Mature and Guns

My friend Sestren (with some outside assistance) recently coined a phrase, “Mature and Guns”, which is particularly helpful in discussing video game narratives, so I feel obligated to elaborate on it here.

Shadow the Hedgehog is a (fairly) recent Sega release, starring a supporting character from the Sonic Adventure series. Shadow is Sonic’s rival. He’s black and red, contrasting Sonic’s Blue and White, has just the right combination of Emo and Death Metal to counteract Sonic’s Blink 182 Pop-style.

I’ll cut to the chase. Shadow the Hedgehog is a terrible game. It’s a logistical train wreck, (If you pause to review the missions, but you don’t have any missions yet, you can’t access the “Close Menu” option, freezing your game.) but that’s not the problem.

“Mature and Guns” is a phrase that describes something that intentionally panders to an audience that takes itself more seriously than it deserves to be taken, usually early teenage boys. The term originated with this game because, inexplicably, Shadow the Hedgehog picks up a gun near the beginning. He didn’t have a gun in any of the games he appeared in previously, and he seemed to get along fine without it. To go with his new gun, he also has a boatload of existential crises, and if I understand it correctly, could be maybe a clone, an alien, or a robot, depending on how you finish the game.

Now, understand me, I’m not against existential crises. I think you can get a huge amount of good storytelling mileage out of them, but if your premise is a black emo hedgehog with a gun, who may or may not have been created by this man, the sudden shift into serious territory makes it ridiculous. The term “Mature and Guns” specifically came from imagining the conversation in the Sega board room:

“Okay. With this new Sonic game, we’re looking to try to tap into a much more mature audience. Teenagers love video games.”
“Alright, let’s go down the list. We’ve got darker atmosphere, check, intolerably long cutscenes, check.”
“Oh! Oh! All them kids loved that Final Fantasy 7 business, why don’t we do it like that?”
“Existential Crises, check.”
“I know! All the kids love GTA too, right? Let’s give him a gun! Nothing says ‘adult’ like guns!”
“Great! Alright, I’m beat, let’s get lunch.”

To reiterate: Mature and Guns describes a game which is intentionally pandering to an audience that takes itself more seriously than it deserves to be taken.

The fact that this term also perfectly describes Final Fantasy 8, which introduced the gunblade is purely incidental.


Brian Rubinow said...

There was a great VG Cats comic that also sums up Shadow the Hedgehog:

But yes, "mature and guns" is quite a useful phrase. I had never heard about that game-freezing glitch, though. That's just terrible.

Malgayne said...

Thank you SO much for writing this. A number of people lately have asked me my personal opinion of Age of Conan, and I have invariably wanted to reply that I think it's "mature and guns", but I can never explain it confidently to the person I'm talking to. I'm just going to start linking people to this blog.

William said...

Unfortunately, I haven't done enough research on Age of Conan to have an informed opinion, but I suspect that the "Conan the Barbarian" stereotype that emerged from the Robert E. Howard stories has kind of been Mature and Guns from the get-go.

Which, interestingly, is unlike the original stories, which are most definately not.

Brian Rubinow said...

Mature and swords?

Natalie said...

I think the point was that Mature and Guns only applies if the story takes itself seriously in a way that makes the reader want to laugh. Shadow the Hedgehog is Mature and Guns because it's absurd, and they did a bad job of selling the aesthetic premise of "Like Sonic, but black. And with a gun." Prince of Persia: The Warrior Within (http://www.penny-arcade.com/2004/12/3/) is another Mature and Guns example that falls prey to the same mistake, albeit for a different reason.

I think the contrast William's drawing with the original Conan stories is that they aren't Mature and Guns because the reader can take the seriously as story as the story itself does. As long as you don't have that disconnect between consumer and product, I don't think you can be in a Mature and Guns situation. Max Payne, I think, is a good example of a product that could easily have been Mature and Guns, but wasn't, because you were encouraged to laugh at its film noir ridiculousness just enough, and could take Max seriously just enough. Or how about Syndicate? That game could easily have been Mature and Guns too, if it hadn't been so damn funny and known it.