My friend, the Game Guru, spent the past weekend with us. As usual, this meant a chance for me to catch up on the state of the field. Being the slow-coach that I am, I had to admit that I wasn't bothering with Elder Scrolls VII so much as puttering around with Final Fantasy III/VI. This didn't bother the Game Guru at all so we popped the old cartridge in and did a little dungeon crawl. While trying to drill the SrBehemoth, I pointed out that the game was a lot easier than when I was fifteen. Indeed, all of Square's games have gotten much easier since I've aged a bit. My friend replied that the versions that were put out in the U.S. were often "dumbed-down" on the theory that U.S. players were young children. This led to a consideration of what makes a game "adult." We came down on complexity of story and theme and difficulty of play.
Now, when we talk about media being "adult," those aren't the two things that typically come to mind. Granted, we often try to shield our children from sex and violence, but don't we also try to shield them from complexity and difficulty? -or how about alcohol and tobacco? Our entertainment, then, creates a sort of negative(in the sense of defining something by its opposite) definition of adulthood as those who aren't children because they can/ought to experience sex and violence. If this is what defines an adult, then it is little wonder that media created for adults continues to import as much sexuality and violence as it can get away with in any given project. The primary intent may not always be to shock or to titillate, but rather to demarcate something as "mature" and "for adults." It's like the director who puts a few F-words into a movie just to get an "R" rating and thus get the serious attention of the academy when the Oscars come around.
What does all this mean for video games? Certainly, there has been an increase in the level of sex and violence in video/computer games over the last twenty years. An aging gamer population and innovations in the technology have worked in tandem to make ever increasing levels of gruesomeness and titillation possible. Even The Legend of Zelda series has gotten a bit more risque with its provocative "Great Fairies." Simultaneous with this development, however, has been a rise in the complexity of the stories that video game designers have attempted to tell and the difficulty of the puzzles and challenges set for players. Given what we said above, these two trends are not necessarily joined at the hip. There is no necessary connection between sex and violence and complexity of story and game play. However, as long as sex and violence are the key signifiers of adulthood in the American mind, they will remain and continue to entrench themselves in the medium as more and more adults begin to play.