Adults Only games

A word of warning, those on the hunt for the kind of video games that have an opt-out button on Steam, you’re not going to find any badly rendered nipples here. We’re talking about the kind of adults-only games that require a mature brain to play. This doesn’t mean the goriest or the most violent – although some of them are in here too – but the games that deliver an emotional wallop at the same time. 

Those who don’t play have a very distinct idea of what they think video games are. But we know differently. We know that there are games that explore loss, illness, mental health challenges, and the many, often painful, intricacies of the human experience. Video games are a perfect, personal way to explore often difficult themes and hey, sometimes things just hit different once you’ve grown up a bit. So our adults-only games aren’t just those with a simple rating on them, but the ones that a mature audience will definitely experience in a unique way.  

The Last of Us and The Last of Us Part 2

The Last of Us 2

(Image credit: Naughty Dog)

Developer: Naughty Dog
Platforms: PS5, PS4, PS3

Mature themes? Why just pick one when you can have them all, eh, Naughty Dog?  The Last of Us and The Last of Us Part 2 tick off deep explorations of grief, revenge, and sexuality, and depict a moralistic minefield of whether it’s ever possible to be on ‘the good side.’ If you’ve not played either, there will be no spoilers here but this apocalypse is no mere hide and seek with clicking fungus monsters. They’re there of course – and more terrifyingly human than you would probably like – but, as with the best horrors in media, are merely a background for Ellie and Joel’s sprawling story. There are moments of joy in this world but across both games, the theme is distinctly one of the darker impulses of human nature and what happens when the safety net of society is ripped violently away.  

Spec Ops: The Line

Developer: Yager Development
Platforms: PC, PS3, and Xbox 360

When you start Spec Ops it feels like ‘just another shooter’. Gruff military man goes to exotic location under poorly explained circumstances to shoot lots of foreigners in the teeth. However, it quickly descends into something smarter and far darker than you first assume. Your character, Captain Walker, starts to mentally break down. All of a sudden you’re at the mercy of an unreliable narrator, and a game that wants you to consider the consequences of your actions. Suddenly the action-game cliches you know from other games take on new meaning (those who played will know the white phosphorous scene all too well), and every action you take seems to lead you to madness and guilt. Even the loading screens turn against you. And the finale is a perfect ending to a very, very thoughtful shooter. 

The Walking Dead Season One

Developer: Telltale Games
Platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, iOS and Android

The greatest fear of being a parent is the thought of outliving your child. And though Clementine isn’t Lee Everett’s biological daughter, the believable bond between them can make any player feel like a protective father figure, hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. Like the original comic series, The Walking Dead uses the zombie apocalypse as a springboard to examine humanity at its most desperate, where average people are pushed to their breaking point on a regular basis. The methodical pacing ensures that even simple conversations can feel just as dire as the frenetic action scenes, and sensations of terror take a back seat to feelings of anxiety, guilt, adoration, or mistrust, depending on your dialogue choices. When emotional responses mean more than moment-to-moment gameplay, you’re definitely dealing with something intended for the more developed mind of an adult. 

What Remains of Edith Finch 

A corridor from the house in What Remains of Edith Finch

(Image credit: Annapurna Interactive)

Developer: Giant Sparrow
Platforms: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch 

What Remains of Edith Finch is actually quite happily labelled Teen by the ESRB, but don’t let that fool you. This is a beautiful and poignant journey through the stories of the Finch family, and comes with a large helping of utter tragedy. There’s no need for blood and guts to break your heart, and Edith’s journey through this strange house of memories is a deftly woven narrative revealing the loss that comes to us all. Our lives might not be as fantastical, and hopefully aren’t similarly cursed, but we’re all on a mission to discover our own stories before the past dies with those who were there. What Remains of Edith Finch builds itself around death in a way that video games rarely do, making us wish that our IRL life counter wasn’t just stuck at 1.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

The Witcher 3

(Image credit: CD Projekt)

Developer: CD Projekt Red
Platforms: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch

There’s plenty in The Witcher 3 that could be considered ‘adult’ – loads of violence, politics, the entire Bloody Baron questline – but what makes it most pleasingly mature is its attitude towards sex. Geralt likes sex. His ladyfriends, Triss and Yennifer, also like sex. Sometimes, when Geralt is in town, he has sex with one of his ladyfriends. Sometimes not. Sometimes he has sex with other ladies, and sometimes the ladies have sex with other men. None of this is dwelled upon or treated as a big deal, because it isn’t. When games touch upon intercourse, it’s typically tied up in grand romance, the reward for correctly jumping through a quest’s numerous hoops. In The Witcher 3, it’s just a thing that happens sometimes, because that’s how people are. All of Geralt’s bedroom partners have lives and interests that have nothing to do with him or whether or not they might shag again someday, a genuinely rare approach to sexuality in games. 

Papers, Please

Papers Please

(Image credit: Lucas Pope)

Developer: Lucas Pope
Platforms: PC and iOS

In Papers, Please, your family is a series of needy checkboxes. Each one can be “OK”, “Hungry”, “Cold”, “Sick”, or “Dead”. They never help you out in the main part of the game, where you pore over immigration documents for discrepancies at the checkpoint of a totalitarian state – they exist solely to eat your food and live in your apartment. The game actually gets easier if you let a few of them die, since the cost of food goes down. It’s entirely up to the player to see the loved ones beyond the checkboxes, giving new weight to decisions like whether you should skip heat today so you can afford food tomorrow – and how you could have afforded them both if you’d just detained more undeserving people. God, adult life sucks

Before Your Eyes 

Before Your Eyes

(Image credit: GoodbyeWorld Games)

Developer: GoodbyeWorld Games
Platforms: PC 

We’re going to get it out of the way now. Before Your Eyes is going to make you cry. And, importantly, that’s not just because you’re desperately keeping your eyes open so the game doesn’t notice you blinking and pull you away from an emotional moment. Yes, Before Your Eyes is literally controlled by your peepers themselves. You’ll need a webcam and semi-decent light to play but this is no mere gimmick. We start the game after our death, as the ferryman gears up to take our soul into the beyond but to do this, he needs memories. This means journeying back into the story of a life, using nothing but our blinking eyeballs to take us from one scene to the next. With no gamey layers between us and the narrative, all we need are our eyes to take us through the experiences and regrets of a life lived. Steel yourself. 

The Talos Principle

Developer: Croteam
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, iOS and Android

The Talos Principle doesn’t exactly ‘look’ mature at first glance, especially when you hold the E10+/PEGI 7-rated game up to Croteam’s gib-laden Serious Sam series. But The Talos Principle’s maturity isn’t about hyper-violence, or sexual content, or explicit vocabulary; instead, it deals in lofty philosophical concepts. What is the nature of the self? What does it mean to be human, even when humanity is all but lost? Is doubting that nature vital to the human condition? These are questions that The Talos Principle asks, but it’s never pretentious or heavy-handed about it, couching its philosophy in texts that are equally humorous, mysterious, and ponderous. The Talos Principle wants you to honestly engage with and reflect on these questions and many more, and that’s not something many adults want to do, let alone children.

This War of Mine

War isn’t the grand adventure games usually make it out to be. Wartime is tough on the population caught in the conflict, causing normal citizens to scrape by as they try to avoid becoming a casualty of a battle. This War of Mine shows you war from the common people’s perspective, forcing you to make some extremely tough, life and death decisions as you scrape by on scavenged resources. Should you risk starving yourself to feed hungry orphans? Is finding medicine for a sick companion worth killing someone over? This War of Mine isn’t just a survival game, it deals with some seriously mature themes that might just end with you staring at your screen contemplating the atrocities you just committed in order to survive. Yeah, it gets pretty dark.  

Spiritfarer 

Spitifarer

(Image credit: Thunder Lotus)

Developer: Thunder Lotus Games
Platforms: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch 

Compared to some of the other games on this list, Spiritfarer certainly at first glance doesn’t look like a game for mature audiences. There’s an adorable cat! Cuddly deer! A hug button! But this beautiful Ghibli-esque experience is both a cute and acute exploration of grief and loss. We take over the duties of Charon the ferryman, taking souls across to the other side of the water to, well, move on. Every soul on board here needs to leave us and while we can garden, fish, and design the perfect boat as we go, the theme of loss and acceptance of a life lived is always there. It’s a perfect combination of Stardew and grief, and Thunder Lotus Games description of the game as a cosy management game about death is spot on. There will be tears and as you progress it turns out you’re really going to need that hug button.

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