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Rated E for Ennui: Why We Need More Family-Friendly Games

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Super Mario Odyssey, for Nintendo Switch, released just two weeks ago. The game has garnered an outstanding Metacritic ranking currently sitting at 97% and it’s rated E10+, its only major content warnings a mishmash of cannonballs and soup. Everyone is raving about it and, amazingly enough, anyone can play it. It’s a gaming experience that is truly open to all who would enjoy it.

And, because of that, it’s a sight for sore eyes.

As the industry has developed, there has been an observable shift in how games have been perceived. Once thought of as a mere time-waster from the 1970s until late ’80s, gaming began to take on a more sinister tone in the 1990s as parents (and the US Government) began to fear games as a corrupting influence. Fast-forward to the late 2010s and now those same gamers have grown up. As backed up by recent statistics, the typical “game purchaser” age averages a staggering 38 years old, most having played for over thirteen years.

Super Mario Odyssey is a great example of a critically-acclaimed, family-friendly game built for hardcore and casual fans alike.

Gaming, and gamers, have aged significantly. And, as their age has risen, so has the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars into AAA games designed to appeal to mature gamers. As a result, there has been a dearth of great family-friendly games not coming from the House of Mario, and a troubling lack of quality among the titles that do remain. While there have been a few standouts (the LEGO series comes to mind) most family-friendly games now rest firmly in bargain-bin territory, their only saving grace a low price and cheap entertainment.

Leaving out sports games (which are almost always family-friendly) and the plethora of Nintendo published E and E10+ games, one is left to wonder at what other quality games have been recently released. In the rush to produce as many quality, mature-focused, AAA games as they can, many publishers have ignored the E and E10+ rated markets.

Indeed, in focusing on the present, many companies have eroded their own future, destroying the very hardcore base that now supports them. After all, how likely is it that gamers growing up on free versions of popular mobile games such as Candy Crush Saga and Clash of Clans will be willing to put down $60 and the price of DLC to play the new, annual release of “Generic Shooter” or “Sports Simulator 20XX?”

However, it isn’t only the future of gaming that is harmed by the industry’s sole focus on mature gaming experiences, mature gamers with families suffer as well. How much more successful, one could wager, would publishers be if they replaced protagonists that spit profanity (at an equal or better pace than they spit bullets) with something more digestible for the gamer with kids?

Developers, by developing games that were family friendly, could broaden their bases, allowing children and adults to enjoy their games. They could broaden their market and allow parents to feel more at ease playing their favorite games with their children. Games like Super Smash Bros., the LEGO series, and Mario Kart are excellent examples of this phenomena.

While games like Candy Crush Saga make great distractions, they make poor replacements for console-quality, family-friendly games.

While mature games are a welcome part of the gaming experience, they are, fundamentally, limited-scope experiences. By introducing and discussing questions simply impossible in a family-friendly setting, mature-rated games can provide gameplay experiences and craft stories simply impossible with family-friendly titles. However, the industry, by focusing exclusively on mature-rated, single-player experiences, is going against gaming’s social nature, one that invites all to partake. This becomes especially apparent in a family setting.

The industry’s exclusive focus on mature-rated games splits apart parents who wish to play good quality games from their children who wish to play too. This focus places parents in the unfortunate position of choosing between their child’s want to play with their friends on M-rated games such as Call of Duty and the desire to keep their child out of unnecessary violence and language, a position that, while not shared by all parents, can still cause consternation. For those parents with concern for what their children are playing, there are very few alternatives.

If publishers can fix this glaring problem within gaming, this drastic oversight that correlates the most popular games with the most mature, then gaming will well be on its way to becoming a more open, inviting, and family-friendly space for gamers of all ages to enjoy, a place for all manner of great memories to be made.

Although a gamer since before I can remember, there is not a better definition of me than these three words: Christian, moderate, and learner. I am steadfast in my Faith, my Beliefs, and in my Opinions, but I am always willing to hear the other side of the discussion. I love Nintendo, History, and the NBA. Currently a PhD Student at Liberty University.

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Patrick

    November 11, 2017 at 8:48 pm

    Some of this is about chasing the money. Kids don’t have the disposable income that singles in their 20s and 30s do, and parents may not either. Decades ago games were thought of as toys, and were made and marketed that way to the appropriate demographic, but now they’re “entertainment.” Yes, kids still play, but like you wrote, the average gamer age is trending upward. You don’t see G-rated movies very much anymore either; studios want to appeal to as broad a base as possible, but their primary concern is those buying the tickets, and that tends to be adults. An over-simplification for sure, but definitely a contributing factor I think.

    • Izsak “Khane” Barnette

      November 13, 2017 at 8:30 am

      Patrick, thanks for taking the time to respond! I agree with your analysis. However, I think publishers are doing themselves a disservice, even financially, by choosing not to introduce gamers to their games at a young age.

      • Patrick

        November 13, 2017 at 7:48 pm

        Oh, I completely agree. It’s a shortsighted strategy, but Mario is still winning Nintendo young fans. He’s as recognizable to my nieces as any of the TV characters they watch. Of course, I may have had something to do with that…

        • Izsak “Khane” Barnette

          November 13, 2017 at 10:47 pm

          Yeah, I would almost say that, in the United States, Mario has eclipsed Mickey Mouse as a cultural icon.

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