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.