As video games go, "Manhunt 2" is--oh, let's say, on the violent end. The game, if you're not a gamer, allows you to play the role of a sociopath who has escaped from a mental institution. The game has a website HERE, though if you look through you may find violent images.
To quote a release from Sam Houser, founder and executive producer of its maker, Rockstar Games: "We love the horror genre. Manhunt 2 is a powerful piece of interactive story telling that is a unique video game experience. We think horror fans will love it."
As you've read elsewhere, some retailers and advocacy groups don't. The Target store chain refused to carry it with an M rating. The British Board of Film Classification refused to give it a rating in the U.K., citing its "unremitting bleakness and callousness of tone... which constantly encourages visceral killing with exceptionally little alleviation or distancing."
Now come the politicians--suggesting not only that the game is troubling, but that the whole rating system is too.
Senators Joe Lieberman, Hillary Clinton, Sam Brownback and Evan Bayh (yes, we're talking several present and past presidential candidates) have written a letter to the Entertainment Software Rating Board, which first gave the game an AO--Adults Only--rating, and then, after the developer agreed to soften some of the more graphic imagery, changed it to an M. The Senators' letter says "it may be desirable to revise or enhance the current ESRB rating system. We continue to believe that the ESRB takes seriously its responsibility with respect to the ratings and their enforcement. However, we believe that a number of issues have been raised regarding the release of Manhunt 2."
They conclude, "we ask your consideration of whether it is time to review the robustness, reliability and repeatability of your ratings process, particularly for this genre of 'ultra-violent' video games and the advances in game controllers. We have consistently urged parents to pay attention to the ESRB rating system. We must ensure that parents can rely on the consistency and accuracy of those ratings. The full letter, as posted by Sen. Lieberman's office, is HERE.
I made a call to the ESRB in New York. Their answer for now: "At this point we are saying only that we received the letter and will be responding." We'll update if they come back with more.
Back on Nov. 2, after word got out that some of those most violent scenes, cleaned up in the game, were still available online, they argued that "Parents need to be vigilant about monitoring what their children are downloading on the Internet and ensure that they are not making unauthorized and oftentimes illegal modifications to software and hardware that remove the controls the industry has so diligently put in place for their own protection." (Full statement HERE; it's the PDF from what is currently the first link.)
We do, of course, have a First Amendment in this country, which permits the publication of the game. And we're mindful of complaints that when major media do stories about video games, they're often about violence in video games. But do the Senators have a point? Does the industry?