Jonathan Marx, Freelance Writer
The Manhunt 2 controversy has been discussed thoroughly by individuals throughout the gaming industry. A lot of time, money, and resources went into the game's development, and the game has received an AO rating. The AO rating is a deathblow to profits. Sales of the game will be virtually non-existent if the rating stands, which it will. This brings up a lot of pressing questions. These are questions that need to be answered by the ESRB, and questions that should be posed by consumers and developers alike. Is this a fair rating? Are ratings casually handed out by the ESRB? Do the bureaucrats at ESRB take the time to play the games they rate? Has Rockstar been singled out by the ESRB for past antics? How will this change development of GTA IV specifically, and games produced for the mature consumer, generally? I will proffer my thoughts on these questions in two parts.
First, the ESRB provides an essential social function. It is absolutely necessary to give games ratings that are valid and adhered to due to the realism and the influence they can have upon society. That said, if bureaucrats are simply handing out elevated ratings for no substantive reason, it's fascist censorship, and completely unacceptable.
Second, if Rockstar is being targeted by the ESRB as a means to forward an agenda, they will lose credibility. One would hope that there is a rock solid standard, and that the game truly deserves its rating. If not, it will forever change the kinds of games developers like Rockstar will produce. We'll see a lot more table tennis and a lot less GTA. A developer simply cannot create games that receive the AO rating. Subsequently, adult gamers will suffer because their choices will be extremely limited.
These questions will be answered in time. We'll have to see what the gamers think when they play it. It's tough for me to form a concrete opinion because I have not played the game. I anticipate that the rating will be justified and that the ESRB was just following its own guidelines. If it is not, then the ESRB should be dismantled immediately and replaced by an agency whose power is checked by codified standards established by industry leaders and the federal government.
Jwan Jordan, Freelance Writer
It's the controversy that has surrounded gaming for over a decade now; video game violence, addiction and morality. With the media constantly in an uproar about gaming morality, you would think most developers would be a bit more cautious about their content. It seems to me that the only company to ever follow the violence free but extremely fun method is our good old buddies at Nintendo. Though, some may question the use of mushrooms to get larger…watch your back Mario!
Now we bring ourselves to the other side of the spectrum, or a parallel universe equivalent to a Bizarro Superman comic and we find the development team known as Rockstar. If you are a gamer then you've heard of RockStar, the most in your face, no holds barred, violent….but amazingly cool, company there is. RockStar has commonly overstepped the rating boundaries by adding very graphic and creative methods into their games. I've never met a gamer that has not played any of the Grand Theft Auto series from front to back and can more than likely repeat the in-game dialogue. It is arguable that the controversy behind Rock Star is what drives their sales. I'm sure you've heard it before, "there is no such thing as bad advertisement." Well, at least that is what my lawyer always tells me but heck, he's in jail.
Regardless, Rock Star is attempting to break the mold again with yet another controversial leap forward. It doesn't seem that long ago when Manhunt, another title with excessive violence and racism, made its way into the media highlights. Yet, now Rock Star is going to kick it up a notch by making it an "Adults Only" title. Nintendo immediately dropped the title when they heard news of the "AO" rating and I honestly don't blame them. I really enjoy Rock Star games and not just because of the violence, but because of the unique form of game play and innovative steps they take. If you've read the article on gaming morality then most of you know I can play a game whether it is violent or not. Nintendo has a friendly but fun image they are very fond of, just as Rock Star has a more adult themed games they are fond of. So I respect their difference and I know what to expect when I purchase a title from them.
Overall, I think Rock Star could have gone without the new "AO" rating. They make exceptionally fun games and shouldn't feel as if they need to keep pressing the rating barrier further and should just focus on the game play mechanics. None the less, I have to get back to playing Rock Stars title "The Warriors," I can't get past those darn "Baseball Flurries!"
Jason Nimer, Freelance Writer
On the surface, the controversy stirred up by Manhunt 2, the ESRB and Rockstar might seem a little unnecessary, even silly to some. A sequel to a mildly successful and barely enjoyable Rockstar PS2 game gets an explicit rating and must be edited to see widespread release. I can actually hear the "been there, done that" gamers around the world collectively shrugging their shoulders and grumbling a jaded chorus of, "So what?" For people who enjoy gaming for gaming's sake, the Manhunt 2 issue will be long forgotten soon enough. There are simply too many good games hitting the market each month to worry about one game that might be released a little late and with a little less gore than first intended. What is important about the Manhunt 2 controversy is its bigger ramifications. The AO rating of this game, and the dreaded rating's ability to keep the game off store shelves has forced most of us to admit what we secretly wished we'd never have to - video games are still seen by the world at large as toys, not mainstream entertainment like movies, music or television.
At this point in the conversation, it becomes instantly important to make a disclaimer. The view of video games as toys does not apply to just one system or company, but the industry as a whole. Which consoles are deemed "childish" or "for kids" becomes immaterial when discussing how the Manhunt 2 rating debacle reflects on the gaming world and how we, as gamers, are viewed. Even after becoming one of the world's largest entertainment industries over the past twenty years, games are still seen as children's toys, despite the average age of game enthusiasts being over 21 and the brisk sales of M rated games, which in most American stores, require the customer to be over the age of 17 or have a parent present to buy. Gamers seeking more mainstream approval of their hobby can quote these facts until they are blue in the face, but as long as the video game department at Toy 'R Us continues to bring in massive revenues and eight year olds can be seen clutching Game Boy Advance systems and explaining to bored parents the attributes of every Pokemon under the sun, games will be seen as toys, plain and simple. But what in the world does the public's view of gamers and video games have to do with the Manhunt 2 rating situation?
Everything. The whole process of making, rating and marketing games with questionable content is a huge catch-22. In the case of Manhunt 2, the ESRB rated the game AO. Then, buck is passed to the game companies. Should a game company release the game against the wishes of the ESRB? That isn't an option, because every time a game is linked to real-life violence, the game companies cite the ESRB ratings board for keeping certain games out of the hands of children. An AO release of Manhunt 2 would effectively sever ties with the ESRB, which would render the rating system obsolete.
On the other hand, by coming forward and stating that AO games will not be published on certain systems, the companies reinforce the "games are just for children" mantra. Then, by reinforcing this widely held belief, the companies basically shoot themselves in their collective feet as far as the ESRB and the public is concerned, thus bringing the controversy full circle. The situation reminds me of that old Alice Cooper song that goes -"Can't go to school 'cause I can't get a gun, can't get a gun 'cause I can't get a job, can't get a job 'cause I can't go to school."
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