All grown up
In the olden days, your first time playing a game rated M for Mature was a big deal. Maybe it was the fact that, like getting your driver's permit or being able to vote, the power to buy a game deemed too bloody or scandalous for younger eyes felt like a true coming-of-age moment. Maybe your first M-rated game was like a secret hidden from your parents' prying eyes, or smuggled to you by a hip relative like clandestine tickets to an R-rated movie.
Now you've got all these kids getting Call of Duty as a present on their eighth birthday, or playing Five Nights at Freddy's and skipping those 'ESRB' or 'PEGI' things altogether. It's not like it's illegal for parents to buy age-inappropriate games for their children - but there was a time when booting up something M-rated as a youngster had a certain mystique about it, with the sense that you were suddenly ready for anything (except maybe those Adults Only games). So, which gory, gratuitous experience ushered you into gaming adulthood?
Ashley Reed - Perfect Dark
It was wonderful fun growing up around the founding of the ESRB, because even though game ratings existed, parents didn't notice or particularly care about them yet. That's how my friends and I got our young hands on Perfect Dark at the tender age of 11. GoldenEye's weird cousin with a head for alien conspiracy theories, Perfect Dark made us feel like we were getting away with something every time we played it. You could blow people up, blood would splash across the wall whenever you shot a guy, and sometimes enemies would call you a bitch as they went down. Everything a pre-teen could want.
But what really made Perfect Dark great was the multiplayer mode. Sure, it was just a bunch of blocky maps where you could play King of the Hill or shoot up mooks, but that was only part of the draw. What we loved was being our own little army, eliciting shrieks of AI terror and spraying the walls with gore, crushing those who would oppose us with the sort of chilling cruelty only a child can wield. That is, until we turned our digital guns on each other. Does anyone else hear child-like cackling on the wind?
Maxwell McGee - Resident Evil 3: Nemesis
Like all good things in a young boy's life, Resident Evil 3: Nemesis came by way of a cool older cousin. Violent games were forbidden in my household, so I dove into this one with ravenous curiosity. The blood. The guts. The gore. I wanted to see it all. RE3 was my glimpse into gaming's seedy underbelly. Then there was the Nemesis itself. Powerful and imposing, this unstoppable monster hounded my every step; its guttural cry of "STARS!" heralding my imminent doom.
Tragically, after a mere three days in Raccoon City, my parents put the kibosh on RE3. I was distraught. YouTube didn't exist yet, so how would I know if poor Jill made it out alive? That's when I found the novelization of RE3 at a local bookstore, which I secreted away under my mattress. I figured, 'My parents want me to read more, so even if they do find this, they can't get that mad, right?'
Lucas Sullivan - Twisted Metal: Black
Let's see here... we've got a serial-killing clown, a dude who got his face mutilated during a botched surgery, a girl who has a porcelain mask nailed to her skull courtesy of an abusive father figure, and a Vietnam veteran turned cannibal. And that's just on the character select screen! The most iconic part of the car combat Twisted Metal series is its utterly deranged cast of psychotic misfits, but David Jaffe and co. went extra dark and disturbing for the PS2 installment.
My parents agreed to buy this horrifying concoction for my 13-year-old self based on one condition: I would skip all the potentially psyche-scarring cutscenes, meaning the only violence I would ever see would be car-on-car. I held up my end of the bargain (since I was too scared to watch those cutscenes anyway) - but I wasn't quite prepared for a stage set-piece that lets you fry death row inmates to a crisp, or Brimstone's special attack that launches a suicide-bombing zealot onto enemy vehicles. Let's just say my mom wasn't exactly pleased to see that kind of imagery on the family TV.
Connor Sheridan - Turok 2: Seeds of Evil
My older brother was always there to lead the charge, so I never had to worry much about getting M-rated games. As long as I kept it low-key, I could play pretty much any of his purchases without (voiced) concern from our parents. I never got in trouble at school for reenacting all that 'Animated Violence' and 'Animated Blood and Gore', so I guess it worked out ok.
Speaking of which, the only thing I vividly recall about the N64 Turok games is the blood. I doubt anything else about them is still remarkable (except maybe to virtual fog enthusiasts), but that blood was really something. It's even more impressive when you consider that Nintendo made Mortal Kombat fighters bleed frickin' Ecto Cooler just a few years before. But I digress: My first truly M-rated experience was throwing a razor-sharp Frisbee into Turok 2's giant eyeball boss so I could watch blood spurt as it bounced around inside the vitreous humor. Hooray for video games!
David Roberts - Turok: Dinosaur Hunter
At least Connor got a chance to play his copy of Turok. See, I come from a pretty religious household (true story: My mom made me throw away some Magic: The Gathering cards I'd bought from a friend in middle school because the devil). So other than a quick round of Mortal Kombat or Doom at a friend's house, M-rated games were out of the question. But one day, when I was 13 or 14, I decided to press my luck and rent a copy of Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. I don't remember how it happened exactly, but somehow the game slipped past the watchful eye of my parents and the Blockbuster clerk well enough for me to take it home and play it.
For five whole minutes. I slapped the cartridge into my N64, booted up the tutorial, and began wandering through this foggy, dinosaur-filled realm. I took aim with my bow, and loosed an arrow toward an unsuspecting mook. Decapitation! And, because this is how these things go, this was the exact moment my dad walked in my room, shouted "WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?" and promptly grounded me for a week. I felt upset about it at the time, but I'm honestly kinda grateful. He saved me from a pretty terrible game.
Sophia Tong - Leisure Suit Larry
I was in love with adventure games from the late '80s and early '90s, and the only reason I had access to them was because my dad had colleagues who would share their games. So in between playing King's Quest and Police Quest, my dad had also passed along Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards because he had no idea what it was about. Yeah, I know. I even helped Kickstart the remake a couple of years ago... and still haven't played it.
Parental controls werent really a thing with my parents, unless I was tying up the phone line (and he took my modem). So naive, clueless little me was walking around as this pervy guy in a white suit trying to hit on women. I kinda knew who he was since he made a cameo in Police Quest, but I didn't quite get the full picture until many years later. Many, many years later. Luckily for me (or maybe not), I couldn't figure out the puzzles and didn't get the jokes, so wandering around trying to kiss whoever showed up didn't really get me very far.
Henry Gilbert - Duke Nukem 3D
Had the ESRB actually existed when Mortal Kombat 2 launched, that would technically be my first, but instead the honor officially goes to Duke Nukem 3D. The FPS certainly earned its rating with gory violence, crude humor, and even some heavily pixelated nudity. Back in 1996, all of that had an intoxicating charm to me and my juvenile friends. It was such a thrill knowing my parents would disapprove of Duke Nukem saying I'll rip your head off and shit down your neck, let alone him literally doing that during the post-boss-fight cutscene.
Today, Dukes reputation as gamings bad boy seems so quaint. His gory escapades look tame next to God of War, and his dirty attempts at wit cant really compare to the colorful insults of Saints Row. Also, once I saw films like They Live, I realized all of Dukes best lines werent even original. Nowadays, I'm mortified whenever I think about my seventh-grade self's excitement for Duke's breakout hit.
Your secret's safe with us
So, how about you? What was the first M-rated game you ever owned or played, and how did it all go down? Did you incur the wrath of your parents, or exploit their inattention to what you were actually playing? Or heck - maybe you were old enough to just buy it for yourself, no questions asked! Share in the comments below.