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.