'Adults Only' games

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If you've landed on this page in search of 3D-rendered smut, you've come to the wrong place. The 'Adults Only' moniker is derived from the ESRB rating of the same name, denoting officially submitted games that include "prolonged scenes of intense violence, graphic sexual content, and/or gambling with real currency". But if you're looking for a complete list of AO-rated games, you want Wikipedia. We'd like to consider the concept of Adults Only games in a different light.

Some games can only be enjoyed to the fullest when you've got the years of life experience and perspective that comes naturally with being a well-adjusted adult. The following selections don't revolve around gratuitous gore or pointless titillation, though most of them incorporate violence and sex in a meaningful way. But those are just parts in a larger tapestry, which can weave in such heady, heavy themes as the complexities of parenthood, the psychological tolls of a crisis, and existential questions about humanity's purpose. If you're playing any of these games before you can reasonably call yourself an adult, you're just not getting the full picture.

Spec Ops: The Line

When you start Spec Ops it feels like ‘just another shooter’. Gruff military man goes to exotic location under poorly explained circumstances to shoot lots of foreigners in the teeth. However, it quickly descends into something smarter and far darker than you first assume. Your character, Captain Walker, starts to mentally break down. All of a sudden you’re at the mercy of an unreliable narrator, and a game that wants you to consider the consequences of your actions. Suddenly the action-game cliches you know from other games take on new meaning (those who played will know the white phosphorous scene all too well), and every action you take seems to lead you to madness and guilt. Even the loading screens turn against you. And the finale is a perfect ending to a very, very thoughtful shooter. -Andy Hartup 

The Walking Dead Season One

The greatest fear of being a parent is the thought of outliving your child. And though Clementine isn't Lee Everett's biological daughter, the believable bond between them can make any player feel like a protective father figure, hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. Like the original comic series, The Walking Dead uses the zombie apocalypse as a springboard to examine humanity at its most desperate, where average people are pushed to their breaking point on a regular basis. The methodical pacing ensures that even simple conversations can feel just as dire as the frenetic action scenes, and sensations of terror take a back seat to feelings of anxiety, guilt, adoration, or mistrust, depending on your dialogue choices. When emotional responses mean more than moment-to-moment gameplay, you're definitely dealing with something intended for the more developed mind of an adult. -Lucas Sullivan 

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

There’s plenty in The Witcher 3 that could be considered 'adult' - loads of violence, politics, the entire Bloody Baron questline - but what makes it most pleasingly mature is its attitude towards sex. Geralt likes sex. His ladyfriends, Triss and Yennifer, also like sex. Sometimes, when Geralt is in town, he has sex with one of his ladyfriends. Sometimes not. Sometimes he has sex with other ladies, and sometimes the ladies have sex with other men. None of this is dwelled upon or treated as a big deal, because it isn’t. When games touch upon intercourse, it’s typically tied up in grand romance, the reward for correctly jumping through a quest’s numerous hoops. In The Witcher 3, it’s just a thing that happens sometimes, because that’s how people are. All of Geralt’s bedroom partners have lives and interests that have nothing to do with him or whether or not they might shag again someday, a genuinely rare approach to sexuality in games. -Susan Arendt 

Mother 3

Nintendo’s never said explicitly why it didn’t bring Mother 3 to the United States in 2006, but given its conservative values at the time it’s not hard to guess. The RPG came out during a major spike in anti-game hysteria in the mainstream press, spurred in part by the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas “Hot Coffee” scandal the previous year. Nintendo was, with the Nintendo DS booming and the Wii coming out, pathological about presenting a family friendly image in the West. Releasing a game about helping a group of magical transvestites would have been hugely progressive at the time, something Nintendo was decidedly not. Its smart and deeply-felt explorations of gender and intolerance are just two factors that make Mother 3 an adult game, a work about emotional maturity and with a broader, informed worldview. Other subjects tackled include parental abandonment, slavery, coping with the death of a spouse, and environmental collapse. Mother 3 is not a hard game, but it is certainly challenging. -Anthony John Agnello 

Papers, Please

In Papers, Please, your family is a series of needy checkboxes. Each one can be "OK", "Hungry", "Cold", "Sick", or "Dead". They never help you out in the main part of the game, where you pore over immigration documents for discrepancies at the checkpoint of a totalitarian state - they exist solely to eat your food and live in your apartment. The game actually gets easier if you let a few of them die, since the cost of food goes down. It's entirely up to the player to see the loved ones beyond the checkboxes, giving new weight to decisions like whether you should skip heat today so you can afford food tomorrow - and how you could have afforded them both if you'd just detained more undeserving people. God, adult life sucks. -Connor Sheridan 

Danganronpa

You're stuck inside a boarding school with no hope of escape, unless you can kill one of your fellow classmates and get away with it - and Danganronpa is only downhill from there. Part murdery mystery, part courtroom drama, the Japanese visual novel loves to spend ample time letting you get to know each of its colorful characters before taking them away from you in increasingly gruesome ways. Because of this, each death in Danganronpa has all the weight of a punch landed square in your gut, unlike many other games that force you to mow down thousands of faceless mooks without a thought. Don't be fooled by the high school-aged cast or the cartoonish stuffed teddy bear presiding over your stay at Hope's Peak Academy; Danganronpa is a dark, brutal affair that will have your stomach churning as you blast through its reams of dialog on your way to its shocking ending. -David Roberts 

The Last of Us

Much like how The Walking Dead uses its post-zombie apocalypse setting to hone in on human drama, Naughty Dog's The Last of Us tells a decidedly heartbreaking tale of a man and the young girl he's charged with escorting. Don't let the fungus-infected citizens and murderous looters fool you; this isn't a game about killing bad guys or taking down monsters. Well, it is, but it's also a game about relationships and how they impact us. We see a man mourning his longtime partner, a brother struggling to keep his younger sibling safe, the leader of a brutally violent group of cannibals, and a woman determined to do the unspeakable for the greater good. There's a reason that TLOU's "giraffe moment" stands out as one of the game's most memorable scenes, and that's because between its violent vignettes, it's a game that reminds us how fragile we really are, and asks us to consider if the burdens we carry with us are worth the weight. -Sam Prell 

The Talos Principle doesn't exactly 'look' mature at first glance, especially when you hold the E10+/PEGI 7-rated game up to Croteam's gib-laden Serious Sam series. But The Talos Principle's maturity isn't about hyper-violence, or sexual content, or explicit vocabulary; instead, it deals in lofty philosophical concepts. What is the nature of the self? What does it mean to be human, even when humanity is all but lost? Is doubting that nature vital to the human condition? These are questions that The Talos Principle asks, but it's never pretentious or heavy-handed about it, couching its philosophy in texts that are equally humorous, mysterious, and ponderous. The Talos Principle wants you to honestly engage with and reflect on these questions and many more, and that's not something many adults want to do, let alone children. -David Roberts 

This War of Mine

War isn't the grand adventure games usually make it out to be. Wartime is tough on the population caught in the conflict, causing normal citizens to scrape by as they try to avoid becoming a casualty of a battle. This War of Mine shows you war from the common people's perspective, forcing you to make some extremely tough, life and death decisions as you scrape by on scavenged resources. Should you risk starving yourself to feed hungry orphans? Is finding medicine for a sick companion worth killing someone over? This War of Mine isn't just a survival game, it deals with some seriously mature themes that might just end with you staring at your screen contemplating the atrocities you just committed in order to survive. Yeah, it gets pretty dark. -Lorenzo Veloria 

Catherine

Katherine is tired of longtime boyfriend Vincent’s wishy-washy approach to handling the question of commitment, and decides to force his hand by telling him she’s pregnant. Right about that same time, he meets the super-sexy Catherine, who basically throws herself directly at his pants. Though the game is a very clever and challenging puzzler, it addresses common fears such as parenthood, fidelity, and the responsibility of adulthood. Vincent has some very real conversations with his pals in the bar as he weighs the pros and cons of settling down versus staying a free-wheeling bachelor, giving voice to doubts that ring unquestionably true. Much of Catherine is couched in weirdness, what with Vincent dreaming about climbing giant towers in his underwear as he’s chased by terrifying monsters (monsters that echo his turbulent psyche), but it’s grounded in the mundane kind of worries that virtually everyone faces as they try to navigate becoming a real “grownup.” -Susan Arendt