Maximum age rating for games?

This is something that came up on our Game Design Forum when discussing age ratings for games. A lot of players of The Endless Forest are fairly young. But they are still excited about our upcoming new horror game The Path. Which worries us a bit, since we don’t think The Path will be suitable for a young audience.

As a parent I find age ratings useful for helping me decide whether a game would be suitable for my children. I don’t interpret the rating as a prohibition but as a recommendation. A game with an age rating of 3+ would be interpreted as not suitable for my 12 year old son, for instance. Because it would probably be too childish.

But for myself, as an adult gamer, the age ratings are mostly useless. If I would apply the same logic to myself, then a game rated 18+ would be too childish for me (I’m 40). But that isn’t always the case. In fact “18+” is considered “mature” by the industry. As a result, I often end up being treated by a game in a way that I find completely condescending. More often than not, games -even those rated “18+”-, are designed implicitly with a juvenile audience in mind. As a middle aged gamer, I take offense at being treated like a child.

So I would propose to add a maximum age rating to the current rating system. Again, not in any prohibitive sense (not to make it illegal for the elderly to play games, e.g.) but as a recommendation. Something along the lines of “this game is recommended for people older than 12 and younger than 25” for instance. That would be a major help and would prevent a lot of hostility towards the games industry from older gamers like me.

10 thoughts on “Maximum age rating for games?”

  1. Interesting.

    In my opinion i’m not sure (now, i’m going on how we do it in america, i’m not sure if it’s the same/different worldwide) the ESRB is the organization that should be responsible for it.

    Maybe perhaps it should be the job of reviewers, or someone could take the reigns of that and suppose what the target audience would be. I feel though that it should be a third party thing (if done at all).

    At the moment, I think the age ratings are simply to reference the “apropriateness” of a title and not necasarily the intended audience. I think i’ve seen the occasional board game with an age ranking like that, but only a handful.

    But again, i wonder, how well it would work. for example, the movie ratatoullie by pixar i thought was excellent (close to a masterpiece) and suitable for all ages. However i find it in the kiddie section at stores all the time. I’m almost find the age ranking systems themselves condescending.

  2. Who says games need to be made for a target audience? And reviewers working out the “target audience” of a game could be problematic, as well.

  3. Games are always made for a certain group of people, unconsciously or otherwise. This group is not always defined by age, of course. But when it is, I would like someone to make that clear.

    As it is now, in games, it seems that age rating is just part of the marketing, with “darker, more mature” being a selling point these days. My cynical self sees game developers creating games for 12 to 16 year olds but aiming for an age rating of 16plus because that appeals to this age group. So we end up with a bunch of games labeled “mature” that are actually intended for children. As a person who is in fact mature, and not in his late teens or early twenties, I take offense when subjected to such a game. But if I had known the game was not intended for grown-ups, I wouldn’t have bothered and would still have a positive attitude towards the game developer in question and the industry in general.

    I don’t think the comparison with movies is straightforward because (mainstream) movies tend to always appeal to a wider audience than games do. Many games are so outrageously juvenile but often still get an rating of 16plus or 18plus just because there’s violence in it. I know it’s to protect the young. But who will protect the old?

  4. Maybe there could be a little sticker for games like that- immature games. Just stick on the sticker and people can avoid ’em. Maybe an old person, on his walking stick, and a cross through it- like the “NO SMOKING SIGN” šŸ˜›

    I think the point is, really, is that the industry is developing *bad* games for 12 to 16 year olds rather than *good* games for that audience. For example Pixar makes some great films appealing to a (younger) group of people. But there’s a load of crap films for that age group out there, too.

    It’s not really such a bad idea. Lego says 2-99 or whatever. Maybe a game SHOULD say the same. 12-16 or whatever. But I think as we go on, fewer and fewer games with be for “age” groups.

  5. That’s a good idea, but I wonder how it could work in practice. The ESRB isn’t going to get more flexible and start using actual ages, for fear of over-complicating the rating system. So it’d really be up to the game’s creators, and they want to sell to absolutely everyone. Every game would be marked “Ages 1-150”, alongside the standard letter rating.

  6. I think awhile ago we discussed the general maturity of the Medium itself. It is my opinion that we are either in, or coming out of a “Grindhouse” era in games where they push 40 hours as a great feature (like saying two films for one) and large amounts of blood and sex. Or, if the film metaphor doesn’t appease, like in American theatre when for the longest time everything was “Melodramas” focused on spectacle and ridiculous over acting and wooded dialogue. It’s not to say that perhaps during these time periods there were not great plays or movies made (just less) and it’s not to say during our recent period there arent’ great, incredibly deep games. But, on the whole, the medium is coming through an artistically sterile period, all mediums must at some point.

    Honestly, i think the only issue with the age range system (this game is for 30-45 year olds, 3-10 year olds, etc.) is that age is not the only thing that a game’s target audience could include. What if games said Girls 5-12? Or Men 32-36 who’ve experienced a divorce? Or married Men 28-30 who’re are married, experienced a visectomy, and are also fired from their jobs for making rude comments to co-workers? I suppose that’s a little absurd, but what about questions about audience that rely on that? And what about child prodigies or the mentally handicapped? I know they are outliers, but isn’t maturity incredibly subjective?

  7. Large amounts of sex? In games? Where? Where?

    I actually don’t think your examples are that absurd, Ben. And I don’t think we should let political correctness stand in the way of what’s practical in this case. In my experience, humans are not as different from each other as we are supposed to assume.

  8. I have a box set for an animated series that original was a flash series (Broken Saints, anyone heard of it?). As a published DVD set, it has no rating but when you watch it, it’s pretty obvious that the contents in it are for older audiences though there is a bit of a warning label saying what it has in it thus allowing the viewer to decide rather or not it is for them.

    I don’t know what kind of legal things you guys need to go through with The Path. (I’ve noticed that there isn’t any sort of rating from places like the ESRB or PEGI or any other rating board for any Tale of Tales game. So I don’t know if you guys need to have one or not.)

    If you don’t…Then maybe you could just do a label.

  9. I think age rating is always voluntary. But I imagine some stores require it. We make our work very much within the spirit of artistic production. I have never seen art in a museum with an age rating!… I’d have to check about art films. That’s probably a more relevant comparison. Do they get rated?

    In any case, I think our work is an exception in many ways. So nobody needs to change any rules or customs for us. I was talking more from the standpoint of consumer than producer.

  10. some art films get rated, some don’t.

    in america, most theatres won’t play an unrated movie, or most people won’t see it. the MPAA in america has a lot of control over the audience, a movie that pushes just above R too NC-17 in america usually won’t be seen by the public, and it kills the movie.

    Likewise, G and PG movies might not be seen by regular audiences, usually PG-13 is the way to go if you want your movie seen. Then again, some times the R rated becomes like a feature of the movie. M. Night Shyamalans forgettable “The Happening” was advertised as his “first R-rated movie.” oooh, mesmerizing…

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