YouTube's policies on violent or graphic content (opens in new tab) are clear: "Violent or gory content intended to shock or disgust viewers, or content encouraging others to commit violent acts are not allowed on YouTube." It goes on from there, but that lays out the basics pretty clearly. It also opens the door to confusion and conflicts. What happens, for instance, when the "gory content intended to shock" rule runs up against, well, this?
Mortal Kombat is obviously a far cry from real-world violence, but the thing about policies is that if they can be applied in unintended ways, sooner or later they will be. YouTube has therefore taken steps to get in front of that by updating its policies to differentiate between the real bloodletting it wants to keep off the platform, and the fun stuff in videogames that makes up a significant portion of its content.
Effective December 2, "scripted or simulated violent content found in video games will be treated the same as other types of scripted content," YouTube said in a policy enforcement update (opens in new tab). The change means that future uploads featuring scripted or simulated violence may be approved rather than age-gated, and that gaming-related content will face fewer violence-related restrictions overall.
The "high bar" of the existing content policies will remain in place with regard to real-world violence, however, and YouTube warned that game-related content could still be age-restricted "if violent or gory imagery is the sole focus of the video."
The change also doesn't appear to be retroactive: The policy update says specifically that "future gaming uploads" may avoid being age-restricted but makes no mention of existing content, and videos like the fatalities trailer above or—ironically—the violence montage (opens in new tab) assembled for the benefit of hand-wringing politicians last year still require an age-appropriate sign-in to be viewed.
Update: A YouTube rep confirmed that the change only applies to videos uploaded on or after December 2, and is not retroactive. For age-restricted videos uploaded within 30 days prior to that date, however, owners can appeal the decision to have the restrictions lifted.