Sunday, June 24, 2012

ESRB Double-M, Starhawk, Chairlift, and Geek Artifacts  


Podcast: If you haven't already heard it, the most recent GameCritics Podcast is now available for download RIGHT HERE. Episode 75 is our post-E3 discussion covering the conferences and various games, and we also work our way around to discussing the new Tomb Raider trailer and violence in games.

Click on over if you're so inclined!


Games: I don't often think about the ESRB rating system (apart from the fact that I generally support it) but my oldest son asked me a question today about the difference between ratings, and I had to pause a moment before answering.

The situation was this: he's been expressing a great deal of interest in RPGs lately (which is a new thing for him -- he's usually Mr. Driving Game) so we were trying out various things and he settled on Skyrim. My own feelings on the game aside, I was happy to get him started in a genre that I enjoy myself, so we popped it in and off we went.

Upon beginning, he made careful note of the fact that the game was rated M, and asked if I was sure that it was appropriate for him to play. I told him that it was since I didn't consider the content to be especially objectionable for a mature little guy like him who's also got his dad sitting next to him during play. After a moment, he asked why it was alright that he was playing Skyrim but that I didn't let him watch The Darkness 2 that the wife was on the night before. 

He said "but they're both rated M, so what’s the difference?

That's a pretty good question.

My guess is that anyone who's played both titles would say that the two are radically different in tone, and not at all alike. Skyrim has goofy-looking combat, wimpy dragons and a little salty language here and there. Darkness 2 features men being impaled, ripped in half, and a small imp urinating on dead bodies.  And yet, both have the same rating despite the fact that (in my mind, at least) there's a world of difference in the content and intensity.

I explained to him that the level of graphic violence was much more severe in The Darkness 2 which was why I did not allow him to watch it, and he accepted that, but it really made me question whether the current ESRB system is really working as well as it could. I'm not sure whether or not something like V should exist as a higher restriction above M, but having these two games in the same category doesn't sit quite right with me.


Games: I’m between review games right now (submitted my final on Lollipop Chainsaw recently) so I decided to try Starhawk on PS3 before my next assignment arrives. Although it wasn't exactly what I hoped it would have been, I ended up thinking it was still pretty good.

As a big Firefly fan, Starhawk’s mix of Sci-Fi and Western was a welcome combination, and I thought the developers did a good job on the main character. Although the story was told in a rapid shorthand fashion, the writers got their points across and I got a good sense for who the protagonist was meant to be. Also, bonus points awarded for making him a black cyborg cowboy. That's not a combination I've seen too often in games, and the variety was very much appreciated.

Gameplay-wise, the single-player campaign is pretty short (six hours or so, maybe?) and essentially serves as an extended tutorial for the hefty multiplayer section of the game, but even so, I felt like the developers didn't cop out and really put a good effort into it. That said, I saw plenty of opportunities for the game to expand the campaign mode and I would be very interested in seeing a sequel that emphasized the single-player experience more than it did this time around.

As someone who doesn't give a rip about online multiplayer in a general sense, I thought the campaign was interesting and fun, and perfect as a weekend rental. Plenty of interesting ideas on display, and much room to grow for the future. Recommended.


Music: My apologies to whoever originally tweeted this link to a neat-o interactive music video for ‘Met Before’ from Chairlift. (Was it you, @JasonKill?)

Anyway, I don't know whether this is a brand-new idea or if I've just never seen it previously, but you begin the video and then choose a path with the arrow keys on your keyboard. Cool stuff, and even better since I absolutely love love love the band.

Seriously, I love them so hard. Buy their album right now. Buy it twice. So damned Recommended.


Misc: I went to visit the EMP’s horror and sci-fi exhibit here in Seattle the other day, and I ended up posting a bunch of the pictures I took on Twitter. In case you missed them, here are some of my favorites, and if you're in the Seattle area, seeing the display in real life might not be a bad idea. 

It's a Critter. I know you recognized the other three, but you had no idea with this guy. Amirite?
The total number of exhibits is a little smaller than I was expecting, but they have some pretty primo stuff. Hicks’ helmet from Aliens, an original McQuarrie Vader sketch from Star Wars, Captain Kirk’s chair from Star Trek, Jason’s hockey mask from Friday the 13th, Freddy’s blade glove from Nightmare on Elm Street, and a whole lot of other things that make you go OMFG I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M LOOKING AT THIS….

In terms of geek artifacts, this stuff was the cream of the crop. If you're within driving distance, I'd say it's Recommended.

(P.S. - The number of people who thought that Dalek was R2-D2 was utterly ridiculous. Just sayin'.)


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2 comments: to “ ESRB Double-M, Starhawk, Chairlift, and Geek Artifacts

  • Mike


    The problem with the ESRB is that needs to rate everything in the game and not simply the core experiences.

    Got a hobo holding a bottle in a background that only appears for a few moments? Offer a cooking mini-game/crafting with cooking wine as an ingredient?

    Alcohol/Tobacco is now listed on the back of the box.

    Does the game have the word "damn" more than 5 times - harsh language.

    Have a girl character unwittingly make a statement about "feel free to use her" when she meant to call on her for help, then get embarrassed with an awkward pause?

    Sexual themes.

    This cataloging of every minor thing is a problem of the rating system and it makes judging on what to get based on content incredibly muddled.

    I really can't see the Halo games inhabiting the same space as Manhunt. Halo is incredibly tame as games go and the only reason it gets an M is because the bodies stay on screen (and not go out in a puff of smoke) and there's multicolored blood. Yet there's countless shooters doing the same thing without blood and the bodies soon fade away, and they get T.
    The ESRB really should get together with 1st party publishers and say "fellas, it's time we actually use this AO thing instead of just using it as a scarlet letter."

    Hell, the other ratings need work too, even if it's just education. I've seen 7 year olds and parents of said kids confused about E+10, thinking they need to be 10 to play the games of the shows they watch all the time, like Phineas and Ferb.


    That's a very good point you make about game ratings. The two examples you mentioned, Skyrim and The Darkness 2, are vastly different experiences and it's hard to believe they have the same rating in the US.

    Interestingly, in Australia we have G (equivalent of ESRB E), PG (equivalent of ESRB E10+), M (ESRB T), and then MA15+ (ESRB M). As you've probably heard, there's a R18+ rating for film, but not the video game equivalent, which is why some games have been refused classification here in the past (Rule of Rose, Mortal Kombat come to mind). But now that we're finally getting R18+ in January, I think we'll have a better way to distinguish between the Skyrims and the Darkness 2s that come out in the future. (funnily enough, under normal circumstances, The Darkness 2 probably should've been refused classification)