Back when Mortal Kombat came out in 1992, the infamous head-rip with the spine dangling caused quite the stir for legislators across the country and they demanded a rating system for video games to inform potential buyers of its content. The Electronic Software Ratings Board, or the ESRB, has a rating system similar to that of films where they rate the games based on content and for what age they are appropriate. EC for Early Childhood, E for Everyone, T for Teen, M for Mature and AO for Adults Only are the ESRB’s ratings for some of our favorite games to have come out. But as the gaming industry goes on and societal standards change, the game’s content hasn’t. It remains a time capsule for the standards that were kept back when the game released.
In a recent Kotaku article, Stephen Totilo queried why the re-release of Halo: Combat Evolved got an M for Mature and Batman: Arkham City got a T for Teen. This wouldn’t be confusing if criminals didn’t call Catwoman a “b**ch” consistently throughout the game. Not only that but there are what the ESRB calls Alcohol references, Use of Tobacco, Suggestive Themes and Violence. The most Halo can attest to is Blood and Gore and Violence according to the official ESRB rating on the back of the box. And I can attest that the Blood and Gore in Halo is very mild in comparison to other shooters out there. Hell, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 adds Drug References and Strong Language and it gladly receives an ‘M’ as well. Microsoft was reached for comment on Halo’s re-release rating. “Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is a faithful remake of the original Halo campaign, so it was rated ‘M’ for Mature like the original classic.”
I believe that that is fine and dandy with maintaining the tradition of Halo: Combat Evolved but does the rating for Halo: Combat Evolved in 2001 accurately communicate the content for Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary in 2011 to a potential buyer? I say no; simply due to the fact that the general populace’s standards for violence in video games has changed drastically. Gears of War, released in 2006, was labeled with an M rating and it depicts graphic violence in the form of someone being maimed by a chainsaw and reduced to meaty bits, which doesn’t compare to a puddle of alien blood. So where does Halo fit on the ‘M’ rating?
When asked about Halo’s placement among the other ‘M’ rated games the ESRB had this to say: “The M rating for Halo is undoubtedly at the lower end of the Mature spectrum and the T that Batman: Arkham City received is at the upper end of Teen. It’s always at the border between two categories where there is the greatest divergence of opinion, and that is to be expected… Batman does include suggestive content and potentially offensive language, neither of which in this case warranted a Mature rating… Most of the time it’s a combination of things that are considered within the context of the whole game to make a judgment.” Personally I think that the ESRB and Microsoft should have forsaken tradition and give the re-release of Halo: Combat Evolved a new rating to not only inform the customer but give a representation that violence in games and the ratings have radically changed in the past decade.