Thursday, June 21, 2007

Manhunt 2: The Clusterf**k

By now you've probably heard what's happening with Rockstar's Manhunt 2. Briefly: After the ESRB tagged it with the dreaded Adults Only rating, Nintendo and Sony both announced that they would not allow the game to be released for the Wii and the PlayStation 2. Even if they had, major chains like Wal Mart and Target wouldn't have carried it anyway. This raises all sorts of interesting issues, none of which I plan to illuminate in any meaningful way here. Just a few thoughts on the matter.

As distasteful as it seems to make this into a free speech issue, in a sense that's what it is. Nobody's going to prison or anything, so let's not act as though the constitution is under attack. But what's happening here is that an authority is placing a barrier between a producer of ideas and consumers of ideas. In the guise of protecting the children from pernicious influences like violent video games, the console makers and retailers are also making the decision for me about what I can and can't play. I don't know how much I wanted to play Manhunt 2. I never even played the first one. What bothers me is that the decision was taken out of my hands. Now I really want to play it.

The other thing I find striking has to do with the way the big box stores tend to sell games. Have you ever tried to purchase a game at Target or Wal Mart? They keep all of them -- from E-rated games on up -- locked inside display cases. It's nearly impossible to find somebody to open the case and sell you a damn game in the first place, no matter what it's rated. I'm surprised that that's not good enough. As a corollary, I'm not sure about Target, but I know Wal Mart sells guns. I'm not interested in arguing about which is more dangerous, a hunting rifle or a video game that lets you rip off somebody's testicles with a pair of pliers. The salient point of the comparison is this: We're trusting Wal Mart to be vigilant enough to sell firearms only to responsible adults, but we don't trust them to keep video games out of kids' hands. That sounds like the store's problem -- not the publisher's.

With all that said, I certainly understand where the stores are coming from. Having worked at a video store, I know the kind of hellfire angry parents can rain down upon well-intentioned but oblivious retailers. They can choose to sell or not sell anything they want, and there's absolutely no reason for them to shed a tear for the video game publisher. And if Nintendo and Sony want to dictate what sort of content can appear on their platforms, I suppose that's their right too. (I'm not sure what the legal basis is for that, though -- clearly, some higher up at Rockstar/Take-Two signed something to that effect. Otherwise, why not go for the "Unrated and Totally Out of Control!" release?) I also find it a little hard to believe that the AO rating took Rockstar by surprise. They had to know what was coming, but that in itself doesn't mean they shouldn't have tried.

Still, something just doesn't seem right about the way it all went down. I'll live without playing Manhunt 2, if that's what it comes to. I just wish I could have chosen not to play it.


Anonymous said...

I know I tend to take the "conspiracy theory" angle a lot, but have you thought of the possibility that Take Two/Rockstar went over the top with the preview that they sent to the ESRB with the intention that they could clean up one or two things and then resubmit the game as gory as they wanted it in the first place and get an M rating?

Also, I didn't even think of your "Walmart sells guns" point. I did think it was strange, though, that I can buy both 40-Year Old virgin: the Unrated Version as well as Hostel at Walmart but not this game. According to the guys at 1Up, Hostel is far more violent that Manhunt 2.

Lastly, what's your take on the ESRB regulating video game trailers? I haven't looked into it too much, but I did hear about an issue on Slashdot ( about them forcing the makers of Dark Sector to remove their trailer for being too violent even though it was behind an age gate. I wonder what sort of authority the ESRB has in a situation like that.


Mitch said...

I believe that it's possible that they may have done that, but my guess is that they just never thought they'd get tagged with the AO rating. If you look at a list of AO-rated products, they're almost all sexual in nature. With that said, all this added publicity will probably benefit the game more when it is eventually released with an M rating (they'll play up the "banned" angle for all it's worth).

I hadn't heard that the ESRB was regulating game trailers, but given that the MPAA does the same thing with movie trailers I don't think it's such a horrible thing. But again, the problem I have with the story you linked isn't that the ESRB is keeping kids from accessing AO-rated content -- it's that they're keeping adults from accessing AO-rated content. It's really surprising to me that they've decreed that I can't watch the Dark Sector trailer anywhere. At least I would have been able to buy an uncut Manhunt 2 at Gamestop or something.