California state Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) sent out a press release today that reflected the over-the-top anti-video game tone that undermines even his reasonable positions.
Still, he managed to make a point I sympathize with: The reported change by the Entertainment Software Rating Board in re-rating “Manhunt 2′’ as “Mature” instead of “Adults Only” — after changes made to the game — needs a detailed explanation from the ESRB to be credible.
I’ve been tough on Yee (and his supporters) about the silly and unconstitutional law he wanted to enact to block the sale of some video games to minors. But when it comes to his demand for more transparency by the ESRB, it’s a different issue. Still, I may end up wishing a pox on all their houses, including the ESRB.
I e-mailed the ESRB spokesman twice today for comment. Haven’t heard back. Could be any number of understandable reasons for that. But, assuming there’s no big miunderstanding or inaccuracy in what’s being reported about “Manhunt 2′’ and the M rating, the ESRB needs to get more proactive fast.
Here’s the Yee press release (I’d urge you not to focus on little things, like the ESRB being identified as the Ratings Board (with the s) rather than Rating Board. The extreme nature of its tone is more than fair game, and I’m adding some other background info as well from the Campaign for a Commericial Free Childhood (which has a relatively moderate tone).
The Yee press release:
Most Violent Game Ever Released to be Sold to Children
Senator Yee calls on industry to disclose how Manhunt 2 was re-rated from Adults Only<
SACRAMENTO – Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo), the author of California’s recently struck down law to prohibit the sale of extremely violent video games to minors, today called on the video game ratings board and a video game maker to fully disclose how a soon-to-be-released ultra-violent video game received a downgraded rating of Mature (M) from Adults Only (AO).
Earlier this year, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) gave Manhunt 2 – the most violent game ever released – a rating of AO, which was only the second time a game had been given such a rating based on violent content. However, on Friday it was announced that the game had been re-rated M after Rockstar Games, the game’s maker, submitted a modified version.
According to the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), reviews of the game describe players “sawing their enemies’ skulls in half; mutilating them with an axe; castrating them with a pair of pliers; or killing them by bashing their head into an electrical box.”
When asked by the CCFC, the ESRB refused to make public the rationale for changing Manhunt 2’s rating.
“Parents can’t trust a rating system that doesn’t even disclose how they come to a particular rating,” said Yee. “The ESRB and Rockstar should end this game of secrecy by immediately unveiling what content has been changed to grant the new rating and what correspondence occurred between the ESRB and Rockstar to come to this conclusion. Unfortunately, history shows that we must be quite skeptical of these two entities.”
While the ESRB claims to be a non-biased ratings board that gives parents a valuable tool in deciding appropriateness of games for their children, they are funded by the makers of video games who have a financial interest in making sure their games are not rated AO. Most retailers will not carry games with an AO rating.
While M-rated games are also designed for adults, there is no prohibition to selling such games to children. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that 42 percent of unaccompanied children 13 to 16 years of age can successfully purchase M-rated games.
In June 2005, the ESRB and Rockstar were involved in a multi-million dollar scandal called “Hot Coffee,” in which Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, a game originally rated M by the ESRB, was found to have hidden animations allowing players to watch graphic scenes featuring oral sex, nudity, and simulated intercourse.
“Clearly the ESRB has a conflict of interest in rating these games,” said Yee. “It is time to bring transparency to this rating system and for the industry to be held accountable. I join the CCFC in urging the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the process by which Manhunt 2’s rating was downgraded from AO to M.”
Not surprisingly, Manhunt 2 is set to be released on Halloween Day, October 31, 2007.
Three weeks ago, United States District Court Judge Ronald Whyte struck down a law authored by Yee which would have fined retailers who sell extremely violent video games to minors, similar to prohibitions on pornography, alcohol, and tobacco. California plans to appeal the district court’s decision.
Here’s what the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has on its Web site:
CFC Statement on ESRB Decision to Downgrade
Manhunt 2’s Rating from Adults Only to Mature
In June, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board gave Manhunt 2 an Adults Only rating. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood had urged the ESRB to give the game an AO rating because of concerns that harmful effects of ultra-violent video games on children would be magnified by playing them on the interactive Nintendo Wii system.
CCFC’s concerns about Manhunt 2 were based, in part, on reviews of the game which described players sawing their enemies’ skulls in half; mutilating them with an axe; castrating them with a pair of pliers; or killing them by bashing their head “into an electrical box, where raw power surges through it and eventually blows his head apart.” CCFC noted that on Wii, players will not merely punch buttons or wield a joy stick, but will actually act out this violence. A reviewer for the gaming website IGN described using a saw blade to “cut upward into a foe’s groin and buttocks, motioning forward and backward with the Wii remote as you go.”
Today, Rockstar Games announced that Manhunt 2 had received a revised rating of Mature after they submitted a modified version of the game. On a phone call with CCFC’s Dr. Susan Linn, ESRB President Patricia Vance refused to comment on what changes Rockstar made or whether any of the content described above was still in the game.
Below is the statement of CCFC Director Dr. Susan Linn on the ESRB’s decision to reverse their earlier ruling:
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is extremely concerned that the ESRB has downgraded its rating for Manhunt 2 from Adults Only (AO) to Mature (M). Despite industry claims to the contrary, M-rated games continue to be marketed and sold to children under seventeen. The ESRB’s reversal of its earlier decision dramatically increases the likelihood that Manhunt 2 – the most violent game to date produced for the interactive Nintendo Wii platform – will be marketed and sold to children.
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.
We call upon Rockstar Games to allow the content of Manhunt 2 to be reviewed by an independent review board with no ties to the video game industry.
We ask the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the process by which Manhunt 2’s rating was downgraded from AO to M.
CCFC’s initial press release and letter to the ESRB are available at http://www.commercialfreechildhood.org/pressreleases/manhunt2.htm.
The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is a national coalition of health care professionals, educators, advocacy groups and concerned parents who counter the harmful effects of marketing to children through action, advocacy, education, research, and collaboration among organizations and individuals who care about children. CCFC supports the rights of children to grow up – and the rights of parents to raise them – without being undermined by rampant commercialism. For more information, please visit: http://www.commercialfreechildhood.org.