Mild/infrequent tobacco use, sadistic realistic violence

With the release of the next major update to the iPhone/iPod touch operating system, iPhone OS 3.0, just under two weeks away, everyone who has content available via the iTunes app store needs to provide a ratings summary for Apple, as OS 3.0 allows parental control of audio, video and application content using a ratings system.

Which means for me, and other authors with fiction available for sale as an eBook app, we have to complete a ratings sheet for each story.

Which is, I have to say, far more fun than it really should be. Okay, at the moment I only have one eBook available – my steampunk novella, The Devil in Chains – and I’m sure the novelty wears off after you’ve rated your seventh title, but just for today I can scratch my head and try to figure out which of Apple’s rating categories applies to my story, and which don’t.

For the official record, here’s the checklist:

Cartoon or fantasy violence – infrequent/mild. I suppose getting shot in the back with a rifle that fires solar plasma is classed as fantasy violence. Likewise the airship attack on the voodoo dopplegangers, and later the zombie siege on the farmhouse, are inherently unrealistic events. But they’re not the crux of the story and they’re not particularly graphic or described in visceral detail.

Realistic violence – none. See above. Nobody is shot with a normal gun, and the story is decidedly lacking in swift uppercuts. Note to self: add more punching in the next story.

Sexual content or nudity – none. Dang, I think I’ve missed a trick. Jackson Clarke never unbuttons his top collar, and Bellamy’s hot sister Zoe (me-ow!) doesn’t make her first appearance until the novel-length sequel, Dark Heart.

Profanity or Crude Humor – none. I don’t think Clarke’s favourite expression, “Good lord”, counts for much in these cynical times. Alas!

Alcohol, Tobacco, or Drug Use or References – infrequent/mild. Cigars and cigarillos ahoy! Steampunk wouldn’t be the same without someone sucking on an exotic blend, if you’ll pardon the expression. The Devil in Chains even stars a meerschaum pipe. I’m quite pleased with that.

Mature/Suggestive Themes – none. I’m assuming this is related to sexual content, as the body horror and possession elements of the story are certainly mature but covered by the category after next.

Simulated Gambling – none. I must remember to add a rollercoaster game of contract bridge to the next eBook, and develop and accompanying steampunk cardgame app to go with it, just so I can check something in this category.

Horror/fear Themes – frequent/intense. Here we go! The Devil in Chains is fantasy steampunk horror, dealing as it does with an ancient god and bodily possession, shadowy dopplegangers and buried evil. If it’s not frequent/intense horror/fear, it’s not The Devil in Chains! Hmm, I sense a catchphrase coming on…

Prolonged graphic or sadistic realistic violence – none. Oh my. Even the category title raises an eyebrow. When you add this to the next category…

Graphic sexual content and nudity – none. … you get the feeling this is like those custom’s forms which ask “Have you ever been a member of the Nazi government of Germany?” or “Do you plan to orchestrate and carry out terrorist acts while in the United States?” that are designed, presumably, to catch exceedingly dim villains when they fly in from their underground lairs. Given that Apple’s terms and conditions forbid the pornographic, obscene and offensive, I suspect that if you tick anything in these categories your iTunes content will be subjected to the digital equivalent of an airport cavity search.

I don’t know what the ratings system on the store looks like once Apple flicks the switch, but I can now rest happily that the voodoo steampunk adventures of Dr Clarke and Alexander Bellamy are now officially certified as being rather scary.