Halo 5: Guardians has received a Teen rating from the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), making it the first main Halo title not to be rated Mature. This is odd because Halo 5: Guardian doesn't seem to be a major departure from the previous Halo titles in regards to content. According to the ESRB, players can expect "blood, mild language, and violence" from the game, which actually puts it ahead of Halo 4, which listed only "blood and violence". The only thing Halo 5 is missing that was a part of some previous Halo content descriptors is "gore".
The full summary provides more detail on some of the mild language we can expect from Halo 5.
"This is a first-person shooter in which players assume the role of a super soldier (Locke) searching for a missing character," says the ESRB's summary. "Players use pistols, machine guns, grenade launchers, and futuristic weapons to kill alien and human enemies in frenetic combat. Battles are highlighted by realistic gunfire, explosions, and occasional blood-splatter effects. Characters can also use "assassinations" to kill characters by snapping their necks, or by stabbing them with bladed weapons. The word "a*s" appears in the dialogue, as well as occasional taunts/insults (e.g., "I have copulated...with your genetic progenitors!"; 'Your father was a filthy colo and your mother was a hole in the wall!')."
Looking back at Halo 4, that game's summary is largely the same with the exception of blood and disintegrations:
"This is a first-person shooter in which players control futuristic super-soldiers who engage in military campaigns against alien forces. Players use pistols, scoped rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers, and futuristic weaponry to kill enemies in ranged combat; battles are highlighted by cries of pain, realistic gunfire, and large explosions. Stealth moves (i.e., "assassinations") can also be used to attack enemies from behind (e.g., snapping their necks or stabbing/impaling them with bladed weapons). During one cutscene, a human character cries out as her body disintegrates, exposing layers of muscle tissue. Large blood-splatter effects occur when humans are shot; some sequences depict bloodstained environments."
Unless Halo 5 is completely bloodless, it's odd to see this title with a different rating. Personally, I've felt that Halo has always been on the lower side of the Mature rating scale, so this change to Teen is moving the series to where it should've been before. The change also makes me think that perhaps the ESRB is undergoing a change its older sibling, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) underwent with its rating system some years ago.
The MPAA film rating system has been in effect since 1968, with various changes over the years. In the early 80's, PG-rated films like Gremlins and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom came under fire for excessive violence. In response, the MPAA introduced the PG-13 rating as a middle ground between the PG and R ratings. (MPAA ratings G, PG, PG-13, R, and NC-17 are roughly analogous to the ESRB ratings of E, E 10+, T, M, and AO, respectively.) Each rating is assigned by varying groups of people, so there's no exact science to getting a specific rating.
In the past decade or so, there's been a shift in what types of content garner a PG-13 rating versus an R rating. The idea is referred to as "ratings creep". A study published by the Harvard School of Public Health in 2004 found that violence, sex, and profanity increased across all movie ratings between 1992 and 2003.
"Thompson and co-author Fumie Yokota, formerly a researcher at HSPH, found a significant increase of violence, sex and profanity in films over the 11-year period, suggesting that the MPAA became increasingly more lenient in assigning its age-based movie ratings," noted a press release on the study. "Their results suggest that the overall increase arose largely from increases in violent content in films rated PG and PG-13, increases in sexual content in films rated PG, PG-13, and R, and increases in profanity in films rated PG-13 and R. They emphasize that while this ten-year period represents recent experience, it does not represent the full time scale of all films."
The study also noted the differences between movie and game ratings when the content was nearly same, citing the Chronicles of Riddick specifically. A 2013 study published in the journal Pediatrics acknowledged the same phenomenon.
"Results found that violence in films has more than doubled since 1950, and gun violence in PG-13–rated films has more than tripled since 1985," read the study. "When the PG-13 rating was introduced, these films contained about as much gun violence as G (general audiences) and PG (parental guidance suggested for young children) films. Since 2009, PG-13–rated films have contained as much or more violence as R-rated films (age 17+) films."
The latter study pointed to film series like Die Hard. The first few films were rated R, but Live Free or Die Hard carried a PG-13 rating, despite having more gun violence than its predecessors.
"[1987 film The Untouchables] had gun violence in it that was comparable to a lot of the movies we're calling PG-13 in the last five years," study co-author Dan Romer told NBC News at the time. "I wouldn't be surprised if 'The Untouchables' today would get a PG-13."
In contrast, the ESRB ratings have only been around since 1994. It's possible that the re-classification of the Halo series as Teen-rated is here to stay, instead of being an aberration for this specific title. Society marches forward, changing what is normative as it evolves. What was unthinkable or horrific in film 20 years ago, may be normal now and the ratings classifications change to fit current social mores.
Bright side, this now means all those kids I play Halo against online are in-line with the game's actual rating.