resulting in a gore-filled rupture, spurting blood and other bodily fluids. And as if witnessing it once wasn't enough, we were all subjected to the same grotesque scene again since we got to play two rounds. That's right, the same eye-stabbing scene is shown every single time, which not only devalues the weight of the moment, but feels like a juvenile representation of violence.
How a scene like this could be deemed "mature" befuddles me, as witnessing this over-the-top senseless violence felt like anything but. Mind you, I'm not a squeamish guy (I've dissected a cadaver believe it or not), nor do I take issue with brutal violence; what I do have a problem with however, is the senseless nature in which it is often portrayed. Experiences like these don't appeal to a mature audience in the traditional sense of the word, but rather immature individuals who don't possess the mental fortitude to see how ridiculous and tasteless it all really is.
For some reason, a large percentage of the gaming community labels this kind of content as mature and/or hardcore, as if the only games that "core gamers" play are filled with gore and sex. Perhaps this misuse of the word mature stems from the ESRB's rating label, which tags anything only suitable for gamers seventeen and up with an "M for Mature" rating. While this entire article could easily dissolve into a pointless argument that hinges on semantics – and I'm sorry if it already has – the word mature has taken on a host of other meanings that dilute its true definition. Would it help if "M for Mature" was replaced with "R for Restricted?" Perhaps, but at this point I fear the damage has already been done.
I don't know, maybe I'm alone in feeling this way, but all of the senseless violence is really starting to irritate me, fueling my disdain for the direction our industry is headed. There's a reason why gaming is not a widely respected form of entertainment, and this senseless approach to heavy subject matter certainly isn't helping. Fortunately, however, there is a ray of hope. And that beacon of light comes from none other than the talented team at Naughty Dog who is currently working away on The Last of Us, a truly mature title that lives up to the label, not because of its violence, but rather how the game handles it.
If you've seen the E3 demonstration that Naughty Dog debuted at Sony's press conference, then you know exactly what I'm talking about. Murder in The Last of Us is anything but a lighthearted affair, as the humanity of your foes makes each death increasingly difficult to bear. For the sake of brevity, I'll focus on the closing scene of the demo, undoubtedly the most jarring section that they've shown thus far. That image of the man pleading for his life before having is face blasted to bits will remain etched in my mind for a long time, as that scene was one of the most powerful moments in gaming I have ever witnessed. The weight of Joel and Ellie's actions are tangible and real, giving meaning and purpose to the game's disturbingly violent sequences.
Unlike God of War or say… Gears of War, the violence in The Last of Us is hardly glamorized, as it was clearly Naughty Dog's intent to generate a genuine emotional response from the player, which can be contrasted against the hollow jeering that may erupt after one manages to chainsaw an enemy in half. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that there isn't a place for these other games—though, I'd take something with a bit more depth seven days out of the week—I simply take issue with widespread belief that these are mature games. Argue with me till you're blue in the face, but there's absolutely no way I'll ever consent to the notion that these "violent for the sake of it" games are mature. While they may bear the infamous "M" tag on the front of the box, their juvenile approach to violence renders them anything but.