U.S. Senators Press ESRB Over Manhunt 2 And Videogame Ratings

U.S. Senators Press ESRB Over Manhunt 2 And Videogame Ratings

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A group of U.S. Senators has sent a letter to the Entertainment Software Rating Board suggesting the agency's M (Mature) rating for Manhunt 2 reflects deeper flaws in the industry's rating system.

Sent by Senators Joe Lieberman, Sam Brownback, Evan Bayh and presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, the letter said the game's violent content should have earned an AO (Adults Only) rating. Manhunt 2 was initially given that rating, but a modified version which eliminated the worst of the offending content was resubmitted to the ESRB and was downgraded to the M rating, clearing it for sale in North America.

"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 'ultraviolent' videogames and the advances in game controllers," the group wrote. "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."

A focal point of the Manhunt 2 controversy centered on the Nintendo Wii Remote controllers, which players would use to physically emulate the stabbing, hacking, slashing and other clobbering moves used in the game, rather than simply pressing buttons. Some critics claimed these in-game actions would create a damaging level of immersion for the young children playing the game.

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"Some critics claimed these in-game actions would create a damaging level of immersion for the young children playing the game."

That is the point. How can these people jump up and down about raising the age restriction ONE YEAR from 17 to 18, and then claim to be trying to protect the children? it's blatant censorship. and because of these douchebags I (25yo Australian male, no dependants) will be unable to legally buy a game i want, because the OFLC takes all it's cues from the US and we don't have an R18+ category for computer or video games here.

thank god i was smart and bought the original manhunt during the week it was legal to buy here.. :) and let's see the attorney general just TRY to take it away from me (wanna see REAL videogame related violence?).

I was under the impression that 17 years old weren't small children anymore.
Also, good for them if they are criticizing the rating system but do they suggest any solutions? Of course not. All they want is to have that image of "child protector" for the next election and anyone having a different opinion then them is just a member of the video game lobby, be it gamers, game journalists or professionals of the industry.

That was kind of my point - the M rating on Manhunt 2 means it's unsuitable for young kids anyway, so when does this group of politicos want to move from "consistently urging parents to pay attention" to ratings to actually holding them responsible for doing so?

It seems simple enough to me. Manhunt 2 is rated M - why is it the ESRB's fault that you're letting your 13-year-old kid play it?

Which isn't to say I think the ESRB is perfect as-is. The idiotic one-year separation between M, which is perfectly fine to produce and sell, and AO, which HOLY GOD BURN IT BEFORE SOMEONE SEES IT, is ridiculous, and an AO designation shouldn't be the kiss of death for any game with that rating. Hell, I'd be all for slapping Manhunt 2, and a few others, with an AO tag, if there was some mechanism whereby I could still nip into the local EB and pick it up. But as long as Sony and Nintendo refuse to allow production of AO games for their systems, and as long as the major retailers refuse to carry AO rated games, the rating must be used as sparingly as possible, and only in the most extreme situations.

At 17 in the US you can legally enlist in the military, and be in a situation where you may be killed by, or kill, real people.

I'm just as annoyed by this as most people, but I think the ESRB should probably just fold. This is a careful issue, and if they wanted, the government could just go ahead and pass real laws about these games. The ESRB, like the MPAA and RIAA, are private organizations for industries to police themselves.

I don't think anyone wants the government directly trying to police video games. Right now to be carried by almost any store a game has to both be rated by the ESRB, and secure a rating of MA or lower. I would much rather this system, than the government trying to write it's own laws about who can sell video games and to whom.

So I hope the ESRB just folds if certain high profile politicians start putting the pressure on, it's not worth the risk of the government stepping in for real.

But if the ESRB does fold, don't you think the government will take whatever steps it can to fill the vacuum? Which would almost certainly be blatantly unconstitutional, but that doesn't seem to mean much these days.

I find it funny how two groups of grey-haired old men can get so crazy over things like this. On the one side, you have people actually making this stuff, and on the other you have people shouting ridiculous statments like, "create a damaging level of immersion for the young children playing the game [that has a rating for only people who are NOT young children.]" I added that in, to clarify what they were trying to say. It's amusing how much they want to blame some faceless corporation, rather than tell parents and such that they should either: teach their children the difference between right and wrong, fantasy and reality, or just, you know, not let them play games that have a higher rating than their age. But telling people that they are doing something wrong is probably the biggest mistake a politician can make, and they have been making their careers out of finding scapegoats for several hundred years, if not thousands, so why should they start doing things the right way now?

Oh yeah, and I'm all for governmental control on certain area, but media like video games and such, I'm pretty much dead-set against.

Sorry if I wasn't clear, I didn't mean the ESRB as an organization should fold, but rather they should just give in on this single issue to the government's demands. If the government insists on a game being rated AO, it isn't worth fighting them, since in the end the ESRB only exists because of government pressure in the first place.

In case anyone here is too young to remember, back when the violence of Mortal Combat and other SNES and Genesis era games were causing controversy, they actually had hearings in the Senate about the issue (much the way the comic book industry was put under the microscope in the 1950's). Senators weren't happy with what they saw, as they were with comics once upon a time, and the industry was basically told that if they were not going to create a rating system and enforce it, that the government would step in.

No one wanted that, and so the industry created the ESRB, the government approved this system, and here we are today. I don't doubt anymore than then that the government will step in if they feel the industry isn't doing the job they should, and let's face it, most of what got an MA rating way back when is pretty tame compared to modern M games, but this isn't with video games alone. Movies that would once certainly get an R can pretty easily get PG-13 ratings, and just overall our tolerances change.

The government's tolerances change much slower than the public's (congress, frankly, is full of old people, who's standards are often quite different from people 20, 30, 40, 50 years younger than them), and video games are a common scapegoat that many would love to have an excuse to come in an regulate. I don't think it's worth the risk for the ESRB to really fight them over this.

Yeah, but folding on single issues is a one-way-ticket to being one'd-to-death. And either way, it isn't a single issue thing, the violence thing has been going on as long as you have been saying it, and they still are making the same argument that they have been for every other media form that they have complained about. Violence in: comics, movies, video games, etc. is always bad for the kids. Why is that? I don't know; it's not like kids are supposed to be taking part in those mediums that have already been placed above them in age rating. While I understand that they can get those kinds of things as easily as they can get alcohol in high school, doing the whole rating dance for every medium isn't going to ever let anything change. I can understand a new media form not having a rating system for a while, but chances are it's going to get one sooner or later, and that is a good thing- keeps everyone informed as to how stuff works. But even though we have this rating system, they still have to do the dance on hot coals thing, because the old people aren't willing to do it. It isn't just that video games are a scapegoat, nobody has enough courage to step up and tell the people that the problem isn't the organization, it's the individual cases.

I don't think it's too likely they'll be one'd to death (that's a good term for it) because even with the madness of the government, I think there is a greater goal in mind; to make the ESRB tighten up their standards. No one wants a government hearing after every M rated game release, and most people don't want the government stepping into regulate, so I assume the larger aim is to make the ESRB change their standards to catch games like Manhunt. The government trying to step in would be bad news for everyone, so if this is there way of coming in and giving the ESRB a smack on the nose, it might work. Although I concede it might be just politicians grandstanding and looking for an issue to make them look like they care about kids, and they have no greater goal in mind aside from the re-election polls.

It's a good thing the government doesn't have real issues to deal with, like immigration, health care, education, trade deficit, sinking currency, or a war to deal with and they can sit around holding hearings on video games.

GrowlersAtSea:
Sorry if I wasn't clear, I didn't mean the ESRB as an organization should fold, but rather they should just give in on this single issue to the government's demands. If the government insists on a game being rated AO, it isn't worth fighting them, since in the end the ESRB only exists because of government pressure in the first place.

Are you serious? This is possibly the worst idea ever. If the ESRB is only going to exist to kowtow to the government anyway - and you're seriously deluded if you think it would be anything but the first time - then why does it exist in the first place? Improve and tighten ESRB practices, absolutely, but buckling under government pressure to game a particular game's rating simply because it's expedient shouldn't even be on the table.

And while you're at it (and this may sound silly coming from a non-American, but hey, let's roll with it for a minute) maybe you can explain to me why videogames don't deserve the same First Amendment protections afforded to movies, books and music? Or from the other angle, why so many current American legislators are so anxious to overlook that protection, and why so many American citizens seem so willing to go along with it?

Malygris:
And while you're at it (and this may sound silly coming from a non-American, but hey, let's roll with it for a minute) maybe you can explain to me why videogames don't deserve the same First Amendment protections afforded to movies, books and music?

Ha ha, probably because nobody wants to admit that gaming is an emergent art form, because of the "distubing level of immersion," etc. bullshit.
From the other angle: they (again) don't want to admit it to being an emergent art form (as art has always been used to undermine authority in addition to supporting it), then I'd say it's because the citizenry are mainly sheep that are following their herdsman, and only question things that look like they are leading them to a hazardous journey or a cliff. Other than that they are acting like, "Oh, hooray! Our dear legislative bodice has made a stand, let us blindly follow them to wherever they plan on going!"
Just adding more money to the machine =)

I kinda think he agrees with that, just that something like this isn't fighting over.
I wouldn't so much agree. I'm glad that video games are rated with next to no direct government control. But maybe this is the point where we can finally make it clear to parents: M AND AO ARE ABOUT AS BAD. Maybe now instead of RESTRICTING you from buying games, you can do a little thought for yourself.

Actually, earlier my Game Design teacher had a challenge for us; when we're all big-time and have a multi-million dollar company...try to design an AO-rated game that would actually be half-decent, and not just have gore for the sake of gore.

Malygris:
But if the ESRB does fold, don't you think the government will take whatever steps it can to fill the vacuum? Which would almost certainly be blatantly unconstitutional, but that doesn't seem to mean much these days.

It wouldn't be unconstitutional, because they'd invoke that interstate commerce clause that they've been utterly butchering the meaning of for decades now.

Simply put, if the ESRB says 'no, we refuse to make these changes' the government can just say 'ok, you're not doing your job, we'll step in'.

Then, we're in trouble.

The ESRB exists only due to government pressure, and only tries to put standards on things because of the threat that the government would have. The ESRB at present has been under a lot of fire, due to how brutal some games are, and because of their extremely publicized failure to catch the "Hot Coffee" thing in a game series that they're expected to give a lot of scrutiny too. If you ask most people if they think the video game industry does a good job of regulating itself, you probably won't be too happy with the answers (due in large part to the media, but that's another matter).

To go up against the Congress, in what will be billed as your family values oriented politicians coming down hard on the lenient and loose self regulatory video game industry, will not go well. It's just a matter of practicality, and I sure hope the ESRB isn't too proud to know when to pick their fights.

And the First Amendment does apply to video games, like all other mediums, but it's a complicated system because video games take a lot of time, energy, effort and backing to get them through concept, development, production and release.

The government, or the ESRB, or the MPAA for that matter do not directly censor their respective mediums. What these organizations do do is they place standards on them, which in turn are enforced and used as guidelines by retailers. Easily over 90% of retailers do not carry AO games (no big name will go near them) just the way no big movie theatre chains will touch an X rated movie, or retailers will sell them on DVD. You can make any game or any kind of game you want, but the thing is that Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo will not sanction them to be published on their systems if they're rated AO, and even if you could, no retailers would carry them. So it's self censorship, effectively, private organizations deciding what they will and will not sell, which is constitutional.

Government regulation wouldn't restrict who could publish games, but what it would likely do is what the ESRB tries to do, which is make ratings which retailers would not be required to but almost surely would follow. They would most likely just replace ESRB ratings with their own, although I suppose if they got zealous about it they could even try to pass laws to make it a crime to sell M games to minors, the way selling cigarettes are (and wouldn't that be crazy, games as bad as cigarettes?).

Why are American citizens willing to go along with things is another matter, one that I don't fully understand even (I've lived in the US all my life, too). I assume it's a combination of factors, though.

The first is the media, and how the video game industry is perceived. When you see video games on the news or in a Tv show, they're almost always the very violent ones, and they have often been brought up when there has been an incident of violence with a youngster. 'Billy shot Markus at the bus stop, when police investigated they found in his room was a small gun collection, knives, a small amount of ammonium nitrate, and a copy of Doom II.' That's the kind of news report you can see from time to time, and people who don't play games, that's what they hear and that's what the media likes to report about.

The second, I think branches from this, and just how people are in general. Less than half of Americans vote in elections, right off the bat. But more strikingly, only around 30% of all people 18-30 vote. So the vast majority of voters are older, this doesn't mean they don't play video games, but let's face it, most people who are 50 and 60 don't play games; although you encounter some from time to time. People who don't play games know just what they know off the media, which as I talked about a bit before, aren't exactly glowing praise. If they see that their politician is trying to keep violent games out of the hands of kids and it doesn't and won't affect them in any way, it wouldn't be surprising for them to go along with it.

Wow, this turned out a lot longer than I thought it would. Sorry if it came off as kind of a daunting read, but was trying to cover all the bases. And just to be clear, I don't support censoring of video games in any way, and if it were possible, I would prefer for more openness with what can be published and sold. But I see this as a matter of where and when to pick the fights. As time goes on, ratings will undoubtedly slacken and no one will notice because of how slow it will be, just the way that have with the MPAA.

I just don't want the ESRB to martyr itself in the meantime when in the end standards and public tolerances will sort themselves out.

Well, the United States media is a joke. You cant expect anything to not be slanted one way or another, and the sad thing is, most people see a news report, and take it as gospel. 'It was in the paper, so it MUST be 100% fact!' I also love how, on a slow news day, they jump all over something, and blow it completely out of proportion, and then proceed to beat it to death (Don Imus, anyone). But that's an argument for another thread.

SilentHunter7:
Well, the United States media is a joke. You cant expect anything to not be slanted one way or another, and the sad thing is, most people see a news report, and take it as gospel. 'It was in the paper, so it MUST be 100% fact!'

You don't say.

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GrowlersAtSea:
They would most likely just replace ESRB ratings with their own, although I suppose if they got zealous about it they could even try to pass laws to make it a crime to sell M games to minors, the way selling cigarettes are (and wouldn't that be crazy, games as bad as cigarettes?).

But every instance in which government has tried to restrict the sale of videogames has ended the same way: An overturning of the restriction as unconstitutional. And, based on my minimal understanding of American law, that's as it should be.

Besides which, the question stands: Why legislate videogames? The MPAA rating system for movies is entirely voluntary, nothing legislative about it whatsoever. Same with the Comics Code Authority. So why is there this willingness to surrender First Amendment rights for videogames?

I think it's because video games are a very convenient scapegoat. They're more interactive than watching a movie or reading a book, and they aren't things that most politicians have any real involvement in, I'm sure most politicians have seen at least a few violent movies, but how many have played Halo or Half-Life? A hot button issue that they have little context with aside from what they read in the papers and the letters they get from their constituents. It's much easier to blame a video game for a kid losing his marbles than it is to look at his upbringing, family history and peers.

You can even hear them be described as 'murder simulators' or trainers for violent youths (everyone loathes Jack Thomspson in particular for his insane statements). One could call every action movie ever made instructional films in killing people too, but video games are even easier to target.

But anyway, I doubt the government would pass any kind of actual laws to limit sales, but a rating system is disturbingly plausible. What's so insidious about rating systems is how they effectively censor entertainment mediums (usually due to government pressure) but never with direct involvement. If the government sets up it's own rating system it's ostensively to help parents know what is good for their kids. But different interest groups and the general public pressure corporations who are always scared of bad press to follow them (no one wants to make the news as the company that sells a game rated Ultra-Adult by the government to 11 years olds) .

Corporations that sell these easily bow to pressure from groups that want them to follow rating systems, and most like to please the government (local, state, and federal, since they have much to gain on all levels from playing nice). So if the government makes a system, it will almost surely be adopted either alongside the ESRB ratings or just replace them. Totally legal, totally Constitutional, but the effective outcome would be government censors.

I feel much more comfortable with the ESRB doing ratings and occasionally getting pressured to change one than the government doing the ratings for all games. The ESRB has direct industry involvement afterall, and is undoubtedly more flexible than what the government could conjure up.

And if it wasn't clear, I don't like rating systems at all. I view them as just censorship by-proxy that exploit the way a capitalistic society is run, however I accept them as a necessary evil. But at least with the ESRB it's one step removed from direct government involvement.

Sorry for how much I've written, I've never been good at that 'brevity is the soul of wit' concept and I try to cover all my bases at once...

The issue I see with this is how they say that "young children" would be damaged by the level of immersion of the Wii controller. That's just asinine, any parent which would even let their children watch this graphic of a game should lose custody! I wouldn't have played the game anyway, but it got flak for something that is seriously idiotic.

Why are they debating over a game that's like two years old?

DarK Gun:
Why are they debating over a game that's like two years old?

they're not.

Lamppenkeyboard:
The issue I see with this is how they say that "young children" would be damaged by the level of immersion of the Wii controller. That's just asinine, any parent which would even let their children watch this graphic of a game should lose custody! I wouldn't have played the game anyway, but it got flak for something that is seriously idiotic.

^ This guy necro'd a 2 year old thread.

LoL delayed reaction I know.

Malygris:
U.S. Senators Press ESRB Over Manhunt 2 And Videogame Ratings

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A group of U.S. Senators has sent a letter to the Entertainment Software Rating Board suggesting the agency's M (Mature) rating for Manhunt 2 reflects deeper flaws in the industry's rating system.

Sent by Senators Joe Lieberman, Sam Brownback, Evan Bayh and presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, the letter said the game's violent content should have earned an AO (Adults Only) rating. Manhunt 2 was initially given that rating, but a modified version which eliminated the worst of the offending content was resubmitted to the ESRB and was downgraded to the M rating, clearing it for sale in North America.

"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 'ultraviolent' videogames and the advances in game controllers," the group wrote. "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."

A focal point of the Manhunt 2 controversy centered on the Nintendo Wii Remote controllers, which players would use to physically emulate the stabbing, hacking, slashing and other clobbering moves used in the game, rather than simply pressing buttons. Some critics claimed these in-game actions would create a damaging level of immersion for the young children playing the game.

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well young children shouldn't be playing it anyways, so their point is invalid in my opinion

kids will get it anyways, through internet or Mexican smugglers so changing the system would just end up in a lot of annoyance...or australiaizing the system

Altorin:

^ This guy necro'd a 2 year old thread.

oh...my bad

 

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