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It's no surprise that some of the biggest, most popular games in recent history have been given the 'M' rating. More violence, more sexual material and edgier content have been used to controversially sell many games for home consoles and PC. There's nothing wrong with adult-themed material, and in some cases it can actually help a game tell the story it's trying to sell. But at the same time this "mature" rated content sometimes prevents the game from being anywhere near as accessible as it should be.
Often the games with the 'M' rating are purely meant for a mature crowd, with the exception of some titles such as the Halo games or maybe Assassin's Creed. Where the overall content could almost sway toward the ‘Teen’ rating. However, for anyone who has played Grand Theft Auto IV, Kane & Lynch, or No More Heroes (to name a few), you may have noticed that while they might be fun to play, you would probably have to mute the TV or pause the game often if you had certain kinds of company over, or any minors in the room. Yes, there is always the option to simply not play 'M' rated games while company is over, or while your kids are around, or when you feel uncomfortable playing certain games with certain viewers present. However, there is an alternative that has long been forgotten in the rush to meet deadlines and conserve the budget, it's called content filters.
Back in the mid and late 1990's many games for PC and console had adult content filters for anything rated 'Teen' on up. Acclaim was especially vigilant on keeping even common bad-words from being heard or blood from being seen with their content control in games like WWF Attitude or ECW Hardcore Revolution. 3D Realms, Epic Games, Monolith Software, and even SNK allowed for some forms of filtering adult content. So even if you were playing Duke Nukem 3D, strolling casually through the strip club, you could simply activate the parental controls and you didn't have to worry about your wife walking into the room and getting angry about seeing topless dancers on the screen.
Now some of you might already be saying "The ESRB has already taken care of this!" But let's not forget that there's a difference between content restriction and a content filter. While just about all commercial games come with an ESRB rating to which the user can administer control over what type of games and movies can be played and viewed, it still lacks a lot of depth when it comes to actually controlling the kinds of content a viewer is exposed to. Yes, 'M' rated games can easily be banned on newer consoles and PC stations, but the problem is the content itself. For example, I went to visit a friend at his house and he had his daughter and some of his relatives with him. I wanted to bring over GTA: San Andreas so that we could run around in the two-player mode, but given that there was no way to filter out the language the game would have been on mute the entire time. I scrolled through my collection of games and realized most of them were inappropriate for younger audiences or simply had no way to shield such audiences from the content contained within them. The only game in my stockpile that actually had a language and a gore filter was Unreal Championship. What’s worse is that the only kid-friendly action game I had on hand was Monster Madness. Similar problems arose with games such as The Warriors, Scarface: The World is Yours and Far Cry. It was morbidly disappointing that the most fun games to play were the most malapropos for the occasion, just because young-lings were present.
I know many developers are on a tight schedule to get the game finished, and they're even further pressed to make sure the game works right. Although, it would seem like it might be in the better interest of most publishers to possibly re-release certain games with the aforementioned content filters in place. Such filters might even appeal to consumers who would otherwise not even have bothered to purchase the game because of said content. On the positive side, though, Epic has at least chosen to add such content filters for both language and gore, in their upcoming title Gears of War 2. For many other upcoming titles it seems like it's a long shot for such filtering options. And even though many games are a lot more fun today then many of the ones from a decade ago -- especially with the multiplayer options and variety of gameplay mechanics -- it makes it tough to appreciate the sometimes fascinating, unique and fun games when you can't play them around the people you sometimes hang around, or the people who sometimes hang around you.