Games with this rating are a significant step above games rated T for Teen. They often contain more/more realistic gore. They may also have more significant sexual themes and/or vulgar humor. These are the games that we hear about on the news for pushing the boundaries of “appropriate.” Some of the more significant examples that have reached the mainstream media are games like those found in the Mortal Kombat and Grand Theft Auto series.
Many major retailers have internal policies that bar the sale of games with this rating to any person age 17 or less without parental consent. But it is not illegal for them to do so. The state of CA had passed a law making it illegal at one point, but this law was been deemed unconstitutional by the SCOTUS. It is possible that other states may attempt to pass similar laws in the future, but this ruling makes it less likely.
A lot of parent’s ask me questions at what age rated M games are appropriate. I always answer the same way: “It depends entirely on the maturity level of your child, and what you feel comfortable letting them experience.” Some parents feel comfortable watching slasher flicks with their young kids. Others wouldn’t dream of watching anything other than Disney films until their children are ten. Video games are the same way.
I would like to say that many rated M games are rated as such because they tackle serious issues and require a more mature perspective in order to really understand them. But, I’m not going to smokescreen you here. The vast majority of M rated games are patently inappropriate for most tweens and young teenagers because they are mindless examples of violence and sexuality. That’s not to say that they are never good games (many of them are excellent), but a lot of them aren’t substantially different from something like Scary Movie.
There are a few that are legitimately thought provoking. They can be used as tools to help discuss very serious subjects with your son or daughter if you feel they are mature enough to handle it. My favorite example of this is the level “No Russian” from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. The players take on the role of a US agent who is deep undercover with a group of Russian terrorists. As the level progresses the player accompanies the terrorists as they assault a Russian airport that is teeming with innocent civilians. The player is not required to fire a single shot over the course of the mission, but they are forced to slowly walk through the airport while terrorist gunmen fire on, and kill, hundreds of civilians. The media immediately attacked this level as soon as it was discovered for glorifying violence and allowing children to virtually commit heinous crimes against innocent people. They were technically correct, but missed the point. I have played through the level and I felt suffocated. I was immersed in the moment. I imagined myself in that airport and wondered what it would be like near those victims. The level doesn’t glorify acts of terror. Instead it shines a spotlight on what they mean. I can’t imagine any other form of media giving as complete of an image as a video game. These are prime opportunities to discuss these types of events… if you are talking to someone who can really understand it.
Some excellent examples of games rated M for Mature are:
Spec Ops: The Line
Red Dead Redemption
Grand Theft Auto IV
Metal Gear Solid series