The ESRB ratings have been in the news lately, and on reflection, I got to wondering how some games get their ratings. Especially when similar products are far apart.

Under consideration here are three games which, stripped down to basics, are really the same game: Diablo 2, Titan Quest, and Fate.

They are all “hack and haul games”: Go from here to there, killing everything along the way, finding Neat Items, leveling up, and wiping Foozle at the end. So, what’s the big deal?

Diablo 2 is rated M for mature (17 and up)
Titan Quest is rated T for Teen (13 and up)
Fate is rated E10 (everyone 10 and up)

Now, that’s a pretty big disparity for games that feature pretty much the same activities. What differentiates them? Why is it “okay” for a kid to play Fate but not Diablo 2?

In considering D2, there are a couple of possibilities. First, it’s a pretty old game by now, and what was an “M” back then might be considered a “T” nowadays.

The other is that, in the beginning, you have to clear out the monastery, which is filled with “rogue Rogues”, members of the sisterhood who turned to the dark side. They are obviously human, and human females, at that.

Possibly mowing down evil women is considered too much for the teen crowd, though I personally have my doubts. In any case, having played D2 to exhaustion, I can’t come up with any reasons for an M rating.

Then again, as memory struggles to the fore, I remember that some of those scenes in the monastery (the dead “good rogues”) could be considered a little on the gruesome side. Enough for an M, though?

Then we have Titan Quest. Along with the rating on the box are the words “Suggestive themes” and “Violence”. Violence? Sure, these games are all about violence.

But suggestive themes? The ESRB defines that as “mild provocative references or materials”. That’s rather nebulous. Provocative references to what? If any exist in TQ, they went right by me the many times I played it.

So now we look at Fate. Plenty of violence there, as you battle your way down the levels to Foozle. But your character looks more like a kid than an adult, and of course, you have your cute little pet (who rapidly morphs into other forms, perhaps not so cute).

None of these games had a lot of “mess”, blood and body parts flying hither and yon. Shucks, even the Volcanic Orb in TQ just blew enemies into the air and they dropped back down, intact.

In all these games, the opponents are clearly not human (except for those rogues in D2, as far as I recall). Plenty of dark, creepy places to explore, as well.

So what is it that makes one game M and another T or E10? If you let your kids play Fate, would you let them play TQ or D2, as well? Why or why not? In this case, do the ratings make sense to you? Are they accurately representing the content? What do you think?