Paris Games Week had a very packed Sony conference. Many titles shown had been revealed to the public already, but one thing sticks out to me is the vast majority of mature exclusive titles. God of War, Days Gone, Death Stranding, Detroit: Become Human, The Last of Us: Part II, Yakuza 6, and possibly Ghost of Tsushima all present themselves as gritty, not family-friendly games. Is this a bad thing? Absolutely not! The majority of gamers are on average 35 years old. It would make financial sense for Sony to embrace the biggest demographic. They also focus on mainly single-player, story-driven experiences, unlike their competitors. Yes, Nintendo delivers strong single-player games quite often, but they also explore the multiplayer world (again, nothing against them, but they make multiplayer games more frequently than Sony). Microsoft lost their commitment to single-player focused games. Halo 5 had an underwhelming campaign, but an excellent multiplayer. Gears of War 4 and Forza thrives on multiplayer, too. Let’s not forget Sea of Thieves’ predominantly online co-op gameplay and Crackdown 3’s multiplayer is given the spotlight as well.
Now, I’m not knocking Microsoft for emphasizing multiplayer games as I quite enjoy multiplayer. Also, Nintendo and especially Microsoft do include mature audiences, so what makes Sony so special? Sony’s past had very successful family-friendly IPs like their competition, but that’s their past. Nowadays, mature titles are taking the spotlight and basking in it at the Sony camp, and those mature titles certainly take advantage of their rating.
The trailers for Detroit: Become Human and The Last of Us Part II featured very dark themes and upfront violence. While not the most gruesome trailers humanity has ever laid eyes on, they did get some jimmies rustled, causing some journalists to practically berate Sony for showing such extreme content. Sony’s response basically told those journalists to calm down, saying that the games in question are targeted towards adults. Should people be outraged by depictions of torture and domestic violence? It’s their mind, not mine. Some can be offended that The Last of Us Part II featured female characters getting brutalized, and while I think that’s a very stupid thought that completely misses the point of the trailer, that’s their opinion. However, the fact that people are questioning such content being depicted in this medium is a very good thing.
When the original Mortal Kombat and Night Trap hit the shelves, parents and politicians grew concerned of those game’s depiction of gore-y action and violence against women. Looking at them now, the content in question could barely push those games past the Teen rating, but back then it was shocking. So, as a result of the somewhat minor public panic, the government ordered the games industry to establish an official rating system or have video games be reviewed by the government, what we know today as the ESRB. From then onward, games matured and developers had much more freedom. No longer do they have to fear censorship. If their games contain intense violence or sexual content, those games will be labelled as “M” and everyone can move about their day.
Of course, some jimmies had rustled in the past from time to time, but after those jimmies rustled, video games further pushed boundaries. Developers experimented what could be seen as newsworthy in their games, as games like Grand Theft Auto III, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 shook the industry with their increasingly graphic violence and imagery.
“Is this okay for children to play?” parents and news anchors consistently asked and pressed industry members during the interviews. This year, Sony finally gave the answer gamers waited for so long: “No, because these games are for adults.”. I’m paraphrasing, but that’s essentially what the company said. The fact that Sony is brushing off the criticisms and gave their studios the power of freedom is so relieving to see.
David Cage’s team wasn’t told to have the domestic abuse scene toned down. Neil Druckmann’s team wasn’t told to chill out with the violence. Sony trusts their creators can deliver strong games that will offer excellent storytelling and unforgettable experiences to millions of players. This hands-off approach to their studios also speaks volumes to their respect for their developers. Yes, Sony closes studios and leaves games starved of support as much as the next company, but they never close them while they are in the process of making a new project the public knows about, unlike some other publishers. (cough cough EA cough cough Konami cough cough Microsoft) Whew, I got a bad cold. Children aren’t supposed to play mature games, so why should Sony censor those games for them?
This attitude is so beneficial for the industry because publishers don’t have to parent children, parents do. If some parents don’t know which games contain what, there’s a website that details what could be seen as inappropriate to children. Sony has had enough of concerned parents’ bullshit and basically straight up told them that video games are not for children. They’re for everybody. Sony expressed that attitude since their first console hit stores and it’s so relieving to see them stand by that philosophy for over two decades. There’s no need to apologize anymore. It’s time for video games to grow the hell up.