"Mature" games that are actually mature

Real world definition of "mature": Showing the mental, emotional, or physical characteristics associated with a fully developed person; involving serious thought.

Videogame definition of "mature":
Shits, tits and gibs.

What is adult? According to ratings boards and hand-wringing politicians, the only qualifications necessary are a bucket of blood, a stream of foul profanity and a parade of naughty lady parts. Ironically, the very things that are included to win over immature teenage boys.

The following games, however, define adult in a different way. They tackle challenging themes, explore intellectual ideas and deal with complex characters in complicated relationships. They add shades of grey to an otherwise black-and-white form of entertainment.

Should little kids play Mass Effect? No, but not because they might catch a glimpse of alien ass or learn how to digitally stimulate their “se”xbox, as the media would have you believe. The sci-fi epic simply wasn’t designed for children and, as such, deals with many issues that children wouldn’t understand.

Racism is addressed, as Shepard navigates a minefield of prejudice, intolerance and segregation between the game’s diverse species. Foreign policy is debated, too, with humanity’s brash and aggressive military actions earning both admiration and resentment across the universe. Parallels can even be drawn between the current economic crisis and Mass Effect’s main twist, both of which result from our choosing the path of willful ignorance and least resistance.

Morality, diplomacy, obedience, deception, death, love, and yes, sex – the list continues. Like the best episodes of Star Trek, Mass Effect is about far, far more than spaceships and laser guns.

Rockstar’s sandbox sagas are famous for being big. The cities are big. The missions are big. The casts of characters are big. Until recently, however, the ideas were not.

GTA IV changed everything. While Tommy Vercetti and Carl Johnson showcased the “American dream,” working from hoodlums to kingpins, Niko Bellic discovered that life in the West is often no better, no easier and no more ethical than war in the East. While his predecessors reveled in money, drugs and prostitutes, he found that material gains often require moral sacrifices. And while Vice City and San Andreas boiled down to basic revenge tales, GTA IV exposed how the pursuit of payback was slowly eating away at Niko’s soul.

Who knew the immigrant, so fresh off the boat, would come to understand our culture more insightfully than any protagonist before?

Some of the most mature games aren't even rated “Mature." Braid is legally appropriate for anyone over the age of 10, as the fairytale visuals, soothing music and bouncing pint-sized hero give the impression of an old-school Nintendo platformer. The subtext of this seemingly innocent quest, on the other hand, requires a bit of life experience to appreciate.
Just ask Soulja Boy.

In a kids’ game, for instance, the ability to time travel might nab an extra life or bop an extra enemy. In Braid, reversing the clock solves a series of mind-melting puzzles and, at the same time, symbolizes the haunting power of regret. If the protagonist could try everything over again - correct his past mistakes - would the Princess return? Would she ever have left? If he could slow down the world, or lead two lives at once, would that somehow help reclaim her?

We all wish we could erase our errors, or go back and try a different path in life, with the simple press of a button. Braid capitalizes on this universal longing and, without spoiling the end, also preys on it.

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  • duartemartinho - March 5, 2014 3:32 a.m.

    Manhunt 2, Should be there. Not because of the violence, but because is the most accurate display of insanity and multiple personality disorder.
  • kangaroocory - December 4, 2010 1:58 a.m.

    Yeeeeeesssss!! Avenged Sevenfold/Bat Country didn't have to look! My thanks to you Mr. Barratt. I've been waiting for a good music reference.
  • dbleja - August 12, 2010 7:31 a.m.

    The Witcher is another good example. Ostensibly a game about a monster-slayer, it has a fairly deep story that explores themes of racism, nihilism versus idealistic fervour, and identity. I totally agree that it's silly that "mature" games are usually immature, and I'd love to see more genuinely mature games like the ones mentioned. Not sure I agree about GTA4 though. I do think it was streets ahead of the earlier GTA games, but the 'maturity' and 'complexity' felt forced a lot of the time. It's like we were meant to believe that Niko was forced into the life he had by society - that it was the system and the culture that made him that way. I've roughed it in the past to make ends meet too, but it mainly involved washing dishes for 10 bucks an hour and eating 2-minute noodles, not rocket-launchering people in the face for cash.
  • Zildjan17 - May 26, 2010 10:21 p.m.

    I’m a college student doing a research project on video games. So if you could take a few minutes of your time and fill out my online survey…that would be greatly appreciated! I still need about 50 people to take it and I’m running out of time before my project is due. Please click the link to fill it out…Thanks! :D
  • Felipe_Maciel - April 7, 2010 11:16 p.m.

    This list is lacking some great games. First of all, you could *never* have forgotten about Fallout 1 and 2. I've never seen in any game a better presentation of people's personality, moral inclinations and other traces and these feel natural and blend well within the game (nothing like Fable, for instance). I'll always remember the mutant Marcus saying "Been there, seen it, got the scars" after excellent previous comments about humans and their governments. Other games worth of a true "mature" rating are Max Payne 1 and 2, both are terrific, Deus Ex and I'd even say Vampire: Bloodlines. And instead of Soul Reaver 1 I'd rather pick Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain and perhaps Defiance. And Halo is not mature *at all*. I like the game, got the first and the third ones, but the story, the characters and the storytelling totally sucks since the first one.
  • HunterWolf84 - January 25, 2010 11:31 a.m.

    Quite agree wholeheartedly with most of the choices in the list and its definition of Mature gaming experience (besides all the blood, gore and sex). REally hope to see a continuation of this Feature with more games including: -Metal Gear Series -Soul Reaver -Vagrant Story -Thief -Deus Ex -Assassin's Creed 2
  • FanofSaiyan - January 1, 2010 3:21 a.m.

    God of War, a perfect example of deep game plots.
  • mattersnotnow - October 14, 2009 2:43 a.m.

    I was ready to bash you guys "What the HELL!!! Have you ever played Persona or any Megaten for that matter!!", until i checked the last page and all was well. I think Xenosaga should be there too. Humans addicted to realians "flesh", realians themselves, lots of good stuff there. Maybe Valkyrie Profile and Vagrant Story should be there too
  • RebornKusabi - November 22, 2008 7:47 p.m.

    I agree with this article, I find that games with "Mature" content far more rewarding then games with needless violence and sexually-suggestive characters. With that said, I don't feel that Metal Gear Solid 4, Half-Life 2, Eternal Darkness and Call of Duty 4 should have just gotten mention but actually been in the list. Oh well, it's your article and I did enjoy it!
  • brummboy12 - October 20, 2008 10:57 a.m.

    Please tell me they didn't just find out about Grand Theft Auto and God of War being mature.
  • SandroTheMaster - October 20, 2008 5:57 a.m.

    CoD 4 made me laugh, but what's even funnier is people calling for MGS. MGS is confusing, but isn't that mature. It is a game where your choices hardly matter and you have to listem to a few ours of a mix of mind-numbing or aneurism causing cut-scenes. Most of the in-jokes are very, very childish. Pretty much anything regarding technology is very far-fetched or simply crippled for counting on basic high school level of scientific knowlege. But, worse of all, the game and the characters contradicts themselves when they're COMPLETELY SERIOUS pretty much every time they open their mouths. The only one that was almost mature was MGS3, and only because Kojima went for a far less convoluted story of pawns in a scenario that was actually half-way believable. MGS is entertaining if cutscenes are ignored and mostly void when you actually watch them. It is by no means more irrealistical or less than any other game, but the premise that the game itself is realistic and philosophical makes Matrix 2 and 3, which were only action fests with a poor excuse for symbolism and conflict, a treatise on the existence of men actually worth discussing in Universities. Wars are portrayed wrong, tactics are portrayed wrong, philosophies are portrayed wrong, espionage is portrayed wrong, psychology is portrayed waaaaaay wrong and technology (most of all) is portrayed wrong. A good game, but the only real mature aspect of it is that it actually rewards you in the end if you go through the bother of not killing anyone. Truth is, Japanese game designers are mostly immature. They may put nudity and violence in, but they're incapable of making a game that can actually relate to the real world and people unless in very rare occasions. Americans aren't that much better either... but sure seems to make games more grounded. Usually only european games seem to hit this sweet spot consistently, even then, the norm is that games are more to the Romantic school of literature than the Realist one. Not complaining, games are primarily entertainment, but if they want me to bother with the inside lore, they must make it matter.
  • PatHan-bHai - March 8, 2013 2:20 p.m.

    that's the whole frigging point why MGS is mature!! ..... Japan is a country of weird. So yes, it HAS to be immature.
  • NEzraF - October 20, 2008 12:22 a.m.

    That article about Hikikomori was pretty interesting by the way. Kinda applies to me.
  • CaptainStupid - October 19, 2008 10:22 p.m.

    This article is refreshing and interesting because the writing style of its author mirrors his mature subject. I'm disgusted with video game "journalists" universally paroting the same cliches and buzzwords spewed by marketers. Even better, this piece contained zero baditude. I want to sincerly thank Charlie Barratt for not wasting my time or insulting my intelligence with dead language like "basically," or "core" or "in terms of." Every time I hear or read some journalist describe anything as "core," it seems like the strangulation of thought. Fire every hack "writer" in games jouralism, and put Barratt in charge.
  • SpicyPoyratez - October 19, 2008 6:32 p.m.

    Excellent article. I read deep into it, and I'm glad to see the points addressed, but I think that Metal Gear Solid deserved a true analysis; I'll admit, it's a bit too deep and hard to follow, but it has its moments where you are sure that it makes so much sense and that it is speaking to you personally. It's statement on the United States and its military aggression and poor foreign policy is so firm and baffling that its just begging to become a novel. Not only is the U.S. criticized by Japan, which is seen as a complete opposite in its culture, social taboos, and policies, but we see other national powers addressed, and the game becomes a direct jab at oppression and dominance of government and the effects that technology and decisions have on the world. Look at the concept of nanomachines and the genome soldier project. In attempts to strengthen defense and mold an invulnerable army, we lose our identity and traits that make us human. We see how people are driven to insanity or are taken as puppets.
  • vrman - October 19, 2008 3:47 p.m.

    How about starwars knights of the old republic 2? it has a very deep story line and can be downright spooky at times.
  • Doompastry - October 19, 2008 6:11 a.m.

    "After assuming for hours that your mute and unseen protagonist is just another blank slate Everyman, you discover he is actually a mentally programmed slave, trained to blindly follow his evil master’s orders at any cost." Thanks alot. I just purchased Bioshock a day ago after finally deciding to pick it up. I was having a great time, but if what you said above is a true spoiler, I'm going to be pissed. Think about not ruining plots of fairly recent games in the future.
  • octagons - October 19, 2008 1:44 a.m.

    i meant at the start of my paragraph i think Clive barkers Jericho just to clear that up
  • octagons - October 19, 2008 1:41 a.m.

    I Clive barkers Jericho should have been on there if you go into the back story there is references to child murder, mass religious suicide, cannibalism, incest, beastality and others that can make even the most mature people uncomfortable. also shouldn't bioshock have had child murder seeing as you can harvest little sisters? you may not consider them children but if you turn them back into a child does that not make it murder?
  • BuggattiFreak - October 19, 2008 12:40 a.m.

    I think Call of Duty 4 should've been there. It gave you great game-play but then just gave you the perspective of dying people.