When you were first watching Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight," was any part of you surprised that the movie was rated PG-13? This movie, with its intense violence (the pencil scene alone!), was approved by the MPAA for viewers aged 13 and above. And yet, when you think again, how much do you really see? You never see the Joker jam a pencil in someone's eye. You see some blood, sure, but most of the intense, disturbing stuff in that movie is all filled in by your imagination and by Heath Ledger's amazing performance.
The very same thing happens when playing "Portal 2," a game which is rated E-10 for Everyone by the ESRB. What other games have an E-10 rating? "Cake Mania Main Street," "Wildlife: Forest Survival" and "Nancy Drew: Shadow at the Water's Edge."
Note: If you haven't finished the single-player campaign of "Portal 2," you should stop reading, as the rest of this feature may contain minor spoilers.
There's violence in "Portal 2." The ESRB rating makes note of this, saying that "players must avoid hazards such as stationary gun turrets, toxic substances, poisonous gas, and giant pistons; some sequences are accompanied by realistic gunfire." But nowhere in the rating is GLaDOS' dark, comically murderous dialog mentioned. Or the fact that you wake up in a facility surrounded by thousands of comatose bodies. Or really just how twisted the world of Aperture Science is, with its devious human testing procedures. This is not a world I would want to introduce to a 10-year-old.
I'm not saying that the ESRB failed in their rating of the game. Not by a long shot. It's just interesting to see where the blind spots are in the rating process, specifically when it comes to context.
I would feel more comfortable with my fictional 10-year-old playing the new "Mortal Kombat" than I would "Portal 2." The former features outlandish, over-the-top violence that no kid could possibly mistake for reality, whereas the latter is basically a total mindf***. If you cut out all the gory scenes of "Se7en," you'd still be left with the scene with the box. But in the ratings game, it's not what's implied, it's what you see, and "Portal 2" implies just enough to get you thinking.
It has been about a week since I finished "Portal 2," and in that week I've decided that it ranks among my favorite games of all time. As I said in my review, it's a masterpiece. But if you're thinking of picking it up for your Pokemon-loving nephew, you might want to think again. That is unless you're willing to shell out for the inevitable shrink bills.