Alt Title: Frank’s Love Letter to Edmund McMillen.
Maturity. Typing it leaves a sting on my fingers. Saying it; a sour taste in my mouth. So-called auteurs of the gaming industry speak of it as though without ‘maturity’, the videogame can never be considered art. As though that if we don’t put tasteful nudes, high-polygon graphics, crying-physics, and a story about the human condition, then Roger Ebert, a person only interested in writing about cinema, will never say that games “are kinda okay, I guess” (not an actual quote from Roger Ebert). It’s gotten so bad that I’ve begun needing to imagine the word ‘mature’ with a small © next to it, because let’s face it, maturity has become more of a checkbox than a concept.
This desperate need for some developers to have their work validated by people unimportant and indifferent to the games industry is nothing short of just sad. We need to have FOX News accept us! We need to have movie critics critique games! We must be validated! We must be validated!
But vapid affirmation is not my only gripe with mature© games. For one, maturity© in games is more formulaic than goddamned Pythagoras. Let’s look at a few games that have been lauded as ‘mature©’:
Heavy Rain, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age: Origins.
Before I go any further though, I want to say that I do like these games, with a particular affection towards Mass Effect, it being one of my favorite games of all time.
In these games, there is a threat that opposes the main characters, at some point either the player character or the love interest (there almost always is one) will cry due to their past, and then there will be some sex scene, and then a bit later, the plot ends. Which game that I listed earlier am I talking about now? Now, these aren’t genre tropes I’m listing, Heavy Rain is a ‘cinematic drama’ or whatever, Mass Effect is a ‘space opera RPG-shooter’, and DA:O is a ‘fantasy RPG’. Maturity©, much like ‘art game’, is a genre in itself with its own clichés that developers seem to fall into when trying to be sophisticated.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that the above claim may be a bit weak, due to the fact that I only presented two story elements common to mature© games. But I’m not only here to bash maturity©. It has its place in games, and some people really think that that’s the way to get their story across. Nothing wrong with that. It’s always been my belief, though, that true maturity, not just maturity©, comes from knowing when to be immature.
In fact, vulgarity, when used right, may be the best way we can move the entire medium of videogames forward.
Take Edmund McMillen and Florian Himsl’s hit game, The Binding of Isaac, for example. Naked babies, blood, feces, urine, heavy christian imagery and mockery of said christianity. It was denied a port to Nintendo’s 3DS portable system, not because of the graphic imagery and focus on the disgusting and the vile, but because the game involved religion at a level that begged for a discussion on the zealous actions of past and current followers of Christ.
“If there’s blasphemous content it’s probably fine… because blasphemy is in most games… everything is blasphemous for one religion and not for another.” said McMillen in an Ars Techina article from last year, ” Since demons and stuff are in games all the time, and that’s considered blasphemous to some Christians, that’s fine. I guess the way I talked about things in the game wasn’t necessarily blasphemous, but also considered religious and something they don’t want to deal with.”
McMillen has been known in the past for never letting self-censorship come into play when putting themes into his games. Growing up in a strongly “born-again” christian family, McMillen’s views on the religion are an expression of himself. His use of the disgusting and the grotesque is a further exploration of what it’s like to be Edmund McMillen. Play his older flash games on his newgrounds page, and you’ll see vomit, blood, and shit everywhere. It’s who he is. If you ever played his hit game, Super Meat Boy, you can see themes of vulnerability in it. How the titular Meat Boy, a man devoid of skin, is susceptible to multiple hazards, even plain salt, and that he is always chasing after his stolen girlfriend, Bandage Girl, the only person who completes Meat Boy; she makes him feel safe.
Nowhere in a single one of Edmund’s games do you find facetious themes like ‘the human condition’ or ‘parenthood’, or contrived romance scenes of plastic-doll sex, because Edmund knows that creating art is when you’re supposed to be immature; to be yourself. And in doing so, his games are more mature than any mature© game on the market.
Back to his attempted porting of The Binding of Isaac to the 3DS, it’s evident that the games industry still hasn’t matured at all. While David Cage and Peter Molyneux make valiant efforts, they always fall short because they still don’t understand true maturity.
“Here’s why Nintendo said no, ” McMillen said in the previously mentioned Ars Techina article, “Go to any website that talked about it and read the comments and look at the fucking religious wars that happen in it.”
We can handle oversized breasts, severed limbs, guts, crap, pee, words like: “shit” and “fuck” said a million times to oversaturation. We can handle it when we genocide millions of virtual humans. Hell, we can even handle it when we and a few russians shoot up a fictional airport.
Do you know what we have yet to be able to handle? A serious discussion on religion that makes you think. We can’t have people stopping their game to think about something in the real world, because when you think, you get scared, and when you get scared, you might just not buy a game that supports themes you don’t like, and I’m damn sure a publisher would stick its junk in a blender before they give up a sale.
We changed the name of Al Qaeda to Insurgents in the Medal of Honor reboot because we can’t have you think. We cancelled Six Days in Fallujah because we can’t have you think. We couldn’t have The Binding of Isaac published with an actual publisher because we can’t have you think.
In the end, it’s people like Edmund McMillen, one of the few actual artists in the games medium, who are going to push the artform forward. We don’t need sex scenes, crying, and SO MANY POLYGONS! We need themes and ideas that will make you think about the world around you. Mature games should make you question your beliefs that you’ve put all your stock and life into. We need to be constantly pushing the boundaries of what is and what isn’t acceptable to have in a game.
And you know what? If you want to just make a game full of breasts, wangs (we need more), and gore without any thought-provoking themes, then that’s fine too, and I’ll love every second of it (unless it sucks).
You can follow Frank on Twitter @Fuhjem.