This is starting to sound like my definition of a mature approach to sex is to have every character run around with their bathrobes hanging open, so let's discuss the other side of the censor-frothing coin, violence. What games have a mature attitude to violence? That is, depicts violence with weight and appropriate consequences? Well, very few of them, obviously. The only one that really springs to mind is, as ever, the self-mutilation scene from Heavy Rain, where you have to spend an entire afternoon preparing tools and downing painkillers and it still looks like it stings like a bitch.
My point is, the ratings system is extremely flawed when it would put the pencil scene from The Dark Knight in a softer category than half the stuff that goes on in Mortal Kombat, when the former is actually quite horrific and the latter is just goofing around with some red squishy objects. Approach to censorship tends to be a very mechanical one - you get bumped up a rating if you go past a certain number of swears or depict, say, a fork going into an eyeball with very little consideration of context - and I'm wondering if there doesn't need to be some critical re-examination here. In the same way I don't give review scores because I can't summarize a detailed critique of a game numerically, you can't warn people what kind of cultural level mature content is operating on just by stating how old you have to be to not have nightmares about it afterwards.
So here's what I've come up with. Instead of an age rating, the covers of games should depict a character from literature whose mindset you'd most need to sympathise with in order to get the most out of the product. So if a game was about fun violence like Mortal Kombat it'd show John Carter of Mars, but if it was about dramatic violence like Heavy Rain it'd have Joseph Yossarian from Catch 22, or Billy Pilgrim from Slaughterhouse Five or someone from some other miserable war-related book. And it'd work for films, too. Fight Club would have Holden Caulfield. Death Wish would have Edmond Dantes. And The Human Centipede would have Patrick Bateman. In fact, this rating system would work for anything except books, because in that case you'd just have a picture of the protagonist from the same book.
But even this concept is a flawed one that relies a little too optimistically on the general public's knowledge of classic literature, so allow me to also present my preferred option: fuck it. As in, don't have ratings at all. Grown-up fun only interests children because we deny it to them, they wouldn't care if we didn't. If your child really wants to see A Serbian Film then you should just let them, by the same principle by which you'd make your curious offspring smoke an entire carton of cigarettes or force them to have sex with a disease-ridden whore to scare them straight and teach them an important life lesson. Now, admittedly this is a policy that ultimately leads to children suffering emotional scarring or even death, but there comes a time when you have to stop letting that sort of thing bother you, generally when you're riding the bus home at around the time the schools close.
Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn't talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games and writes the back page column for PC Gamer, who are too important to mention us. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.