I’ve been thinking a bit about what Life Flashes By would get rated, whether by the ESRB or otherwise, if I had to submit it for such. What spurred this thought was a handful of people asking me about my juxtaposition of cartoonish artwork with somewhat more heavy subject matter, sometimes prefaced with questions as to who the game’s target audience is. We’re fortunately at a point in cultural history where it’s getting less common to automatically assume that all cartoons are for kids, but a few remnants of that mentality do still exist. To such questions, I cite works such as Persepolis, of which I’m a big fan, both in graphic novel and film form. Admittedly, the story I’ve written here isn’t nearly that heavy, but the example works all the more, and most people in my social circle seem to “get it” once I bring it up.
Further clarifying my rationale are the ideas in Scott McCloud’s triangle from Understanding Comics — which I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, somewhere, for those of you who’ve been reading me for a while. I don’t want to invoke a realistic art style over an iconic one, because this isn’t a story about the real world; it’s about the somewhat skewed world in a particular woman’s mind. On a related note, a question I haven’t yet been asked, but what I see inferred in a few off-hand comments, is why, now that I’ve started to recruit other people to do artwork for me, didn’t I outsource the character art to more talented  artists, when I did so for the background art? I figured that having more detailed, yet abstract, surrealist backgrounds would give more of an impression of the world as a strange, unfamiliar place (which is definitely how Charlotte sees it) and Scott McCloud argues that more detail in artwork brings about a greater sense of “otherness”, rather than the personal identification a more symbolic representation would portray. Marcela Roberts, having submitted some art for DREAMING a while back, had what I thought was the perfect style to convey this. Goodness knows I myself don’t have the patience.
Outsourcing the character art, on the other hand, just feels completely wrong to me. I don’t think I’d want my characters to look realistic and/or detailed even if I had the time and budget to avoid the uncanny valley look; I much prefer iconic character art in general, since — again, as Scott argues — it’s easier for us to see ourselves in symbolic representations. At the same time, I know my character art isn’t “pretty” by most standards; the proportions are off and the animation’s kind of stiff. This, as I sort of mentioned last week, is also on purpose, representing the so-called “ugliness” many of us see in ourselves. I know I myself see much imperfection  in my physical body and often feel clumsy moving it; this is very much true of my inner self as well. Judging some of the emotional reactions other people had towards the game, many people felt that way about Charlotte in general, in terms of how they related to her.
Anyway, back to my thoughts about ratings. It is exactly because of thoughts like these that I don’t consider Life Flashes By a game for kids. I mean, sure, there’s no violence or nudity or bad words,  but at the same time… it’s just a bunch of people talking! They’re so going to get bored. And they’re certainly not always talking about happy things. I mean, sure, good children’s fiction isn’t all sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows either — The Little Girl Nobody Liked isn’t, and it’s a big hit with the kids I know who’ve played it  — but there’s definitely stuff in there that you can’t really relate to unless you’ve had the relevant life experience to do so. Using myself as an example, while I may have been able to enjoy playing this game at 12 or 13, I likely wouldn’t have resonated with it emotionally until I was about 16 or 17; maybe even older, in some cases. And everyone’s different, so maybe it’s not about age so much as it is about where or who you are in life. For all I know, some people will be at a place where they either don’t relate to the game anymore — including, perhaps, my future self — or never did and never will.
None of this really answers the question of what the game would actually get rated, per se, but maybe that’s not the question that’s important in the first place. Maybe it’s just yet another screed about how what culture considers “mature” in entertainment isn’t really about maturity at all. Or maybe a thinly-veiled lament that not enough games deal with issues like these. Or… something.