I've never had to play close attention to age rating questionnaires before. My previous hobby projects have absolutely no offending content (unless coder art is deemed offending (it is by some)). I've recently gone through the submission process with my new memory game, RememBear, and found that Apple's App Store and Google Play's rating questionnaires can arrive at quite different conclusions as to a game's age suitability.
Since you have no context for the game right now, please take 35s to watch the trailer, and we'll talk about the obvious difference in age rating.
Glad you're back. The game is drawn with this cartoon style, and there is cartoon blood at the climax of the trailer. Not much and, not at all realistic.
I think that the main reason for Google's PEGI-18 rating is this question:
I can only answer this question honestly, and there is a strong chance that the children will get eaten by a bear. In fact, it's fairly certain. I completely agree with asking this question, but I'm a little annoyed by what the question is implying with its follow-up:
No, the player isn’t rewarded. The player isn’t actually partaking in the violence, rather, the player is trying to prevent it.
Forgive me if I'm making a huge jump here, but it seems there is an assumption that if a game contains violence, the player must be the perpetrator. The questionnaire doesn't establish the context of the violence, beyond how the player is treated after performing it.
But should that even matter? Children ought to be protected from violence, and if RememBear was a film, surely the fact that the violence was appearing on screen would be enough to warrant an 18+ rating, no matter who the perpetrator is.
Jack Reacher, 12a
Star Wars, PG
The Woman in Black, 12a
So how about The App Store? The only criteria I can positively answer from Apple’s questionnaire is that it has cartoon/fantasy violence - I cannot say that the violence is either ‘realistic’, nor ‘prolonged graphic or sadistic realistic’. I suppose this is the broader brush stroke that allows someone being executed in a Jack Reacher film to be deemed suitable for a 12a audience, so long as it is detached from any realism or consequence by the lack of blood and gore.
The alternative seems to be a questionnaire that makes incorrect assumptions about the content and penalises all violence equally, when not all violence is equal. Violence can be harmful, harrowing and distasteful but also affirming, heroic or even funny. In RememBear’s case, I hope it is shocking, gross, silly and childish. The game doesn’t glamorise violence, which I consider the most harmful (widespread, and accepted) application of violence in media, rather it exists to set a tone much like the violence in old fairy tales, where exaggeration and gratuity would warn children away from the forest.
We should, of course, protect children from harmful content. With hundreds games being published on app stores every day, questionnaires and self-policing seem like a cheap and effective method to do this. However, we do need to be careful about making assumptions. Games that contain violence are not always about violence. Players are not always the aggressors.