GamerDad to ESRB: Why is Halo 3 Rated M-Mature?

halo31In the four years since I launched, we’ve only disagreed with the Entertainment Software Ratings Board a handful to times. We felt that The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion deserved an M-Mature ( the ESRB actually changed the rating soon after, but not because of us) and we’ve always felt that Microsoft’s best selling Halo series was far more PG-13 than Rated R – or to put it in ESRB speak, T-Teen versus M-Mature. Despite the purple and blue alien blood, Halo has always seemed so… tame to those of us actually familiar with M-rated fare. Well, Halo 3 comes out today and it’s sure to be a massive hit, but once again the ESRB has rated it M-Mature. I received my copy on Friday and I’ve played through most of the short single player campaign and I keep asking myself the same question, over and over again: Why is this game rated M-Mature?

Don’t get me wrong. I firmly believe in the ESRB and support its mission. I know how hard their job is. GamerDad is built to go beyond what they do and speculate why a game gets the rating it gets but as I mention, we very rarely disagree with them. They do a fantastic job. But what exactly are they protecting teenagers from in Halo 3? BioShock, another Xbox 360 first-person shooter with an M-rating earns that rating by challenging the player with horror, creepiness, audio logs delivered by insane people, harsh language, and blood covered zombies being dispatched with crude weaponry, including a wrench. And that’s not even mentioning the 8-year old genetically modified little girls and your upsetting option to Harvest (read: kill) them or save them from their weird and twisted fate. BioShock is fantastic because it’s mature in the truest sense. It’s made for adults, not kids. The rating is appropriate.

Grand Theft Auto is a series that lets players indulge in fantasies of lawlessness. They present the player with an open playground where they can hijack an ambulance and rescue people, a taxi and earn money from fares, or, more likely, a backdrop where they can kill innocent people and police in an effort to get to 5 stars and the inevitable Army tanks. If that gets old, there are plenty of missions based on popular adult films like Scarface, Boyz in the Hood, and Goodfellas (depending on the edition you buy). Clearly mature content for an adult audience.

But what is Halo? Halo is the story of Master Chief, a guy in powered armor, who fights alien monsters through a series of mostly clichéd backdrops and missions. It’s a simple, non-challenging storyline. Basic sci-fi. Nothing upsetting or inappropriate here.halo32

The ESRB descriptors mention:

VIOLENCE: Combat is constant – you’re always trying to kill, or being killed by, aliens ranging from wicked to silly. But there aren’t gratuitous blood spatters on the walls and ceiling. The graphics are sensational, but little time is spent on making bodies fall in twisted heaps. There are friendly soldiers and they can die, but they never lose limbs or die gasping in excruciating pain. The alien blood is about the most violent thing present and it’s the only difference between Halo and the similarly sci-fi Metroid series on the Nintendo Wii. A game rated T-Teen.

LANGUAGE: I heard the occasional “bastard”, “hell” and “damn” – meanwhile at the local playground I heard: “Sh*t”, “F*ck”, and “Motherf*cker”
BLOOD & GORE: I’m playing the game in HD on a 32” screen and I sit about 5 feet away from it and… where’s the blood and gore? There’s alien blood, but it’s bright blue or purple alien blood, and it looks like someone cut into one of those carnival glow sticks and shook it all about. I can vaguely remember maybe a hint of red blood but in the heat of combat I can’t swear I actually saw that.


So there you have it. Halo 3 has been rated M-Mature, that is to say it’s been brought on par with games like BioShock, Grand Theft Auto: Whatever, Manhunt, and several other truly mature or boundary-pushing games for reasons that seem primarily limited to fluorescent alien blood and the word “damn.”

For the sake of contrast lets look at a PG-13 film like, I dunno, the latest James Bond flick (several brutal murders, truly harsh language and the hero gets tortured by having his testicles repeatedly struck by a knotted rope) and Aliens vs. Predator (which had fluorescent blood plus lots of red blood spatters, people murdered by monsters, harsh language, and horror).

Now lets look at television rated for teenagers. Heroes is a pretty good example to start with, sorry for the spoilers but on Heroes your teen saw several people get the backs of their heads removed so a villain to consume their brains, the shooting of several characters, and all the unnerving “readjustments” the cheerleader would make after surviving death (her superpower is self-healing and we get to see her move her spine back into place, or remove a giant piece of glass from her chest). Heroes also featured a heroine addict. This is material deemed appropriate for 13-year olds in TV land.

Look, I understand that these are different ratings systems and the ESRB isn’t beholden to the ones for TV and movies, but shouldn’t some sense of parity be maintained? For the sake of parents, I mean? Is a 14 year old – that is to say a High School student – really going to be shocked by the brightly colored glowstick blood in Halo and baseline combat violence in Halo 3?

I don’t think so. I think this rating misleads parents and is unfair to Bungie and Microsoft.

That’s why GamerDad strongly urges parents to seek as much information as they can about the games they let their kids buy. Truly Mature games like Grand Theft Auto and BioShock should be given to kids reluctantly and carefully, if at all. The rating is accurate for those games. But to lump Halo 3’s Star Wars-esque gameplay and violence on par with those more mature titles only muddies the waters, confuses well-intentioned parents. And makes them not trust a ratings system that 9 times out of 10 is exactly right. M-Mature needs to mean something substantial and my argument is that Halo 3 isn’t substantially mature enough to warrant this kind of warning and scrutiny. Nobody needs to be carded for Halo 3, except those under 13.

Halo 3 has one heck of a co-op system in place. If you’re the parent of a teenager, why not pick it up as a rental and have a grand time blasting aliens in an effort to protect future Earth together. It really is the right kind of militaristic sci-fi action game that’s appropriate for most of today’s teenagers. It’s time for the ESRB to get with the program and rate games based on criterion that makes sense to today’s media saturated teens and parents.

GamerDad maintains that video games are no worse than other media. It’s time for them to be rated in at least a remotely similar way other media is rated. For the sake of the parents – and the children.

Thanks for reading and note that this isn’t a full review of the game, it doesn’t take into account the incredibly offensive and rude multiplayer community this game typically attracts.

Looking for the GamerDad Review of Halo 3?  Click here!

176 Responses to “GamerDad to ESRB: Why is Halo 3 Rated M-Mature?”

  1. there is no alien race with red blood that i know of hunters have bright orange but not red unless you count humans as an alein and by the way Star Wars has more killing in it just think in episode 4 a whole planet gets blown up and the in episode III the whole jedi order gets destroyed exept for obi wan and yoda and star wars is rated PG exept the 3rd thats PG 13 but still in halo your killing like in star wars but with just a little more blood

    P.S. i have beaten halo 1 2 and 3
    P.S.S. i think forge in halo 3 is more fun than the campaing

  2. Thank you for this article. My mom and dad were not so comfortable with me playing this game, but i still could. And now since I showed this to my mom she is much more ok with me playing it. P.S. THIS GAME IS SO FREAKIN AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Me and my friends love playing it.

  3. @alex
    Brutes have red blood. and in one level you can kill rats.

  4. i am 12 and even though i have seen james bond movies and played james bond for the first time at seven, my friend who is six months older than me is alowed i am not allowed to play.

  5. if i have call of duty 4 for ds should i be allowed to play halo 3?

  6. It depends that game has horible graficks compared to halo and the blood is in short 1 second splaters but it is red but I don’t think so if ur 13 or older I think u should be able to get It

  7. They came out with halo reach. is that any worse than halo 3?

  8. I need to show this to my mom. I am 13, and my mom is VERY strict about M rated games. I really think this will help me out a lot. Thank you GamerDad.

  9. Good article. I think it proved a lot of good points.

  10. Halo should be e10+ because violence is colered laser beams not guns and language is mild and blood and gore is blue purple yellow it is not real animated.

    No not e10+ i meant T

  11. hey im 13 years old and i have played all of the halo games but i dont know how to ask my parents if i can get it because i think that they will say no any suggestions on how to ask them

  12. well i think it should be changed to teen now cause there is no blood and gore, barley language on multiplayer. i agree, this is no bad gore or anything, just small dots of blood that isnt even noticible in the midst of combat, even from a distance. all you really see is the glowing of the body showing that the other player is losing health. i am 12 and i started playing at 10 years old. even i didnt notice the blood, and my TV is huge. so the rating should drop as low as rated T. it is just rediculus to rate it M. it should only be Vilonce and Slight blood. so they should drop it to teen cause they are not going to get much sales on that game if it is rated mature.

  13. and also, thank you for this report it should help change my parents mind

  14. I am a 13-year older, and I just bought a new copy of Halo 3, which both my dad and my mom obviously hate. I keep telling them that the game is not that bad, and has an unreasonable rating, but they won’t listen to me exactly. I am not the online multiplayer-type (I play campaign and split-screen), and the campaign itself isn’t very effective in tremor to my temper or influence in violence. I’ve seen plenty of cruel and violent movies with strange ways of tortures, and what does Halo 3 have? Master Chief shooting through aliens, trying to save the universe, with a regular story plot of the enemy becoming good again.
    To wrap this up…. is Halo 3 appropriate for people my age?
    (I don’t have a huge temper in gaming…)

  15. hi gamerdad, im 10 years old my mum and dad arent letting me have halo odst and halo reach but i always play it round my friends house and we already orderd it so what do you think

  16. The online rating should be M. The people of the xbox community are extremely rowdy, rude, and not very nice to listen to. This is coming from a 21 year old that plays it. If you mute the people it’s not a big deal any longer. The only problem with that though is part of the game is about communication during the team situations. This just boils down to the game itself is not a bad one, it just has people in the community that like to ruin it for the rest of us.

  17. Hi,
    Thanks for the post – I’m the most unfair/uncool Dad in the world because I insist on holding the no-M rated games in our house. I’ve scratched my head on this one for a long time and when I found your blog it made a lot of sense. My teen son and I played H3 this week on multi-player and had a blast; we didnt have to “turn off the sound” or find the settings to make it not-M, it just didn’t seem “M”. It may be an “ajudicated to a T” game in our house which is what I think the point of your whole site is; that people would read, think and make informed decisions.

    Thanks again – I hope it’s good to know that your post, while a few years old is still very relevant.

  18. Gamer Dad,
    I live with just my mom thinks that all M games have way to much curses and way to much violence. I really want to play Halo 3 and i think i should be able to after reading your article I went to show my mom this article and once she saw the title she didn’t give the article a chance can you email my mother and tell them that Halo 3 is not all that bad I left her email in the mail. So please just take a moment and send a quick email.

  19. If halo 3 is fps star wars then wouldnt there be people getting there hands chopped off and a lot of it.

  20. I can tell you right now im going to talk to my parents about this. I know 4th graders that plays this for God’s sake. I’ve played it a few times at my friends’ houses, told my parents about what I did and didn’t they didn’t seem to mind at all. But now that i ask them for Halo again this year the usual “no” comes up

  21. So I’m turning 13 in a month and my parents just don’t allow M games in the house nor R rated movies. And I’m pretty sure I can’t even play M rated at a friends house… I mean COD is one thing to be M rated, but Halo? It’s basically like Metroid on steroids…

  22. Actually michael Russell if you kill more than one marine during campaign mode at a time they will turn on you and kill you

  23. halo is not a bad game it only has violence blood

  24. this might be a ploy by microsoft to make the game seem more mature than it actually is. this has probably been stated a lot in the comments, but it’s very possible that they made it seem more violent to make it seem all the more adult to younger kids, who already heard it being talked about by their older brothers/sisters/friends. I remember the first Gorillaz album, which was marked explicit and every song on itunes is marked with that, despite none of the songs containing curse words. it’s probably a similar concept

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