Thursday, November 29, 2012

How Tall Do You Need to be to Ride Dragons?

How tall do you need to be to ride the dragons of Skyrim?

Now that my daughters, my nephew, and all of their friends are hitting the big age 10 mark, I’m getting a lot of questions about video games. “My son really wants Halo for Christmas, but it’s rated M is it too gory for him?”

These are genuinely concerned parents who are not gamers and sadly don’t know their Skyrim from their Gears of War.  They’re not necessarily opposed to their kid playing a game with a weapon,  they just don’t know why I’d let my kids play Halo at age 10 but perhaps not Gears of War or Mass Effect despite the fact that all three games are rated “M for mature”.

Armed with the knowledge that all parents are different, all kids are different, and that parents know what their kids can and can’t handle, I struggled with a way to explain it to them.  Then it hit me... MOVIES!  

Movie ratings have the same problem:  Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, Alien vs Predator and Skyfall are all PG-13 films, but not all are equally fit for young kids.  Star Wars has no where near as many dark moments as, say, Lord of the Rings with the arrow filled Boromir or the creepy spider Shelob.  And even with the pirate theme I’d argue that the later Potter films are much darker than anything faced by Jack Sparrow.  Excuse me, that's CAPTAIN Jack Sparrow.

Is Halo more like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, or 300?
Thus my “Movie Rating System for Video Games” was born!  If you are a parent who faces this problem, or perhaps your a gamer who gets asked these questions yourself, try using the handy list below to get a feel for the level ‘grown up content’ in a given game.

MovieNotesRoughly Equal Games
Brave, AladdinExtremely mild and/or designed specifically for younger viewers.Minecraft, Skylanders, Epic Mickey, Lego Game Series
Star Wars, AvengersNo foul language, no sex, no ‘over the top’ violence, few dark moments. Halo, Portal, Tribes, Planetside 2, Team Fortress
Lord of the Rings, Harry PotterNo foul language, no sex, medium violence, some dark “cover your eyes” moments. Skyrim, Assasin’s Creed*, Diablo III, X-Com: Enemy Unknown
300, Saving Private Ryan, Kill BillOver the top violence, foul language, very scary moments, sex scenes and/or nudity.Gears of War, Call of Duty, Bioshock, Mass Effect, Borderlands, Lollipop Chainsaw

Try it out. The next time you’re asked: “My daughter really wants to try Skyrim, is it very scary?” Reply with “Would you be comfortable with her watching the Lord of the Rings or Deathly Hollows?” Now you're talking a language the other parent can understand, and he or she can make an informed decision.
So what do you think? Am I close to the mark? Let me know what games your or your friends are struggling with and I’ll add them to the list.

Games are being explored by the next generation with even more excitement than our own did.  Hopefully we as gamer parents can help other parents quickly identify the most fitting entertainment in this fantastic medium that best suits their family.

* I struggled with Assasin’s Creed for a bit.  After all, you are an assassin and the story gets dark.  However in the end I felt it was closer to Lord of the Rings than 300, so I put it there.


  1. I'd say the gore in D3 and X-Com are more along the lines of 300 than LotR.

  2. Pretty sure Halo has foul language and lots of violence.

  3. Thanks for the feedback guys!

    Nope, not a single swear word in the Halo series...just like Star Wars.

    Also keep in mind that ALL the movies and games listed above have violence. Its really a question in my mind of how 'gruesome' it is. There is very little human blood or dismemberment in Halo, body parts don't get severed, etc.

    If you compare that to something like Gears of War, in which people bleed out in pools of blood and you can curb stomp their head to make it explode...well you get the idea.

  4. In the UK all the Gears of War games have been rated 18 by the BBFC, that means that by law anyone under the age of 18 can't buy it and shouldn't be playing it. All the previous Assassin's Creed and Halo games have carried a 15 rating.

    The problem is we are now moving to the PEGI system ( and I think even though its supposed to be easier to understand most parents won't have a clue.

  5. I wonder why you put Mass Effect in the last category. Sure, it has adult themes with sexy characters and romance options, but there are no actual sex in it, right? (Or did I just make all the wrong choices.) Even the strippers have clothes on (sexy clothes, but clothes). Don't remember if they have the f-word in them or not, and the violence isn't on par with Call of Duty, is it?

    Not saying you are wrong, just curious in your motivation, especially since you put Assassin's Creed in the category above Mass Effect.

  6. Leif, I love Mass Effect, one of my fav game series of all time. And you're right, it's really not that gory. So when my 10 year old walked in the room while I was playing ME3 I didn't send her out.

    Then Jack came on the screen and dropped the F bomb about every third word. ;-) Yep, there is a lot of strong language in the game.

    Also their is quite a bit of sex in the game. No nudity, but you can definitely have what is very obviously sex more than a few of the characters in the game.

    So I bumped Mass Effect up to a stronger rating more for adult themes and language than violence.

  7. Yeah, I forgot about Jack... been a while since I played it.

  8. I don't know how it's done in the US but in Australia the rating system is the same across games movies and TV shows. A game marked "M" is for 15 or older but the M is quantified with what content is mature. The box would be marked with contains "excessive violence" and "mature language" I never payed any attention when I was playing but now that I purchase games for my son I appreciate what the rating board dose.

  9. I would agree that Mass Effect, despite some foul language, is not a "punch you in the nose" kind of game. There is death and violence in the game, to be sure, but there is a veneer on the whole affair which is... somehow light.

    Team Fortress, which I absolutely love to death, I feel is a more visceral experience and belongs in the last category. Yes, it is cartoony, but guys are litterally blasting each other to pieces in gory little bits.

    Overall Russ, I agree, movies and games do a crap job here. Different people have different thresholds for things, but some movies that are PG-13 aren't even close, and some movies that are R are classified this way so needlessly.

    At the end of the day, I don;t care if my kid sees a 15 second sex scene compared to 30 minutes of guys getting their heads blown off. I think the American Ratings system is heavily slanted away from sex and very forgiving to graphic violence.

    Also, I think Holywood is really letting people down right now. A lot of intelligent dialogue and character development has been sacrificed on the altar of entertainment. Kids movies are like acid trips now, with people running and screaming every 4 seconds. They are designed to be high impact it seems, with a minimum amount of time to the simple things.

  10. RW - you wouldn't happen to be one of my old childhood buddies who DM'd AD&D games with your brother John, myself Carl Querna, Chuck & Chris Lord, Steve Basso. Officers circle Cooke Barracks, Goeppingen Germany

    If so give me a shout out