In general, many people are still under the impression that video-games are for kids, and kids only. This can lead to people arguing that they shouldn't have any violence or sexualization at all since surely those titles can't be for older players, while others will blindly buy any title for their children, assuming it'll be fine.
An extreme case of this could be traced back all the way to the Commodore 64 era. Back then it was so easy to program a game that even a child could do it. It's already true that most kids already sold their patent rights for the games they make at around 10£ to corporations, but corporations went far enough to bind kids to contracts in which kids will work for the company 7 days out of 7, with lots of games to make in a single day in which they earned very few money. Yet some parents actually allowed their kid to sign such a contract.
Pretty much any game in which the graphical art style is anything other than realistic will get mistaken for being for kids by some people. The most common being games with cartoon or anime style designs and overall looks. This is also a common thing with parents. Parents tend to assume that just because a game has colorful anime or cartoon graphics, that it was made for kids and is suitable for their children to play. This leads to children often playing games they really shouldn't be playing.
Portal. The concept of a puzzle game with quirky humor, cake, and a metal box with a pink heart on it may sound kid friendly at first, up until the part where you learn that the psychotic AI nerve-gassed every living creature in the facility, on Take Your Daughter To Work day.
Yet many scientists still say that it's a good thing if your kid plays this game. This has probably to do with the huge amount of three-dimensional thinking that is required to beat a few levels.
American McGee's Alice. As if the cover art and big M-letter on the box weren't sign enough that this game (with violence comparable to what you'd find in Doom and Quake) was far removed from the Disney film...
Soul Nomad was rated T by the ESRB. This clearly indicates that the ESRB never actually played the game, because among other things Soul Nomad has near-constant swearingfrom the main character◊, rape, murder, slavery, a dash of genocide, and all sorts of other happy fun times. And most of thatís in the Normal Path. The Demon Path is much, much worse.
Any game from Shin Megami Tensei/Atlus. For something that kids can buy, Devil Survivor has to be one of the most fucked up games ever (and it's only rated T!). Proving once again that parents should read the back of the box before letting kids buy video games.
Shin Megami Tensei's spinoff series, Persona, gets it just as bad:
The original Persona was rated E. The original Persona was rated E. We're talking about a series with Mara, an EldritchGag Penis. What in YHVH's name was the ESRB thinking!?
Persona 3. The main characters regularly shoot themselves in the head with handguns. And one of them is a fourth grader. But the visuals in the beta version made the handguns look much more realistic. These were changed as Adults Only is not permitted on console games.
Persona 4 is a colorful spectacle about a transfer student that moves in with his uncle, a respectable policeman and makes lots of friends! Not to mention the first proper dungeon is set in a fairytale castle, so it must be kid-friendly right? Wrong. There's more sexual themes you can shake a stick at (of which the strip club dungeon is the icing on the cake), your adorable 7 year old cousin is kidnapped and dies in the hospital (though she may return under conditions), and a policeman tries to rape two women.
It should be noted that the latter two are rated "M".
A recurring enemy is Mara, which looks like a giant penis with tentacles.
Xenogears: Humongous Mechas are for kids? What about the protagonist being an omnicidal maniac who can and does commit genocides by himself, when one of the dominant religion is a front for a decadent dictatorship where being racist is considered to be a civic duty?
Not to mention God, Deus (well, not quite God, the Demiurge) is completely evil and to resurrect himself, 90% of the entire human race mutate into Wels, mini-Eldritch Abominations that become spare parts for him. And then there's the religious undertones, sporadic sexual content, and the overall general dark tone of the story. To put it in perspective, it is probably Square's darkest game to date, bar none.
Xenogears? What about Xenosaga? Holy crap, the stuff it got away with and retained a T-rating. Cannibalism, heavy amounts of blood, the religious references, genocide, just about any scene with Albedo, mind rape, light nudity, exploring the past of a serial killer who basically had to have his mind overwritten to the point of insanity, incestial undertones, suicide, and of course the Bittersweet Ending done because the game had to end on the third game when it was planned to be 5 or 6 games long, resulting in the deaths of a LOT of characters. Once again, this got a T-rating throughout all 3 of its games. Thank goodness it didn't see media attention.
The Arc The Lad series. The hero of the first episode is a terrorist whose uncle committed genocide against the people of the hero of the second episode before turning said hero into the prototype of bioweapons made by turning children into bloodthirsty monsters. And that is just the beginning, for it gets worse after that. But it has cute graphics.
Conkers Bad Fur Day has talking animals and has a cartoonish appearance, but is rather bloody and riddled with profanitynote a few words are bleeped out, although words like "shit" and "twat" remain, and advancing through parts of the game involve getting drunk, and that's just the start. It does have numerous warnings that it's not meant for anyone under 17, as well as a giant ESRB M-rating on the box; still didn't prevent children from playing it.
This was compounded by the fact that Conker did star in the kid-friendly game Conker's Pocket Tales while Bad Fur Day was stuck in Development Hell. During this time, he also made cameos in Diddy Kong Racing and Banjo-Kazooie, both of which are also kid-friendly games.
The initial retail release of Cute Knight was rated E due to someone going "It's anime, it's for girls, it's got to be fine." The game was then withdrawn from stores because it contains references to religion, violence, blood, prostitution, incest...
Little King's Story is rated T due to alcohol references, polygamy, religion and, sometimes genocide. Yet it's all presented in a delightful storybook style with vibrant colors and cutesy graphics. Well, the Wii game, anyway. The Vita sequel uses a generic anime artstyle because everyone mistook the Wii game for a children's game.
The Fire Emblem series may be high fantasy with bright, colorful graphics, but it's also filled with war, murder, racism, genocide, rape and incest, especially the Jugdral series. The only reason that these games have never been rated higher than T is that it's never shown, just spoken about and implied. There's a reason the first few games didn't make it out of Japan.
It must be noted that only the SNES and Game Boy Advance titles, and Mystery Of The Emblem are particularly bright and colorful; save for the obligatory use of You Gotta Have Blue Hair, every other title in the series is much more subdued and realistic in coloring, bordering on Real Is Brown at times.
The (To be fair, newly formed) ESRB must have been HIGH when they rated Lunar: Eternal Blue, a game with blood, partial nudity, swearing, sexual innuendo. and heaping helpings of Nightmare Fuel, a "K-A" rating. Thankfully the the remake for PlayStation gave it a more fitting T rating.
Heart of Darkness. Rated E for Everyone, despite the painful looking — though not actually gory — death animations, not to mention the abhorrent scenery. Remember kids, shadows are very dangerous things.
Castlevania: Bloodlines for the Genesis received a "GA" (General Audiences) rating, despite its large amounts of gore.
Grand Theft Auto. It is amazing and disgusting how many parents think it's fine for their kids to play GTA. A personal favorite parental defense: "Grand Theft Auto is the only M-rated game we let him play."
Conversely, most of the controversy surrounding the game stems from this trope being applied to video games as a whole. Moral Guardians think that only kids should play video games and therefore making one about violent crime is absolutely heinous.
Batman: Arkham Asylum may have been rated Teen and may be a superhero game, but it was only the lack of gore and stronger language that kept it from getting an M rating. The game is so dark, that many are still shocked that it didn't get an M rating.
Batman: Arkham City is even worse - granted, there is only one scene containing blood, but the game features Victor Zsasz telling of why he carves his own skin to keep count of murders, the Penguin audibly freezing a cop's hand and shattering it with a hammer and Hush slicing people's faces off before killing them so he can look like Bruce Wayne to name a few.
Call of Duty is still subject to this, even though all the games after the third have been rated M. The ones made by Treyarch turn this Up to Eleven with more gore, cursing, and horrific imagery. And yet, it's extremely common to find 4-12 year-old children playing online.
In the same vein as Call of Duty is Halo, which has a bit of that Star Wars-ish look to it, what with big heroic guys in green space armor gracing the cover. Needless to say, any bit of knowledge of the game makes it clear that it is most definitely not for children. Of course, being a massive big-name game, children are sure to hear of it and make their parents well aware of that fact, hence you will always - ALWAYS - find at least one 5-year-old playing on Xbox Live with you.
Team Fortress 2. At first glance, it looks like an innocent game due to its Pixar-esque artstyle...but then comes the massive amounts of blood and gore. And the jars of urine. And Spy's relationship with Scout's mother according to the official short "Meet the Spy", not to mention the pictures that Spy shows and his head graphically exploding. However, just like with any FPS, you will find many 10-year-old kids playing the game online. note Although there aren't as many kids playing it as there are Call of Duty and Halo. Some of them have said it looks 'kiddy'(sic).
And then comes the "Meet the Pyro" short, in which we find out that as Pyro kills his opponents, he sees it as him playing around with cherubs in a magical, colorful world.
The English download site for the pigeon-dating game Hatoful Boyfriend gives it a G-rating. Keep in mind that this game has an ending where you get decapitated by a psychotic doctor who regularly kills his bird patients and turns them into quill pens and turkey dinners and a lengthy BBL route that starts with the bird characters finding the human protagonist's chopped-up remains all over the school and gets progressively more fucked up from there on.
Even the free version has the aforementioned decapitation by Deadly Doctor ending, who also mentions that he'd like to get intimate with your innards when he's done, which should tell you how kid-friendly this game ain't.
Metal Gear: Ghost Babel is rated E for Everyone, the only game in the entire Metal Gear series released during the existence of the ESRB which got less than a T rating (and all buttwo got an M). The game includes: ethnic cleansing, a serial killer who makes life-size dolls out of his victims, said serial killer discovering the dismembered corpse of his sister, and a boss who commits suicide by burning himself to death while crying out in orgasmic joy. On the plus side, Snake doesn't smoke in this one!
The Fable series has cartoony graphics and a generic fantasy setting. It is far from a children's game, especially Fable II.
Glitch is a browser-based game with cute graphics, talking animals and trees (including an eggplant which, naturally, grows eggs) - which also features alcohol, drug use (in the form of no-no powder which temporarily gives you unlimited energy - then you die unless you take another dose), some sex-related jokes, and a somewhat disturbing level in hell. According to the terms of service, the game is not intended for children under 14, and children under 18 need parental agreement.
Sam & Max: Freelance Police (the Telltale series). It looks like a kid-friendly game on the outside because of the cute animal characters, but the humor is definitely not for kids. Sure, it may not be as bad as other examples on this page, but still.
Seal Online is a massively multiplayer role-playing online game with cartoony graphics, cutesy characters, and light music that kids would think suitable, until when they see the Rascal Rabbit. It is rated T for Teen according to ESRB in the United States (12+ and 18+ uncut in South Korea!) due to violence, alcohol references, suggestive characters, and such.
The World of Warcraft expansion pack Mists of Pandaria received this response in spades from a lot of fans, just because the Pandaren and the titular continent of Pandaria look too 'childish' or 'goofy' for, what was considered 'normal' World of Warcraft storylines like the Lich King and Deathwing. "We were fighting demons, undead, and giants dragons, and now... pandas." Was a common response to the expansion. In reality, however, it is one of the darker expansions of the franchise (Maybe out darked by Wrath of the Lich King). After all, sure the Pandaren are pretty cute. But they also get drunk often, enjoy getting in bar fights, and have an entire martial art centered around fighting while drunk and setting your enemy on fire after you've doused them in flammable brew. But awww, he's got spots around his eyes!
Also the entire expansion has a B plot of "War is hell for those dragged in" as it displays what the fighting between the Alliance and the Horde is doing to the other races on Azeroth by dragging the fight to Pandaria, whose people don't care about either side. This also hands the horde NPCs the villain ball as unlike the Alliance, the Horde continues to make things worse in the name of conquest. The end result is the final boss of the expansion being Garrosh Hellscream, the Orc and overall Horde leader. This ends with both factions (The horde being represented by "rebels" consiing all non Orc forces (plus payer orcs) laying siege to the Orcish capital. Because a bloody siege is totally for kids...
Edna & Harvey: The Breakout got a "No age limit"-rating in Germany on its first release. Never mind it deals with several murders (one committed and one facilitated by the main character), death penalty and psychology above the head of most children. The maker was so annoyed that he said "Fuck!" a lot during the commentaries for the extended version. He got the "12+"-label he had wanted.
Kingdom Hearts is a crossover with Square Enix and Disney characters in one franchise. Does the presence of Disney characters indicate that it is kid friendly? Not really. Regardless of age ratings, Tetsuya Nomura once said in an interview that Kingdom Hearts is actually not aimed at children. Justifying this not just includes a complex story but also brutal killing scenes, extremist-like villain motives, themes of depression, and more.
Doesn't help that there's no blood and gore, so people don't think it's that violent. Yes, removing some red stuff when someone gets stabbed in the chest or has their eye shot off automatically makes those scenes less violent and more kid-friendly, right?
The hero stabs himself and he even does it with a grin, and that's just the first game. Wow, that sure sounds kid-friendly!
Virtue's Last Reward falls into the category of being a game that would likely be passed off by parents as being a cartoon and for their kids. Just a few moments of playing said game and seeing the heavy cussing, violent situations and heavy use of sex jokes, should show anyone that that it's not for kids. Heck, just looking at the rating the game got, M for Mature [16+ in the UK], would tell parents its not for kids.
And before that, there's Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors. Oh look at the fun, anime characters making pipe jokes and giving out four-leafed clovers for good luck, isn't it cute? Yeah, if you consider strangers being forced into playing a sadistic game where they can be blown up by a bomb that's been placed in their gut, on a sinking ship cute. Not to mention that there are two men who actually DO get blown up...in VERY descriptive and grisly detail. And to add salt into the already deepening wound, most of the bad endings in the game end with a huge massacre of the main cast, and the game has swearing. LOTS of swearing. One has to wonder how a parent could even make this mistake when A SINGLE SECOND of research on the game, or even looking at the back of the game box, would indicate to them that the basic concept of the game is about a sadistic psychopath's game.
The Wonderful 101: a humorous game about brightly costumed superheroes saving the world from invading aliens that use robots to fight their war. What'ya mean it's really hard, the characters are often lewd and it deals with adult themes? At least in regards to the potty mouths of the characters; these were added to the game to Avoid the Dreaded G Rating but it may have backfired resulting in a game that appealed to only a niche audience.
Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures looks like another retro game. Of course, anyone who knew about what the game is based on should know it's anything but, especially the level based on the Atari Porn games. The Nerd himself lampshades on that level during the review of the game.
"Next is a level based entirely on the Atari Porn games. Who would do that? Don't look, kids."
Psychonauts. Nickelodeon-eque art style? Check. Ten-year-old protagonist? Check. Takes place in a summer camp? Tons of cartoony, well-written humor? Check. Relatively clean dialogue, barring a few Avoid the Dreaded G Rating moments? Check. Richard Steven Horvitz? Check and check. Sounds like a great game for your kid, right? Sure, if you're fine exposing them to excessively mature topics like Family-Unfriendly Death, suicide, child abuse, and psychological illnesses like paranoid schizophrenia and depression, not to mention a lot of Black Comedy with numerous references to sex, drugs, and alcohol, and a final level that will forever haunt their nightmares.
One of the early 3D M-Rated games called Shadow Man. This game would go as far as to slap into your face with its cover art◊ that it is not intended for kids, for good reasons. It is a gory action-adventure game that was filled to the brim with references to life, death and murder and the game itself used Voodoo Mythology for its setting, which meant it was filled with very intense Nightmare Fuel. The problem is that it was action-adventure, so people thought it would just be as dark as The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, which is dark enough for a kids game.
Shadow the Hedgehog. It's a Sonic game, right? Well, apart from the lack of blood, it's actually pretty dark. Hammy, but still dark. As a direct contrast to romping around fields and cheery circuses, Shadow spends his time in exploding cities, exploding labs and exploding space stations, in which Shadow is making most of the exploding happen. He's also facing aliens that are, let's face it, really creepy.
Vexx is one of those games that was released during the height in popularity of 3D-platformers, so everyone who saw it assumed it was for kids. It features gore, genocide and slavery. Suddenly it becomes painfully obvious why the game got a T-rating.