Rather than stopping people playing disturbing games they are too sensitive to cope with, perhaps the ESRB, PEGI and BBFC would do better by helping people find the best games for them.
I want to suggest a new way of rating games. Rather than identifying who shouldn't play particular titles, this would focus on who was most likely to get the most out of them. Rather than keep people away from the games they shouldn't play, this would encourage people towards experiences that are best suited and most rewarding for them.
It's an idea I've been working on for a few years with Game People's Age Awards. Each season we identify games that suit gamers at a particular stage of life; Toddlers, Juniors, Students, Workers, Parents and Grandparents.
Toddlers: Games for very young children and pre-school kids from 2 to 4 years old. These games work with the basics of play to engage these super-young players. Simple controls and bright colors result in some educational and informative experiences.
Juniors: Games for primary school - freshman, sophomore and junior young children aged from 5 to 10 years old. These games provide experiences that connect with a basic joy of discovery and play. Although still simplistic, they engage with a wide range of play mechanics.
Students: Games for secondary, high-school, teenagers and young adults aged from 11 to 17 years old. These games provide thrilling experiences that major on brash, loud and heroic protagonists. Like a summer blockbuster, they provide intense stories to capture the attention.
Workers: Games for those with full-time jobs, employed hardcore gamers 18 years and over. These games provide more of a challenge in both dexterity and problem solving. They are often more about strong single player experiences and offer longer play times that are ideal to chill out with after a long day at the office.
Parents: Games for parents, mums, dads, guardians, aunties and uncles. These games connect with the gamer on a more mature level. Story-driven and often open-ended, the experiences here provide space to play with complex issues and engage in moral dilemmas. Either that or games that help them escape the grind of the work/home balance.
Grandparents: Games for grandparents, senior, older and possibly retired people. These games provide a slightly slower, although no less challenging experience. Time and consideration are of the essence as our most senior gamers enjoy taking their time and steadily improving at their gaming challenges.
Although these are approximations, and you can't really pigeonhole people into such neat boxes, you need something like this if you are going to help match people with appropriate game play experiences.
The last few years I've picked four games for these categories. Although often tricky, it has felt worthwhile and led to some unusual discoveries. There was Pac 'n Roll on the DS that I recommended for Infant gamers: "The super simple controls make this 3D version of Pac Man playable by anyone. Simply push the stylus in the direction you want to go." Then there was Warioware Twisted I recommended for Junior gamers, "this minigame collection offers some of the most entertaining (and frustrating) challenges around. All of them are controlled with a simple built in tilt sensor that makes them ideal for Juniors."
Other age groups were a little easier; with student gamers being suggested social titles like Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and Workers games like Uncharted 2 to help displace their everyday stresses.
Parents were a little harder because they have less time to play than other gamers. Titles that could be easily picked up and offered a calming experience, like Endless Ocean, proved popular suggestions.
Finally, my Grandparent recommendations were for games that weren't over complex, but would provide an experience that could grow to fit the available time. Tiger Woods on the Wii was a popular suggestion here.
I'm about to pick games in each of the categories for spring 2010. I wonder what games you would suggest for each of our age groups? Which group would you put yourself in, or maybe it's time we revised our categories?
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