After much commenting about how various versions of Age of Conan would be different depending on the region you played it in, Funcom announced that they'd received a Mature 17+ rating for Age of Conan for the US that allowed players to see nipples on female characters. Reaction to this finding has been pretty favourable, but that's to be expected in a genre dominated by male gamers who like seeing naked women. The link indicates that full nudity is out of AoC at that rating, indicating that perhaps full nudity code / models exist within AoC.
On the flip side, no comments exist about Germany's censor board's apparent preference to tone down the violence of AoC within their region. I have to assume that this regional difference is still going to occur.
There is a side issue here of feature regionalisation of MMOs that I'm not going to go into, but could see MMOs differ widely by region and already happens for MMOs operating in China. What I am interested in is how this decision is being hailed as some sort of victory over censorship and how AoC will get to ship as a 'mature' game.
The problem with this line of thinking is that 1) Funcom obviously submitted a 'full' version (it's still in beta development, so it can't be a true 'full' version) to the ERSB who passed the game at an M17+ rating, so it still slid in under the censorship regime rather than in defiance of it, and 2) the video game industry is going to continually have problems with the general population if it equates nipples and blood as what makes a game mature. Don't get me wrong - it's nice to see that the ERSB isn't putting the skids on a game just because there are nipples in it. But it doesn't help the industry when such games are held up as what is considered mature content.
I haven't played AoC, so I can't tell if the so-called maturity this game is meant to possess surpasses just blood and nipples. I'd hope that, for a game to be truly mature or deal with mature issues, it gives players the option of choice in their play decisions that would allow them to explore some new ideas or to walk a path they otherwise couldn't (and no, bare-breasted demon maimer doesn't count as such a path). Although a hard thing to define clearly, I see maturity as a state where players have a choice of options, are responsible for their decisions and the consequences of what comes out of those decisions.
This is potentially difficult for a MMO to develop around, but certainly not impossible. If players want to play as the utter dregs as humanity, then they should be able to, but there should be in-game consequences of that kind of play. Likewise, if someone plays as a paragon of virtue, that play style should also be acknowledged.
To keep things in perspective, it took Western society hundreds of years to accept literary works that included sex and violence within them (outside of the Bible) and it's taken decades for movies to progress to the point where we have the modern censorship system. Video games are undergoing the same kind of journey in a much shorter time frame. But at the same time, video games as an industry have relied a lot more on violence to shift units and have very, very rarely attempted to tell a meaningful story or provide adult choices in-game. In books and movies, sex and violence are often used as tools to move a story forward; within video games, violence IS the story most of the time.
Don't get me wrong - I'm happy that Funcom can sell AoC in the US as close to their original vision as possible. I look forward to playing it. But there are risks for the MMO genre of announcing AoC as the first great mature MMO, but all the general public sees is a topless amazon who's dripping in gore from the triple decapitation she's just executed.