Hunting Permit Renewed

Keith refers me to news (via Reuters) that Manhunt 2 is back on track for PS2, PSP, and Wii, now slated for a Halloween release with an M rating. I know this isn’t a video game news blog per se, but I thought it was worth following up on it as I’d written about it before at some length.

As expected, some folks aren’t entirely happy about this development. Game Politics notes that a watchdog group is calling for further investigation of how this change could occur, stating:

Just three months ago, the ESRB felt that Manhunt 2 was so violent that it took the extraordinary step of giving a game an AO rating for violent content for only the second time in its history. We urge the ESRB to make public their rationale for changing Manhunt 2’s rating, including detailing any content that was removed from the game.

I’d like to make a quick clarification: This was not only the second time that a game was given an AO rating for violence. As the ESRB has stated, they have given several preliminary AO ratings before publishers cleaned up their content (“about a dozen cases in the past five years,” according to one article). The ESRB hasn’t told anybody which games those were. Neither have the publishers. This all went on behind the scenes. It was Manhunt 2‘s publisher, Take 2, which decided to announce the rating issue.

I suggested before that this could be because they were trying to boost sales. To be somewhat more charitable, however, it could be that Take 2 and/or Rockstar decided to use their own situation to call attention to the ESRB’s process, which seems to be more harsh and to have much more far-reaching consequences than the MPAA’s film-rating process. After all, there is at least a market for NC-17 movies, whereas AO-rated games can’t even be made for the major consoles. (See Chris Kohler’s article on related issues at Wired; link via Game Politics).

Whatever their intent, bringing scrutiny upon the ESRB’s process—not for being too lenient, as legislators and activists accuse, but for being too harsh—may be the effect. I share the concern of the above-noted watchdog group for what content changes had to be made for the rating to be updated, but it’s for an entirely different reason. It bothers me that the game had to be changed in order to be sold (if early reports, calling it no more brutal than horror films, are to be believed). Still, I think it’s a good thing that the game can now be sold, even if Manhunt 2 turns out to be a poor game, simply because it bothers me to see what appears to be a straightforward case of a chilling effect in the face of moral panic.