Rating Killer Instinct and Need for Speed

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Halo is rated M. All of them. The main franchise is a first-person shooter where Master Chief pops aliens and in multiplayer, Spartans jump into simulated training battles to shoot each other. Blood is limited, but Halo remains at M according to the ESRB.

It’s interesting because Xbox One launch day fighter Killer Instinct is rated T. That matches the popular series Street Fighter, while this KI reboot finds itself doused in blood. Punches and kicks send splotches of expelled fluid to the ground and punches hit with twice the ferocity of Capcom’s series. If blood is a catalyst, or even the heightened portrayal of violence, it would seem a T is an awfully low rating.

Then, there’s Need for Speed Rivals, concerning a group of internet famous street racers who dangerously swerve through pedestrian traffic and bump cops from the road. This is E10. Cars violently smash into each other to mirror Criterion’s famed Burnout franchise, and while no one is physically seen being injured, implications are obvious. No one would survive most of these crack ups, and the underlying “fight the power” ideals with the intrinsic heft of the internet is dangerous.

In terms of film, the MPAA has come under fire for under-rating films. PG-13 is the new R. I still remember watching one of the Narnia films theatrically and seeing heads sliced off. Walking away afterward the group I was with were surprised at the PG-13 given the violence quotient.

Maybe ESRB is following a rating’s trend. Maybe Halo 5 will carry the T rating. But, it’s clear there is a shift happening. Note in Killer Instinct’s case, each of the previous games (where applicable) carried a T, although this latest reboot is visibly faster with more heated violence. More interesting is Need for Speed, which seems to change year-to-year regarding E10/T. Most Wanted necessitated a T. Undercover commanded a T. Simulation Shift is the lowest rated at E. Clearly, there would seem to be some randomization here, and what makes Most Wanted a T and Rivals an E10 (with the shared singular descriptor of Mild Violence)? Lack of consistency?

ESRB is important. While I am an adult with no kids and no reason to take on this fight, there remains some concern over how these ratings are being doled out. I don’t think my kids would be playing either Killer Instinct or Need for Speed. Halo, on the other hand, doesn’t bother me as much with its wacky physics. Displays of violence are cartoon-esque, which I cannot say for the other two franchises being discussed. It’s a mystery how the ESRB arrives at their ratings and everyone’s tolerance level is different, but if “mild violence” is “mild violence,” why such a shifting ratings tide?