You may have read or heard the news that the upcoming Rocksteady game Batman: Arkham Knight has been given a “M for Mature” rating by the ESRB. This came as somewhat of a shock to fans of the caped crusader as the previous Arkham games have all received Teen ratings, despite some pretty gritty content. Rocksteady commented on the rating by saying that as they created the game, they did it without thinking of meeting a certain rating. This is a big step forward for video games.
Too often in the entertainment industry, an artists idea gets compromised because the people backing the project want it to make as much money as possible. The artist’s original ideas and concepts can become spread out too thin in order to make the final product appeal to the widest possible audience. All this meddling often has a detrimental effect on the project and can result in the piece being an entirely mediocre experience. How is a film, book, or video game supposed to push the limits and inspire people when it’s attempting to please everyone?
For the most part, this problem is far more prevalent in the video game industry than it is in the business of books, films, TV shows, and art. Quentin Tarantino has made a name for himself making numerous violent and mature films, whilst networks like AMC and HBO are known for showing television shows that don’t shy away from adult content, and when is the last time you heard of a book being too adult?
I’m not saying that this sort of pressure doesn’t exist in other mediums, I’m certain it does, but it would be fair to say that this pressure is a lot more present in the video game industry, especially amongst triple-A developers. It’s not hard to understand why, the video game industry is only just taking its first steps compared to mediums like TV, movies, and of course books. There’s a lot of scrutiny aimed at video games, and video game developers must work especially hard if their game is going to get anywhere near the same level of respect as a book or film. Just watch certain news channels every time a young person is involved with violence. There are media outlets that can’t wait to point the finger and tell us that video games are turning children into violent psychopaths because, as we all know, no one was ever violent until Pac-Man came along.
This level of scrutiny and hysteria has meant that some publishers will often try to make a developer’s game as inoffensive and consumer friendly as possible. This also means the game will be likely to get an ESRB rating that won’t be mature, and will therefore cast a wider net to attract more sales. This way of thinking often has adverse affects on games and can lead to a developer’s vision being cut up, toned down, and censored. The final product can often end up being an uninspiring game that ends up in the bargain bin within months. We’ve seen this happen time and time again with many big games like South Park: The Stick of Truth, The Last of Us, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Mass Effect, and even LittleBigPlanet. At least these games still did well but who knows how many other games were released to bad reviews because the original creator’s ideas were stifled.
How does all this relate to Arkham Knight? Well, by embracing their Mature rating and by deciding not to tone it down, Rocksteady is staying true to their vision of what the final game should look like. Many people have pointed out that a lot of younger Batman fans will not be able to play the game due to its rating and therefore the game will not make as much money. Despite this, Rocksteady has stuck to its guns and is refusing to make any changes that could compromise Arkham Knight’s atmosphere, content, or story.
A recent rating summary revealed that the game was rated Mature due to it including a scene that involves Batman using the wheel of a vehicle to torture an enemy and another scene that depicts a person torturing a character on an operating table. Not only is Rocksteady’s refusal to edit themselves a victory for gamers looking forward to the game, but it is also a step forward for the gaming industry in general. I’m not saying that adult content always makes a game better, but the more developers stay true to what they think will result in the best game, the closer the video game industry will get to standing equal alongside television, films, books, and art.