Here’s a brainstorm about a potential rating system.
E, E(M), GA(-M) (MODIFIER/s), DA(-M) (MODIFIER/s), AA (MODIFIER/s)
“Everyone” “Everyone (Mature)” “General Audience (Mature)” “Discerning Audience (Mature)” “Adult Audience”
Modifiers: VIOLENCE, SEXUALITY, LANGUAGE, HORROR, TRIGGERS, PUZZLES
M-“Mature” is a modifier that essentially means the game wouldn’t be inappropriate for children, but probably isn’t designed for them.
“Triggers” are the touchy subjects that might make an otherwise fairly innocent game an emotional land-mine for specific people. (Includes but not limited to rape, child abuse, animal cruelty, death of animals…)
[spoiler]b Everyone[/b]: (fun for the whole family)
No explicit description of anatomy or sexuality.
No overt violence or death (PC can “fail”, or if PC can die, method is implied without descriptive violence - “As you plummet, you try to remember if this is one of the pits that contained spikes, or if the sheer height of the fall will be enough to bring about your demise. In short order, you have your answer.”) no violence to non-enemies. Entities are in general “defeated” instead of killed, enemies generally are fantasy non-humans or monsters.
No cursing or adult language. (Hell is a place, not a curse)
b Everyone-Mature[/b]: (fun for most people, but may not appeal to children or specific readers)
Same as above, although the situations or difficulty might not appeal to or be understandable to younger audiences (such as a deep game about political intrigue) or enemies (not innocents) can be “killed” by the player without overt violent description. (A polite murder mystery with bloodless gunshots and poisonings and stair tumbles, where the only violence the player can participate in is a finale where the murderer is killed by dropping a chandelier on him.)
Enemies may include humans.
b General Audience[/b]: (good for most people except young children, or other readers based on modifiers)
bawdy humor, non explicit
nonsexual description of anatomy or nudity
Mild drug use: smoking, cocktails
Situations: May include mature situations, such as non-explicit discussions of crime, death, accident, sexuality (such as STD, birth control, pregnancy) Drug use or abuse not resulting in injury, death, or trauma, or slightly scary situations (stalked by an intruder which does not result in violence)
Language/Sexuality/Violence/Puzzles/Triggers/Horror indicate possibly more explicit content which is not required to complete the game or may not be encountered on the critical path, or a slight plot-related focus on the modifier.
Example: GA+Triggers might indicate a game with a potential scene involving the death of a pet.
GA-Violence might indicate a combat-heavy game that involves targeting specific limbs and body parts for damage without extensive description of injury trauma.
GA-Sexuality might include a narrator who uses snarky euphemisms, a serious game involving clinical discussion of sexuality, or a game including comic scenes of farcical nudity. The player will not have any interactions involving sexual activity. Interactive violence can not be inflicted on non-enemies/innocents.
“Horror” involves nonviolent horror: ghosts, decay, monsters or possibly potential multimedia sounds or screen effects that could startle the player.
b Discerning Audience[/b]: (with modifiers) (fun unless it’s not your thing)
Rating with modifier will include non-gratuitous focus on, or incidents along critical path involving:
+Language Frequent adult language/Cursing
+Violence Violence including description of injury, gore, wounds, trauma, fighting with intent to injure or kill. The player may be able to interact with NPCs in descriptively violent manner.
+Puzzles Very specific and difficult puzzles of a type that may not appeal to all players
+Sexuality Moderately explicit descriptions or NPC discussion of sexual activity and anatomy. Player action might include sexual interaction, but results will be summarized, left to the imagination, or result in a “fade out”. (see MENTULA MACANUS). If sexual activity is encountered in the game (for example, walking in on Mom and Dad), the sexual activity will cease or the PC will exit/retreat from the situation. Any sexual description will generally not continue longer than one turn.
b Adult Audience[/b] (with modifiers): (Hey, I can do dangerous and questionable things that I would never do in the real world!)
(AA) VIOLENCE - A game that focuses on particulars of gory violence, allows the character to harm innocents, or involves a plot-focus on violence (such as a game where the PC is a coroner performing autopsies on crime victims) which includes interactivity (CUT OPEN THORAX. REMOVE LUNGS). A game that describes violence in explicit detail even if not interactive.
(AA) SEXUALITY - A game that includes explicit sexual descriptions of acts and anatomy, involves NPCs participating (or the player participating interactively) in explicit sexual behavior during the game that continues more than one turn. Or a game that discusses sexuality in explicit detail without interaction.
(AA) SITUATIONS - A game with a focus on subjects that may not be explicitly described, but involve content that could still disturb some readers. A game that focuses on the aftermath of death, disaster, or crime would qualify. (The “I must carry this dying child across the battlefield to the hospital and I can fail” game.) A game that involves interactive drug abuse and/or it’s explicit description and possible aftermath.
(AA) - TRIGGERS A game that includes a non-avoidable trigger situation that is narrated explicitly, (such as the game that involves the player witnessing a non-sexually explicit rape scene played out over multiple turns) or requires participation from the PC (such as a game which involves the PC working in an animal slaughterhouse)
(AA) - HORROR A game filled with oppressive imagery or gameplay to the point that the intention is to disturb the player, even if the imagery is not explicitly violent or sexual. Lovecraftian Horror should aspire to this. Possible example: A game about being buried alive in a coffin with another corpse and spiders that crawl on the player’s face, all described in excruciating detail.
Experimental Ratings (based on my knowledge of the games I may not have found everything in):
KERKERKRUIP: (GA) VIOLENCE, SITUATIONS (drug use)
COUNTERFEIT MONKEY: (GA-M) SITUATIONS, PUZZLES
MENTULA MACANUS: (DA-M) SEXUALITY, LANGUAGE, SITUATIONS
STIFFY MAKANE, THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY: (AA) SEXUALITY, LANGUAGE, SITUATIONS
THEIR ANGELICAL UNDERSTANDING: (DA-M) SITUATIONS, HORROR, SEXUALITY
THREEDIOPOLIS: (EM) PUZZLES
TO HELL IN A HAMPER: (GA) PUZZLES
THE KING OF SHREDS AND PATCHES: (DA-M) SITUATIONS, HORROR
LEATHER GODDESSES OF PHOBOS: (GA) SEXUALITY, LANGUAGE
TACO FICTION: (DA-M) SITUATIONS, VIOLENCE, LANGUAGE
9:05: (GA) SITUATIONS, VIOLENCE
MACHINE OF DEATH (GA) SITUATIONS, HORROR, VIOLENCE[/spoiler]