Parental Guidance

Nowadays it seems that having a PEGI 18/Mature/Adults Only sticker plastered on the front of a game box is just par for the course. Stuff like Grand Theft Auto V, The Last Of Us and even Killzone are prime examples of recent releases that have been branded too graphic, violent or emotionally unsettling for those gamers who are still too young to vote, drive a car or get hammered on pints of Carlsberg and throw up all over the tiled floor of the local kebab shop.

In the UK, the doling out of age ratings used to be handled by the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) - the same organisation responsible for deciding which ratings (you know - U, PG, 15 etc) movies are awarded; but since 2012 PEGI has been calling the shots. In the US, the ESRB does the dirty work, acting like some omnipresent Ministry from the mind of George Orwell and deciding what you can and can't play, dependent on the year of your birth. We're not here to wax lyrical on whether these organisations are correct in their judgement though. No, what we want to explore this time around is the BBFC's classification of some of the Dreamcast's more adult-themed PAL titles, and some of them are a little surprising to say the least...

Before continuing though, I just want to clarify - these are games that specifically have an 18 label on the cover. The ELSPA ratings (see above) you will find on the vast majority of PAL games are really only guidance labels and did not prohibit sales to minors as far as I'm aware.

Sword of the Berserk: Guts' Rage
We recently cast an eye over Berserk and think it's a decent hack 'n' slash with some great acting and an involving story. It's a little heavy on the cut scenes, but we'll let that slide for now. As for it being rated 18 though - we're not quite sure on the BBFC's reasoning here.
Sure, the game contains blood splatters and limbs being lopped off with a massive sword...but there are plenty of other games with much more gore contained within that don't even get a second glance. There are some fairly adult themes covered in the story, such as discrimination of mutants, social and political unrest and mental health maybe they had a hand in garnering this oddly high age rating for Berserk? Or maybe the BBFC didn't think younger gamers were ready for the full-on awesome of Balzac's beard (and name. See, it sounds like 'ball sack.' Chortle).

Grand Theft Auto 2
GTA 2 was always going to get an 18 certificate just because of its subject matter and illustrious forebear. The first game in the series was hardly a realistic portrayal of a life of crime with it's basic visuals and almost comical tone, but it is the connotation that is the issue.
GTA 2 is about as far removed from realistic violence as the series has ever managed to get, what with the slightly bizarre near future setting and colourful visuals...but no matter how you dress it up, running over pedestrians, performing car-jackings and shooting cops with a lightning gun was always going to end up on the wrong side of the censors.

Soldier Of Fortune
One of the Dreamcast's only true single player first person shooters, Soldier Of Fortune was a fairly late budget release that was met with mixed reviews. The loading times are almost Bloodborne-esque and the cut scenes are pretty atrocious even by 2000 standards, but it plays well enough and also features some great damage models. By which I mean, you can pretty much eviscerate your enemies with a minimum of effort. Or decapitate them. Or just blow an appendage off with your shotgun.
Obviously, being a game in which you play a mercenary and revelling in the glorification of wanton death, Solder Of Fortune could have expected to get a 15 certificate straight off the bat, but it's this extra layer of gore that bumps it up to an 18 as far as I can tell. To be honest, playing the game now it seems quite tame and Kingpin, another FPS that was headed to the Dreamcast also featured lots of gratuitous dismemberment (and undertones of gang and drug culture), and would also have no doubt found it's way onto the top shelf had it been released.

Mortal Kombat Gold
This is where is gets a bit silly. Sure, the recent Mortal Kombat X features some outrageously gory violence and finishing moves, and with the power of the next gen systems it looks brutally realistic at times...but Mortal Kombat Gold? An 18 certificate?! Yep, afraid so. Play Mortal Kombat Gold now is and you'll struggle to see what the fuss is about, as the fighting action is largely cartoon-like and not really that violent at all. Sure, you get those comical blood splatters that the series is famous for, and you can make enemies explode or mangle them in traps etc...but is there anything in MKG that can really be seen as anything other than tongue-in-cheek? Not in my opinion.
There are other fighting games on the Dreamcast that appear far more realistic, but do not receive age restrictions. Look at Dead Or Alive 2, The Last Blade, or any number of Capcom's 2D catalogue. Sure, the latter games mentioned there do have a distinct visual style that can hardly be called 'realistic,' but the actions being carried out within them are just as violent - if not more so - than anything in Mortal Kombat Gold. A foot hitting a face is a foot hitting a face - regardless of whether it is a beautifully animated, hand drawn foot or not. That said, I wouldn't be surprised if the monkeys at Midway went all out to get an 18 certificate for their game just to give it a bit of gravitas upon release. A Mortal Kombat game that isn't heralded by a fanfare of outrage and headlines due to gore? It just ain't cricket.

Exceptions to the rule
Bizarrely, the games listed above are the only four on the Dreamcast that the BBFC deemed worthy of an 18 certificate in the UK. This strikes me as very odd, because just glancing at my library of PAL cases I can instantly see three games that I would have naturally assumed to be worthy of an upper age rating. What are they? Why, the Resident Evil games of course. However, upon closer inspection they all appear to be 15 certificates, as does Dino Crisis. Even stranger, Shadow Man - a game in which you play an undead serial killer-hunting vigilante who travels between the realms of the living and the dead - also only receives a 15 certificate. It gets weirder though.
Do you have the time to listen to me whine?
Other games you would naturally think of as being very adult in tone also have puzzling classifications: Alone In The Dark gets no classification at all, even though it is a game oozing with Lovecraftian horror; while The House of the Dead 2 is also without certification. A game in which you can literally blow chunks off a zombie that is two feet from your face is deemed suitable for all (granted, you do have to beat the game before you can activate red blood, but you get the idea). In Soul Reaver you roam the ruins of Nosgoth as a jaw-less vampire eating souls and destroying demons...age rating? Nope! In Headhunter you're a bounty hunter blasting gangsters with a shotgun whilst sporting a hipster beard - surely that alone deserves some kind of certificate? Ha! Give it to your 9 year old. Even Silver - an RPG that's full of spoken profanity (in good old fashioned Northern accents, I hasten to add) just slips under the BBFC's radar.

And yet Mortal Kombat Gold is an 18.

Now, I'm not saying that all of these games should have been rated as 'adults only,' and that's not the point of this guff - I just think it's interesting and puzzling in equal measure that an organisation like the BBFC had such wildly differing benchmarks for what was suitable for the virgin, unspoilt minds of the youf of late 1990s and early 2000s Britain...and what they deemed far, far too dangerous.

What are your thoughts? Comments below please!


Robert Jones said...

Some of those ratings, or lack thereof, seem well off. Crazy!

B# Major General said...

I don't know how those systems work, but with movies over here, the film makers don't have to submit it to be rated - but if they do, the rating's what it is.

Or maybe the board just didn't want to hassle with those particular games?