How Persona proves age ratings are nonsense

21 October 2015 by , No Comments

I’ve been playing quite a lot of Persona Q lately. It’s an oddly addictive little game with an adorable visual style and a tonne of great continuity nods and gags for fans of Persona 3 and 4. In many ways, I like it better than its originals. Sure, the story is a lot weaker and the characters are a bit more cartoonish (in both personality and appearance) than I remember them being but a bit of lighthearted fun can be very relaxing after the Summer-long power slug/emotional roller-coaster that was Digital Devil Saga (which could well be my new favourite RPG series, but I digress).

More than just giving me a fun little timesink to kill hours after hard days at work, though, Persona Q has made me recognise something that I think I’ve known all along but didn’t quite know how to articulate until now: our ratings system for games is completely messed-up. Just look at the entire Persona franchise for evidence of that. The series is predominantly about young teens discovering themselves while literally fighting their Jungian Shadows. The characters behave and act very much like teenagers do: they swear, they get angry, they act perverted, but they also go through very heartwarming journeys of self-realisation. Some come to terms with their gender and sexuality issues while others learn how to cope with the death of family members and the grief that comes with them. These are real issues that everyone can relate to but especially those in their teens, who are going through most of these big changes right now. So, what’s the series’ age rating? Usually 16+ (or M for Mature, if you live in the States). Huh.

Games like Persona are already big but do their age ratings keep them from having an even greater impact?

Games like Persona are already big but do their age ratings keep them from having an even greater impact?

Given how we currently rate games, that does make a certain amount of sense. The series has more than a few foul-mouthed characters (no F-bombs are dropped but you can expect to hear “shit” and “bastard” a fair number of times) and occasional dabbles into sexual themes (there’s no actual nudity, unless you count the demon that looks like a giant green penis demon riding a chariot, but there’s plenty of suggestive talk), so of course it deserves a high rating. Right? Except giving it such a high rating puts it out of reach of a lot of younger teens (theoretically, anyway; we all know how many lenient parents there are in the world) who could actually relate to the game’s themes and characters and maybe even learn a thing or two from them. Realising that then got me to realise that we don’t really tend to put age ratings on books or plays and I suspect that that’s because they’re not visual media. Heck, Macbeth is full of grisly murders but I sincerely doubt anyone would stop a twelve year old buying a copy, even though it’s got all the betrayal, killing, and paranormal creepiness most horror movies are made of. Is disturbing imagery okay as long as it’s perceived solely within our mind’s eye? That’s a rather flimsy argument, if you ask me.

Of course, I’m not saying that we should open up the floodgates and let anyone buy whatever they want because I would definitely not want to be the father who walks in on his kid playing Titillating Gorefest 69 but I do think that a game that’s willing to talk to and connect with younger people is going to be taken a lot more seriously by them than one that just talks down to them and paints a perfectly pure picture of all the world’s issues. Maybe, when rating games (and, heck, any other form of visual art), we should put a bit more thought into who the product is actually for and not just fixate on what it superficially has.

Because, I’ll tell you right now, I genuinely struggle to see how a game that looks like this is unacceptable for anyone under the age of sixteen:

Won't somebody think of the children - in a genuine, non-patronising manner?

Won’t somebody think of the children – in a genuine, non-patronising manner?

(Also, no, there really is no good explanation as to why there is a giant green penis demon in this franchise. Sometimes, you just have to shrug your shoulders and accept that ATLUS develops some weird games.)

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