Over at a fan Fallout 3 blog, Desslock has a post up that laments the dearth of M-rated RPGs.

He points out that most M games are shooters, and the rating comes from what we could call “visual mess”. Bloody deaths, dismemberments, unpleasant scenes like the Rogue monastery in Diablo 2, are all considered strong stuff. Too strong for kids to see, so the game is rated “mature”.

On the other hand, most RPGs come with a Teen rating. The violence and visuals are not quite so intense. Still, there have been RPGs (and action/RPGs) with “M” on them. For instance:

Mass Effect, Hellgate: London, The Witcher, Oblivion, Jade Empire: Special Edition, Neverwinter Nights: Kingmaker, Wizards & Warriors, Fallout 2, Dungeon Siege II, Arcanum, and Ultima IX.

These and others came up on a search of the ESRB site for “M” games on the PC. What they tend to have in common is violence and sex (suggested or otherwise), along with some degree of “visual mess”. Several also have “language” (mild or strong) and use of, or reference to, alcohol/drugs.

And that brings us to the question: what is a “mature theme”? By ESRB standards, it seems to be primarily gruesome visuals, violence, and sex, with a bit of foul language thrown in. Is that your idea of a “mature game”?

Of course, we’re looking at RPGs here, and naturally they are violent; monster-mashing has always been a feature of such games. But surely a truly mature game should have more than just “violence and vice”?

For that matter, could a “T”-rated game have mature themes? Because, looking at the ESRB descriptors, it’s sometimes hard to see why one product is “M” and another “T”. Consider this:

Oblivion (M): Blood and Gore, Language, Sexual Themes, Use of Alcohol, Violence
Gothic 3 (T): Blood and Gore, Language, Sexual Themes, Use of Drugs, Violence

Does that mean G3 is less “sexy” and/or violent than Oblivion? Or one has more than the other of such features? Drugs are okay, but booze isn’t? So even the ratings and descriptors combined aren’t always useful.

Which brings us back again to the question of “what makes a game ‘mature'”? Is it only these features we’ve discussed? Something more? Can a game have adult themes (and what are those?) without relying heavily on “violence and vice”? Or is “M” simply a designation for “unbridled adolescent wish fulfillment”?

M-Rated RPGs by Desslock