When video gaming first started, almost all of the games created were playable by children. Not to say that early games weren't enjoyable by many adults (they were), they just lacked the mature themes that would be unsuitable for younger audiences—because, let's be honest, it could be pretty hard to get graphic on some of these older systems. Some of this was due to the Censorship Bureau imposed by Nintendo in the early 1990s; when Nintendo dropped this and backed an industry-supported ratings system, developers became free to develop whatever they desired, and thus began making games that were more realistic in their depiction of violence, and along the way, containing Darker and Edgier themes than previous titles.
But thanks to the success of a few specific M-rated titles, the clones and copycat titles that followed them, and the media attention that followed both, today there is a public perception that developers focus solely on extremely violent titles targeted at "hardcore" gamers (that is, those who believe "G" rated movies and "E" rated games are "for kids only"), because hardcore gamers are supposed to be the most profitable demographic. This results in even more attention from Media Watchdogs and Moral Guardians alike, and if those titles are successful, ultimately reinforces the notion of M-rated titles being the best way to make a top-selling title, if not a license to print money outright — in other words, they're just Rated M for Money.
"M" rated games are not, in fact, guaranteed hits — only an average percentage of titles sell enough copies to be commercially successful, not at all much different from any other rating or genre in the market. Furthermore, general industry wisdom actually claims "T" for Teen is the most profitable rating, for the same reason that many movies target the PG-13 ratings bracket - these are the highest unrestricted rating of their respective scales, combining the most creative freedom with the broadest possible (if not potential) audience; some developers or publishers have actively restricted levels of violence and/or sexual content in their games order to achieve this rating. Indeed, in 2010 only 5% of video games released had an M rating. However, this small minority was the focus of more hype than the rest.
The larger amount of hype M rated games tend to get than E, E10+, or T rated games can probably be attributed to the ongoing public perception that Video Games are for kids. Granted, this perception has significantly diminished over the last 20 or so years, but it's still prevalent enough (mostly among Moral Guardians and Media Watchdogs) to cause quit a stir with the gaming community. Thus, it makes sense that many would perceive M rated games as the key to breaking video games free of this stereotype and, thus, gaining them more respect as an entertainment medium. However, many of these games still contain vulgar and or over-the-top humor that brings them down to "drunk" level of maturity.
Ultra Super Death Gore Fest Chainsawer 3000 is what you get when this is the issue of a Very Special Episode.
Compare Avoid The Dreaded G Rating. While there are no direct ties between this and Rated M for Manly, it's not uncommon to see both tropes employed at the same time.
Grand Theft Auto has been at the center of the controversy, especially after the discovery of the "Hot Coffee" data in San Andreas, which, if unlocked by a modification, allows one to see two characters having sex. Note that this data was Dummied Out, requiring a cheat device or a software patch that the games maker did not release to be seen in gameplay. Copies that had said data in them were bumped up to the rarely seen "AO" rating.
In fact, Rockstar, GTA's publishing stable, have built an entire brand on this class of games, with titles ranging from the relatively-tame Bully (which still attracted controversy, due to the Media Watchdogs not doing the research) to the not-at-all-tame Manhunt getting Media Watchdog and Moral Guardians alike all riled up. The better ones (the aforementioned Manhunt and the Grand Theft Auto series) tend to be the brainchildren of Rockstar North, formerly DMA Design. The more blatantly exploitative ones are contracted out to Rockstar's other studios, for example Manhunt 2 .
The original GTA was advertised in UK gaming magazines using its 18 certificate, a rarity at the time, as a unique selling point. Now that 18-rated games are as common as 18-rated films and the BBFC theoretically uses the same guidelines to rate the two media, a game being rated 18 draws little or no comment.
Before GTA, there was iD Software's Doom, which possibly entertains the dubious title of Most Scapegoated Game in the History of All Time. Until the Advent of GTA, Duke Nukem, Quake, and other more "realistic" First Person Shooters, it was constantly blamed as the drive behind all manner of anti-social and violent behavior. Notably, it was directly implicated as one of the major contributing factors behind the Columbine High School massacre.
This was in part because the Doom level editor was extremely simple to use, allowing news anchors to suggest with a straight face that Doom players — including Eric Harris, one of the Columbine gunmen — were making levels of their schools, homes, local gathering spots, etc. to practice for possible massacres. Harris' levels, by the way, were not virtual versions of his high school to shoot up, but that didn't stop "journalists" from claiming that they were.
Midway's Mortal Kombat, especially in its original arcade form, was infamous for being the first worthwhile fighting game to prominently feature blood (and lots of it) in addition to all manner of death, dismemberment, and general gruesomeness. Parent's groups complained, puritan advocates wagged fingers disapprovingly, many angry letters were written to various editors, and the game was banned from many arcades and shopping malls and was at length significantly altered (blood changed to "sweat", fatality moves removed or altered) in its first home releases for various consoles — notably, the Super Nintendo version, which flopped due to Nintendo's censorship.
In the Sega Genesis and Game Gear versions, however, there are codes to reactivate the blood effects. In fact, the Genesis version is what prompted Nintendo to help create the ESRB in the first place.
That, and their rather transparent plan to kill off Sega by making their products unreleasable a la EC Comics when the Comics Code Authority was instituted. Thank goodness it backfired in Nintendo's face, due to the fact that more people bought the Genesis version than the Super Nintendo version, which led to Nintendo porting Mortal Kombat 2 unaltered.
The "Friendships" and "Babalities" were added to supplement Fatalities, both added as absurdist rebuttals to requests for less violence in the games.
Using live action footage for fighting also ratcheted up its gruesomeness level. Prior to Mortal Kombat, most games that even featured live action footage confined it to cut scenes or a sort of playable movie format. Mortal Kombat was one of the first games where a sprite directly under the player's control was retouched Chroma Key footage played by a real actor rather than animated.
A non-video game example would be White Wolf's Black Dog imprint, for Old World of Darkness RPG sourcebooks deemed "For Mature Audiences Only." It most likely caused gamers to buy titles they might have overlooked but saw the Black Dog logo on the back and said "I have to get this!" The line was canceled during the 3rd Edition, when White Wolf's general titles started getting darker than the Black Dog stuff. In fact, the only book that truly deserved its Mature rating was Charnel Houses of Europe: The Shoah, which dealt with the Holocaust.note The author of Charnel Houses...later said, "...it was a really dumb idea". Yet it's often considered the best source book made for the Old World of Darkness, in no small part due to the tasteful and respectful way the event was covered, featuring real-life history in addition to new game material.
Super Smash Bros. features Nintendo characters engaging in cartoon-like fights. Yet Brawl and Melee both received the T for Teen rating. Brawl is a little more surprising given that it was created after the the E10+ rating was created specifically for games that may push the boundaries of the E rating.
There was no good reason to rate God Hand higher than T for teen, considering what is gotten away with in PG-13 movies and Cartoon Network's Adult Swim.(rated TV 14)
Paradoxically, one of the game's opening screens warns against the game's high content of violence and gore (a la Resident Evil), the former of which is overdone and cartoonish, and the latter of which is completely nonexistent.
It is also worth noting, that in Japan, the game received a B-rating (12+), which is the equivalent of the T-rating back in North America. Let's not forget that the Devil May Cry series is rated C (15+) in Japan, where the equivalent would be between T and M rating, and had a similar warning of gory violence, despite being tame compared to many other M-rated games from the United States. Since God Hand, Resident Evil and Devil May Cry were all developed by Capcom, the Content Warning may be a leftover from the Japanese release, where there is less tolerance for extreme levels of violence towards humans. note
The reason whe Resident Evil gets away with so much gore is due to What Measure Is a Non-Human? (the targets are either zombies or other inhuman creatures).
Similarly, barring some occasional swearing, the Halo franchise is a little too tame for an M rating. There's very little gore, and most of its violence is actually pretty cartoon-like.
It may seem The Witcher is cashing in on its mature, recurring sexual themes, but they were so much a part of the original novels that including them in the game is practically necessary to have it be a faithful adaptation.
Film example: Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song was "Rated X by an all-white jury." The X rating in this case was a default judgment by the MPAA since Van Peebles couldn't afford to submit the film for a proper rating. (That the MPAA allowed the "X" to appear on films it never reviewed explains why it became essentially synonymous with pornography, since once the MPAA realized they could not claim it as a trademark they stopped using it as an official rating and now like to pretend that it never was one.)
MadWorld got some attention, too, being a game completely based on various ways to kill people and having amazing amounts of blood. Most of the violence was in good humor (Shove fizzy soda down a guy's throat, throw them, soda explodes, launch them onto spiked-targets covering the naughty-bits of women). Regardless, there was much consternation in the media about how Wii was no longer a family friendly console, despite the fact that No More Heroes had been released long before MadWorld, and Red Steel and Manhunt 2 were launch titles.
The really funny part of the example? The cardboard-women targets are wearing bikinis anyway. Note that this was a game created in Japan... exclusively for the American market.
Any show on HBO.
A transparent example: the season sets of Flight of the Conchords carry two ratings designations: the US and HBO-applied "TV-MA" rating, and the Canadian "14A" rating.
This is especially odd with period-set series, such as Boardwalk Empire. Sure, prohibition-era America had its fair share of mob influence and shadiness, but Boardwalk Empire litters every other with a Cluster F-Bomb and to call the sex and nudity "gratuitous" would be putting it lightly. Case in point: a corpse is laid out on the morgue, a corpse belonging to a beautiful young woman. The corpse is not covered in a sheet, and not only can the audience see everything, they can also see the Y-shaped stitches running down her torso and abdomen.
Competitor Starz seems to require that their series have sex, nudity, violence and/or language. Most prominently seen in the Spartacus Blood And Sand series.
And HBO responded with the adaptation of Game Of Thrones. Anyone who has read the source material knows what to expect, yet HBO somehow managed to add in more sex and nudity than what was in the book.
God Of War seemed to do this. Everything bleeds. A lot. Also, the nudity is mostly irrelevant and mostly seemed as a ploy to boost the rating. However, give Greek mythology a read sometime and you might be surprised at how accurate (or even tamer) God of War can be.
Exidy's 1976 Arcade GameDeath Race was one of the first games to rouse the ire of Moral Guardians, due to its gameplay that has you driving a car and running down pedestrians for points. And did we mention this was in the '70s, and the pedestrians were represented as blocky, monochrome stick figures with no blood whatsoever? Amazing how standards change...
"Lust, violence, betrayal. Dragon Age: rated M for mature." That was the entirety of a recent ad on this site for Dragon Age: Origins. You'd think they'd at least say what genre the game is.
They also call this a "Dark fantasy epic". While it actually is dark in that it's Darker and Edgier than some other games (In that not everyone gets a happy ending), Dark also seems to mean sex themes (including some rather... deviant ones at that.), several characters spewing innuendos, blood spattering everywhere, and sometimes strict laws forbidding primary colors in Ferelden. One could easily have given the game a "T" rating if they even made everyone not become an utter blood magnet.
A new Lord of the Rings game recently announced in PlayStation Magazine had the fact that the developers were aiming for an M rating plastered all over the article like it was all that mattered.
Despite that it did create a rather nice atmosphere, American McGee's Alice has some of this trope. Alice goes insane from a tragedy, and "insane" in this case means "Incredible Cynicism, nightmarishly scary, gore, skeletal cats, and Darker and Edgier" - Again, it was quite atmospheric, but some of the ads seemed to pretty much emphasize that this is not the Lighter and Softer version of Alice we had grown up with, moreso than what kind of game this was.
Averted with Sands Of Destruction, which is from Japan (Where there isn't a stigma around their "E"-equivalent games as being "Just for kids and kids only!"). The original script of the game actually had the Beastmen eat humans instead of lording over them, and was much "darker". So what's the aversion? The writers actually toned down some parts specifically to avoid an "M"-equivalent rating, that way it would be available to a wider audience. (Course, good luck finding any copies of the game in America without resorting to eBay.) They didn't tone it down entirely, it's still rated "T", which is pretty much the "PG-13" equivalent of video games.
Downplayed with Shadow Hearts... at least the first game, which was a bit more serious than the second and third games. Sort of being like Koudelka still, the game did have a rather dark atmosphere, but it did seem a little like the introduction was "Let's go for an 'M' rating!", as there's nothing like Yuri reattaching severed arms or Roger Bacon reaching through peoples' chests beyond that scene. Of course, the rest of the game could get away with an 'M' rating. (as there are plenty of innuendos)
The Prince Of Persia franchise made a triumphant comeback in 2003 with The Sands of Time, which introduced a witty but naive new Prince that players loved. The game had a few disturbing bits but was mostly child-friendly. Then came the sequel, Warrior Within, which ramped up the rating to M — by adding gushers of blood, foul language, sadomasochistic enemies, and a Prince embittered and hardened by running for his life for seven years. One of the most blatant cases of this trope on record. (Series creator Jordan Mechner, who had a hand in Sands of Time, has been vocal about his disapproval of Ubisoft's sequels.)
Strangely, The Two Thrones was also rated M, even though it was more on the level of Sands of Time. Rumor was that it was based on content that was changed by release, which seems confirmed since the Wii and PSP versions are both T.
Soldier Of Fortune. What's wrong with a game where you can blow people's limbs off and splatter their guts and brains?
The 2013 Tomb Raider game is the first in the series to be rated "M". The focus appears to be shifted to a Resident Evil-type survival-horror, as opposed to the puzzle-based platforming action-adventure formula which was a big part of the earlier Tomb Raider games' success.
On the other hand, there were some complaints that certain deaths in the Crystal Dynamics trilogy were sanitized compared to their earlier equivalents; according to the Anniversary developer commentary, this was because of changing standards in the ratings board compared to when the original games were made. So the higher rating in itself has resulted in a degree of fans being pleased.
Many of Atlus' titles are M rated, but surprisingly very mature in topic matter. Even the sex-laden Catherine is quite serious in its themes about infidelity, crossroads of life, and sexuality. They score very well by critics to this day.
In the United States. Quite a few of Atlus' games received a lower age rating in other countries, such as the Persona 3 games getting a 12+ rating and Nocturne got a 7+ rating. Both of these games are rated M in the United States, most likely for the rather dark themes throughout the games ("These games do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Atlus USA employees" is even shown around the opening screen or upon beginning a new game). Some of their games deserve the M rating, but some don't make much sense.
Atlus states that the M rating is also because of religious themes. Understandable as religion is a very volatile subject in America. Contrary to popular belief, the recurring Mara is not why some of their games receive the M rating.
Shadow the Hedgehog probably would've gotten an E rating (or at least a lower-end E10+) were it not for the half-dozen mild swears punctuating every other remark throughout the script, apparently just to secure a higher rating.
Ironically, the game was originally going to be rated T for teen, but when the ESRB decided to implement E10+, the game was toned down to meet that rating.
Rabbids Go Home: Originally rated a PEGI 7 rating, with in a few weeks, copies of the game wore a PEGI 12 rating. Most likely for the same reason Shadow the Hedgehog was bumped up to a 12: casual cursing.
Saints Row, especially the third game: You know you have a hell of a game when a giant dildo as a weapon is one of the tamer things about it.
During standard gameplay, Vanquish is not very violent at all. A couple of Red Shirts take a bullet through the campaign but otherwise, your prime targets are all Mecha-Mooks. The game is rated 'M', however, because of a fair amount of swearing and some gruesome deaths for humans during the cinematics (particularly in the opening).
Some of the sex jokes (most infamously the scene where Arche has a sex dream about Cress) existed in the original. The Fan Translation just made it them a hell of a lot less subtle.
There were a slew of terrible Atari 2600 games which featured outright sex acts with completely nude characters. Presumably the selling point was juvenile humor and licentiousness. The most infamous and offensive of these, Custer's Revenge, showed General George Custer walking up to a Native American woman and having sex with her while under arrow fire. Points are awarded for doing the deed. It caused a storm of outrage when it was released.
The Full Motion Video boom of the early 1990s produced the "mature" and overtly voyeuristic games Night Trap (which bore the pre-ESRB MA-17 rating) and Voyeur (which opened with a content lock-out screen).