When games get edgy, it usually means they are gory or contain erotica. Too often we conflate pushing the envelope with meaning. Soldier of Fortune let you blow people to pieces, literally. Mass Effect treats sex and romance as though it were written by a salacious 13 year old (I will give credit to the interspecies homosexual sex, that made me ask some questions about sexuality). Manhunt was basically murder pornography. But there are some games that use gore and adult themes to actually spark thought, not just controversey. Art should ask tough questions of its audience. I hope maturity (both mine and that of art) means more than simply shedding the taboo of sex and violence.
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The Binding of Isaac is edgy — in the right way. It uses its gore and irreverence to make you think, and that’s saying something for a game that plays like Bomberman. Edmund Mcmillen, one of the games designers, elaborates on this:
A lot of the content in Isaac is extremely dark and adult. It touches on aspects of child abuse, gender identity, infanticide, neglect, suicide, abortion, and how religion might negatively affect a child, which are topics most games would avoid. I wanted to talk about them, and I wanted to talk about them in the way I was comfortable with, so that’s what I did with Isaac.
I’m not saying everyone who played Isaac did so because they cared about these themes, or that they even understood why they were in the game, but I strongly believe that this adult conversation I dove into with Isaac is what made the game stand out to people and kept them thinking.
Even an elementary familiarity with literary analysis would allow you to pick up on half of the things McMillen was trying to talk about. That’s an achievement.