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Subject: How mature can board games be? rss

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Michael M.
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Hey all,

I am in the process of designing a game that, while not containing any nudity or foul language, is rather dark and moody in both theme and aesthetic. This got me thinking: how mature are board games really allowed to be? Movies, video games and comics seem to have reached a place where they can get quite adult in content, but are board games at that point yet?

I wonder because despite being an avid gamer, and now attempting to be a designer, I only own about 5 or 6 games myself so I'm not sure if mature games are already out there. Even Arkham Horror, despite being considered a dark game by many, has plenty of lighthearted, silly moments in it.

I would assume that most board game hobbyists are actually adults, not children, which makes it kind of frustrating for me to think that a game aimed at that real majority demographic wouldn't be marketable because it doesn't accommodate a perceived child demographic that often isn't even there.
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Ed G.
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M_Strauss wrote:

I would assume that most board game hobbyists are actually adults, not children, which makes it kind of frustrating for me to think that a game aimed at that real majority demographic wouldn't be marketable because it doesn't accommodate a perceived child demographic that often isn't even there.


This. You will continue to be frustrated.
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Michael M.
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Ursus_Major wrote:
M_Strauss wrote:

I would assume that most board game hobbyists are actually adults, not children, which makes it kind of frustrating for me to think that a game aimed at that real majority demographic wouldn't be marketable because it doesn't accommodate a perceived child demographic that often isn't even there.


This. You will continue to be frustrated.


This post both frustrated me and made me crack up.
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Jordan Booth
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Also consider that just because someone is mature, that does not necessarily mean they will be interested in mature content. Even if all of the players are adult, they may have children present and looking over their shoulder. Basically you're going to have to come up with a REALLY good reason that the content belongs in the game or else it will come off as offensive just for shock value, which is exactly why I have ZERO interest in playing Cards Against Humanity.
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Tim West
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It depends how you want to define mature, but there are plenty of games that meet that criterion for any given definition.

For dark and moody, try Chaos in the Old World or any number of dark-fantasy miniatures games.

For violence, try Spartacus: A Game of Blood & Treachery, in which you bid on slaves and have them fight to the death for your own amusement and social/political advancement.

For sexual/adult themes, see the likes of Cards Against Humanity.

For straight-up sex, see any number of party games (e.g. 1,000 SEX Games; I haven't played that or any other, but I note the bgg entry rather dryly suggests "Best with more than 2 players").

There are lots of mature games out there. They aren't necessarily being published by Hasbro, but lots of smaller companies are producing them. And I can think of a long, long list of games that aren't "mature" in the sense of having a difficult or off-putting theme but that nonetheless aren't being actively marketed at children.
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Zakimos Kleidos
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I don't know what you consider "mature".

I play board games to 1) have fun 2) challenge myself against my friends. Usually, younger people love having fun, and appreciate more and more the challenge as they grow up, without the need for the fluff.
That's the reason why I usually consider abstract 2 players games to be the epytome of "mature" games.

How can a theme and aesthetics make a game "mature"?
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Michael M.
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Born-of-Ashes wrote:
Also consider that just because someone is mature, that does not necessarily mean they will be interested in mature content. Even if all of the players are adult, they may have children present and looking over their shoulder. Basically you're going to have to come up with a REALLY good reason that the content belongs in the game or else it will come off as offensive just for shock value, which is exactly why I have ZERO interest in playing Cards Against Humanity.


I fully realize that simply being over 18 doesn't mean that a person will be into mature content, but just like how I can, as an adult, enjoy movies like Wall-E or The Incredibles, I also have the option of watching a film like Boogie Nights or Reservoir Dogs, or TV shows like The Sopranos or Boardwalk Empire. Considering how games, particularly in America, have been moving in a more thematic and story telling direction, I'm frustrated both as a consumer and a potential creator of content that I don't have access to a wider range of content and subject matter like I do in other entertainment mediums.
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This film's crap, let's slash the seats
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I'm somewhat confused by your definitions. How do Shanghai Trader or Lunch Money or pretty much every wargame ever not qualify as "mature content" in your book. Not only is this stuff around, it has been for decades.

It is possibly true that it won't appeal to abstract gamers etc. But, as you seem to be starting from a theme-first position, I'd guess that isn't your target market anyway.

Zakimos wrote:

How can a theme and aesthetics make a game "mature"?

You're using a different definition of "mature" then the OP I think.

You seem to be using it in the sense of "fully developed mentally" and the OP is using it as "only suitable for adults".

Neither is incorrect, but they're very different meanings.

Obviously, with abstract games, the latter is highly unlikely to apply at any point, although adults may have course be more likely to play the game skillfully.
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Leonard Moses II
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How honest and cynical can they be? Could we perhaps have a few board games made that are downright rude to some people (with reason as in deservedly so), and that still be okay? Just curious. A lot of games seem ever so interested in not offending anyone. Smarter and less blustery (less kidsy) put downs please.
 
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Sam Cook
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I'd argue that video games and comics have the exact same problem as board games in that many people outside their respective cultures see them as for children even though most of them are designed for an adult audience.
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Michael M.
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Zakimos wrote:
How can a theme and aesthetics make a game "mature"?


Glad you asked!

Aesthetically, I'd say a game like Arkham Horror is pretty dark and moody, for the most part anywhere. I actually have better examples in the world of video games, for example such as Vampire: Bloodlines, any number of European indie games like Penumbra, the Void, I'd even through the gritty realism of Heavy Rain in there. What makes these games aesthetically mature is that they present a world that is uninviting to those not yet old enough to fully understand their context. This isn't done for shock value, but because that kind of look for your game is honest and consistent with the theme.

Thematically, I'd consider a game mature by a similar criteria, as in its for an audience that is old enough and has enough life experience to relate to and comprehend what that particular theme is. A mature theme doesn't necessarily mean lots of blood and sex, I would say most Woody Allen movies are aimed at a mature audience in that children simply have the point of reference to understand, or care, about the themes being discussed in Annie Hall.

Clearly, I'm talking about thematic story driven games here. I'm not arguing for an abstract Eurogame to present me with deep or interesting themes. However, thematic games are a huge sub-genre of board games nowadays, and while some tend to lean in the mature direction, there's just a certain lack of honesty sometimes, a certain sense of pulling punches, where I would like to just have a game that recognizes and respects the fact that it was purchased by adults and will be played by adults, and doesn't need to dumb down or silly up the art or flavor text for children.

I mentioned Heavy Rain earlier. That game does have some brief nudity and violence in it, but that's not what made the game mature for most people, it was the themes and the type of story being told. I guess I'm looking for a game that strives for that same level. For all I know its out there, I just haven't found it yet.

And before anyone says "Okay, you know people play games for fun, why are you being all serious?" stop and try to justify to yourself that you've never had fun watching an R rated movie or playing an M rated game. Of course you have. I'm not arguing against having fun while playing a game, that would be ludicrous.
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Michael M.
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Abiezer Coppe wrote:
I'm somewhat confused by your definitions. How do Shanghai Trader or Lunch Money or pretty much every wargame ever not qualify as "mature content" in your book. Not only is this stuff around, it has been for decades.


I haven't played either of those games, but war games in general are more mechanics based than story/theme based, at least the ones I've played. However, a game based on the book Johnny Got His Gun or the film Full Metal Jacket would be a completely different animal than, say, Risk, even though they would all be "war games," and those games (which for the record I don't actually think would make for good games, but nonetheless illustrate my point) would be thematically too mature for a child to handle. And my point is just that there's nothing wrong with that and I wish that as a consumer I wish I had such products available to me.

And, as I said in a previous post, they may be available to me and I'm just not aware of it.
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M_Strauss wrote:
This got me thinking: how mature are board games really allowed to be?


They are allowed to be as mature as they want to be and still be profitable. If there is a demand, then there will be a supply.
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Tim West
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M_Strauss wrote:
Thematically, I'd consider a game mature by a similar criteria, s in its for an audience that is old enough and has enough life experience to relate to and comprehend what that particular theme is. A mature theme doesn't necessarily mean lots of blood and sex, I would say most Woody Allen movies are aimed at a mature audience in that children simply have the point of reference to understand, or care, about the themes being discussed in Annie Hall.


How about Tammany Hall, a game about the corrupt political scene in New York in the 19th century? That's very mature in terms of theme, and probably doesn't have a lot that children will relate to. Or for more story-driven games, a lot of indie RPGs might fit the bill - look at these reviews for example: http://www.shutupandsitdown.com/blog/post/rpg-review-quiet-y..., http://www.shutupandsitdown.com/blog/post/monster-hearts/.

M_Strauss wrote:
However, a game based on the book Johnny Got His Gun or the film Full Metal Jacket would be a completely different animal than, say, Risk, even though they would all be "war games," and those games (which for the record I don't actually think would make for good games, but nonetheless illustrate my point) would be thematically too mature for a child to handle. And my point is just that there's nothing wrong with that and I wish that as a consumer I wish I had such products available to me.


There are lots of games based on mature TV shows and movies. I mentioned Spartacus: A Game of Blood & Treachery already; there's also A Game of Thrones: The Board Game (Second Edition) and BioShock Infinite: The Siege of Columbia (based on the video game), for example. (As well as terrible games based on mature shows, such as Dexter: The Board Game.)
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Games can be spooky or otherwise dramatic -- see Betrayal at House on the Hill for an example of this. If they're too violent or dramatic, you might lose part of your target audience due to the theme.
 
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Michael M.
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Thanks for the suggestions Tim! I knew there must have been some out there, I just didn't know about them. But even with these examples, there still seems to be MORE of a stigma against mature content in board games than in most other entertainment mediums.
 
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Ralph T
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Even the popular Zombies!!! is extremely gory.
 
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Jordan Fraser
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I don't think that games have to be deliberately offensive to be mature. For instance, a game like Mecanisburgo features sexual content and drug use. However, it fits the cyberpunk theme, so it does not feel like it's there for shock value.
Personally, I wish there were more games that used mature content in this way. The mature theme of After Pablo is largely what makes me seek out a copy of the game. But these types of games seem few and far between.
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C Bazler
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Usually games labeled "adult" or "mature" are the most idiotic and childish games out there—the opposite of "mature!"

I would think your design would only be a problem with publishers if it went beyond "mature" content and into the offensive (rape, bloody gore, torture). If it were just a matter of sexual innuendo, dark humor, or more graphic crime, I couldn't imagine it would be too hard to pitch.
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John Wrot!
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Mature in the true sense and "mature" in the 'boobs are cool' sense, are 2 very differant things. In board games, you have to go with the first.
Frankly, the use of the term "mature" or even "adult" for mindless-sex themed movies, comics, etc, has always bothered me. Even from when I was "immature" and "adolescent".

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I returned to board games in part because I was tired of movies and video games, the Axis of eye-full, that over-emphasized gritty "realism" to the point that it looks more cartoonishly silly than real and cover up the fact that there is little substance in them. In board games you can't really get away with that because bad design stands out like a sore thumb because participants are active and thoughtful.

And like another said, if there are children in the house, many people are going to avoid stuff that is not age-appropriate even if the kids aren't going to play it. If I want nihilistic realism, I'll just turn on the evening news.
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David Boeren
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Abiezer Coppe wrote:
Zakimos wrote:
How can a theme and aesthetics make a game "mature"?

You're using a different definition of "mature" then the OP I think.

You seem to be using it in the sense of "fully developed mentally" and the OP is using it as "only suitable for adults".

Neither is incorrect, but they're very different meanings.


This is what amuses me when I see signs for "Adult Communities". They're trying to say "Senior Communities" but want a more positive sounding word. However, you can also imagine them as communities centered around "adult" activities.

Getting back to the OP, it would be useful for him to be more specific about what kind of content his game (or hypothetical game) actually contains.
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Bryan McNeely
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Some of the most adult video games of all-time happen to be some of the most juvenile. "The Guy Game" and "BMX XXX" being two examples.

No matter how adult or mature your theme is, the greatest gift you can give your game (and therefore your buyers) is great gameplay with high replay value done tastefully. You are free to make any board game you like. That will never be in question. If you expect others to play it, make sure it is good.

Showing naked bodies isn't enough. Don't need $60+ to acquire that. Excessive blood and gore is not an equivalent to "mature" as it also comes across as exaggerated adolescence. (remember "Mad World" for the Wii?)

The same applies to board games. It is no surprise that I am fond of Tomorrow and its adult theme is an aspect I enjoy. It doesn't carry the feeling that a bunch of teenagers created it. Unfortunately, some creators of games, be they computer or tabletop in style, seem to think that excess is good and "the rules" need to be thrown out the window. This isn't so. Make it great and people will eat it up. Just remember that you won't win over everyone's heart.
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Rob Doupe
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The 18xx games are all mature, in the sense that managing rail companies isn't something inherently appealing to children and teenagers.

Do you mean edgy and dark? If that's the case, it's not a matter of adult gamers not being able to handle edgy and dark subjects, as not wanting to play them. There are all sorts of subjects I can appreciate in novels and movies that I don't want to game - mainly because I like serious subjects treated with depth, and boardgames are not suited to depth. Even with videogames, the 'adult' stories are only adult from the perspective of a typical 15-year-old. I haven't come across one yet that offers truly mature, honest, and nuanced insight into the human condition.
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From a marketing and promotions perspective, I don't think that "mature" is the word you will want to use when what you mean is "dark and moody." If you'd just said "dark and moody" in your subject line, I think that you would have sparked a different set of reactions. "Dark and moody" is cool.

"Mature" has a few different meanings in common use, but we have been brainwashed to expect certain things when it is applied to media and entertainment products. A mature game is co-ed, drunken, naked Twister played by combatants armed with a knife in one hand and a bong in the other (©2013. Patent pending. TM). That's what your subject line conjures, but it is clearly not what you meant.
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