Something I was thinking of the other day (warning: anecdote incoming) when a friend of mine's son (8 years old) handed the PC game, Star Wars: Jedi Knight Academy, back to me, slightly chagrined, saying that he shouldn't play it due to the Teen rating and his father's computer's vid card was not a gaming card.
My first thoughts were along the lines of relief, having realized after I'd lent it to him that it was unlikely he could play it, game-controls-wise, as it's fairly intricate. The last thing that had crossed my mind was the game rating issue. Here's my beef with game ratings and why it never occurred to me:
Game ratings are more or less useless, like a lot of non-R rated movie ratings. Take a game like Super Mario Bros from Nintendo. It has an E rating (E = Everyone; aka rated G). So it is of a fantastic nature, with 'fantasy or mild violence'. Then take Jedi Knight Academy, rated T (T = Teen; aka PG 13), which 'may contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood and/or infrequent use of strong language'. So the only thing here that qualifies is 'may contain violence'.
Super Mario Bros: you've got a plumber in a crazy world of castles, evil mushrooms, flying turtles, 'magic' mushrooms that make you grow, and an exhorbitant number of pipes (many of which sprout fire-breathing plants). In this world, our peasant hero is off to save a princess by running around, smashing the local mushroom and turtle population into the ground and eating magic mushrooms to be more powerful. So you have good guy vs bad guy(s), in a wacky fantasy world. Seems innocent, right?
Not at all. Picture this, if you will: Some guy, uninvited from another dimension, has taken it upon himself to pound the crap out of the locals, while seeking 'power ups' from mushrooms and flowers, taking money along the way. Sure, the bad guys squish in a cute, cartoony way, with silly sound effects, and when they kill the plucky pisano, he pops into the air and drops off the screen with a "woo woo wooo wooooooo....." sound. But make no mistake: Mario is out for blood with the end goal of gettin' some princess lovin's.
Jedi Knight: you, as a Jedi student, and friend begin their training under Luke Skywalker (set 10-15 years after Episode VI). Weird things start happening, and you as a new student have to undertake missions with your Jedi master overseeing your conduct. The plot unravels over the course of missions, and your friend from training goes missing, with him becoming seduced to the dark side by the nefarious behind-the-scenes bad guys. Throughout the whole thing, as a Jedi, you are singled out by renegades, smugglers, miscellaneous baddies and the Remnant, what is left of the Empire (stormtroopers mostly) and have to avoid or defeat them to carry on and complete your tasks.
There is no blood, simulated, unrealistic or otherwise, and no coarse language. (I mean, c'mon, when did you ever hear Luke say "Holy fuck! You're my father? NOOOOOO!". He was always "Well, gee-wiz, Obi-Won, that's a swell idea."). Along the way you have the option to make a pretty nasty decision (kill your friend who went to the dark side, or be merciful) but that's about it, and it's a moral decision with consequences in later missions.
Summary: both games are violent, but I would argue that Jedi Knight is less inappropriate than some E games. A Jedi has a goal, and in the game, every mission is designed to build up the plot and set the stage for the end (and you have no idea what the ending is). Mario's goal is to get T&A by kicking the snot out of 98 levels of bad guys, who, I might add, are not really bad but only enslaved versions of the good-aligned toadstool people. I mean, yes, as a Jedi you lightsaber a good many people, all of whom are out to destroy the New Republic and bring back the Empire. Mario just wants the princess. There is no political or moral drivers here... only the desire to pound goombas (isn't that racist? yet that's what they're called) and get some tail. Can someone argue that jumping on a turtle, then kicking it through and killing multiple msuhroom people only to have it rebound and be punted down a hole worse than a Jedi trying to keep his friend from the dark side and stopping the political fabric of the universe from unraveling?
It's all about sugar coating. Take the Legend of Zelda as another example, also rated E. Link, little boy do-gooder, seeks to (surprise!) free a princess. (a theme, which, I might add, is sexist) In so doing, the guy clear-cuts entire areas with his sword trying to find enough rupees (rupees??) to buy bombs so he can blow up both people and ancient, historical buildings. Hmmm... You don't find Jedi killing people for wealth to buy mini weapons of mass destruction (MWMDs). In fact, in one mission, you are trying to disarm them while keeping Boba Fett off your back (a very cool mission, I have to say) and doing other things like trying to restore a Jedi Knight's tomb to proper order because it's being defiled by dark siders. These are noble goals.
Kirby (another E game) freakin' sucks enemies up and spits their energy out at other enemies! He is, in essence, subsuming their souls for his own purposes. You don't see many Jedi eating souls. And Kirby is rewarded for it by earning points, as is Mario!
Again, though... sugar coating. E games have cute music and zany sound effects, therefore the perception is that they are fun and contain healthy content. Games rated T are simply honest with their content. End of semi-coherent rant.
Completely off-topic, there is nothing cooler than hearing a German named Wolfgang say "Cool".