Wednesday, August 22, 2007


I don't appreciate this:

Gamers will never get to play Manhunt 2.

Yes, sometime this year you might be putting a disc labeled Manhunt 2 into your Wii or PlayStation 2, and stepping into the shoes of Daniel Lamb, a mental patient who has to escape an insane asylum by killing the guards in the most gruesome manner possible. But it won't be the game the creators originally intended.

The developer, Rockstar Games, had the code polished and ready for a July ship date, but was forced to slam on the brakes when the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, or ESRB, gave Manhunt 2 a rating of Adults Only, or AO, the game industry's equivalent of an NC-17 movie rating.

Neither Sony nor Nintendo allow AO-rated titles to be released on their hardware, and most major retailers refuse to stock the games. As a result, creators whose games get an adult rating usually trim back the content or decline to release the product.

Manhunt's ratings woes, which Rockstar announced to the public, is the first visible sign of a shift in the way video games are rated that's unfolding largely behind the scenes. In the wake of increased attacks on the industry by politicians, the industry-run ESRB and overseas groups have been awarding de facto NC-17 ratings to content that would warrant an R or a PG-13 if it were found in a movie instead of a game.


Even if Sony did decide to allow Rockstar to put the uncut version of Manhunt 2 on PlayStation, there'd be practically nowhere to sell it. Wal-Mart, to name one giant example, does not sell AO-rated games -- though it sells the "unrated" version of the movie Saw III.

It's because the medium of the video game is so new that it gets evaluated more harshly, says Gerard Jones, author of the book Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence. "Most new media tend to have a fair amount of violence and sensationalism in them. But the very shock value that makes this stuff catch your attention also shocks other people, who see a social or psychological danger in it."

Where this often leads, he says, is to proposals of legislation that are mostly symbolic. "This is an old tradition in politics, this belief that the culture has gone out of control, and that the profiteers need to be reined in," says Jones. "The legislature will then try to nail down some cultural standards through law."

It was talk of such regulation that prompted the formation of the ESRB in 1994, in the days when even the most violent video games were still rendered with cartoonish and crude graphics. It was assumed that the difference between the Mature and Adults Only rating was that the latter was for interactive porn. "At the time, the focus was to protect the rather young industry from becoming a depository for pornography," says Sony's Karraker.

The video game sex controversy exploded again after Rockstar's 2004 release of the blockbuster hit Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Hackers found a scene that the designers had removed from the final game, but not deleted from the source code, and published instructions on how gamers could reactivate it.

In the scene, a female character invites the game's hero into her house for some "hot coffee." What ensues is a poorly pantomimed cartoon sex scene in which the two characters bump polygonal uglies with all of their clothes still on. Even though it was far less graphic than any given scene from American Pie, the ESRB changed the game's rating to AO, which caused it to be recalled from shelves.

Sens. Hillary Clinton and Joe Lieberman responded by introducing a bill in 2005 that would make it a federal crime to sell even Mature-rated games to minors. States got into the act as well, and according to, 20 different states have recently attempted some form of video game legislation -- many of which have already been ruled unconstitutional.

I object to two things here. First off, that video games do receive harsher scrutiny because they're games, and two that game makers like Sony refuse to admit that adults play video games. All in all, this is a censorship issue and I think it's a crock. If you're going to label a game so that it doesn't wind up in the hands of children, that's fine, but to then allow the market to just boycott these games because it can't enforce it's own restrictions is crap. I should be able to play this game or any game regardless of content because I choose to. If 7 year olds are playing Grand Theft Auto:San Andreas(and I know they are) then it's the parent's fault for not paying attention to their kids. As mentioned in the article, unrated movies with much more extreme content are sold in these same stores that so-called "protect children" by not selling video games rating Adults Only. What it boils down to is political hackery. People like Hillary Clinton and Joe Lieberman are all for making restrictions for the sake of the children, yet they don't actually have a clue about the content they are trying to block. It's the same reason why I've never supported Tipper and Al attacking video games all those years. I like violent video games. If I had children, they wouldn't play them. If they did, I'd know they have a firm understanding of what's real and what's just a game. It's really not that difficult of a concept, really.

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