"Mature" games that are actually mature


We could write pages about BioShock’s cinematic and literary influences. We could discuss the heady philosophies of characters like Ryan, Atlas and Tenenbaum forever. We could drop references all over the damn place – super important sounding names such as Ayn Rand, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, John Maynard Keyes and Walt Disney. Ultimately, though, BioShock is still a first person shooter and not an academic thesis.

What’s truly intellectual about the game, then, isn't how it mimics other mediums, but how it completely subverts its own. 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.

Sure, you can try to distance yourself from this squirm-inducing revelation, but ask yourself... minus the "evil" part, how is that description any different than what you do in almost all first person shooters? Or almost all videogames in general? Therein lies BioShock’s brilliance and maturity.


What offends you? Pick your poison and odds are pretty high that one of the dozens of Shin Megami Tensei games has already tackled the taboo, beaten the taboo into pulpy submission and worn the taboo’s corpse as a hat.

Suicide. Cannibalism. School violence. Demon worship. Nuclear holocaust. Sexual perversion. Religious blasphemy. The resurrection of Adolf Hitler. A war with Yahweh, the god of Judeo-Christianity. Kids shooting themselves in the head as a general gameplay mechanic. Seriously. The Shin Megami Tensei franchise is hell bent on courting controversy - and pushing the limits of what’s acceptable in a “Mature” game - at every opportunity. For which we are eternally grateful.


Where to begin? If the title alone or the screenshot above aren't enough to convince you that this point-and-click adventure was designed for adults and adults only, how about the fact that its writer is none other than Harlan Ellison, famous for short stories such as “God Bless the Ugly Virgin” and “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs”?

Even now, your imagination isn’t doing the dark and disturbing material justice, so here’s the premise. A bored supercomputer has exterminated the human race, sparing just five people so that it may torture and toy with them for eternity. The methods are exceedingly cruel. Benny, once a handsome homosexual scientist, has mutated into a child-like ape with enlarged genitalia. Ellen, formerly a chaste do-gooder, is now a shared prostitute among the group. The other characters’ backgrounds involve everything from rape and racism to paranoia and insanity.

The twist, of course, is that the computer was originally built and programmed by humanity, so its horrifying capacity for evil is really our own. The better twist is that, by making ethical choices and redeeming each character through self discovery, self acceptance or self sacrifice, the player can ultimately defeat the computer and “win.” Trust us, though – you’ll have a hard time going back to regular games after experiencing the depths of this one.

Here are some other games that almost made our "maturity" list.
What did we miss? Take us to task in the comments below!


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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.

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