The powers that be – those self-appointed guardians of public morality, the ESRB – have deemed that Manhunt 2 is in fact suitable for release in the United States under the ‘M’ (for Mature) classification. However, whilst this may be good news for fans of the original game (of which I’m reliably informed there are some), this ‘victory’ against censorship of interactive entertainment is a shallow one – as mandated by the ESRB, Rockstar Games had to edit the game’s content to gain the approval of the board and ultimately, secure a commercial release. At this point, it is not clear what elements of the game have been cut but since the Manhunt 2 page on the official ESRB site says that the game still contains strong sexual content, blood and gore, use of drugs, intense violence and strong language, it seems that the content cut (sorry, ‘edited’) from the game would have to be pretty extreme stuff to warrant exclusion.
So, the question remains; is it better to play a censored version of the game, or to never have the chance of playing the game that Rockstar intended? Personally, the choice would be easy for me – I was never impressed by the first title, and as such was not overly concerned when the decision was made to effectively ban the sequel. However, that doesn’t mean I agree with the way that Rockstar / Take-Two have marketed the game as ‘art’, or the way that the ESRB have flexed their muscle in terms of deciding what games are suitable for me – if I wanted to play it, I should have the right to decide what content is suitable for me, and I take any censorship action as an affront to the very notion of freedom of speech.
Excuse the pun, but let’s not play games here – Manhunt 2 is not ‘art’, anymore than ‘I Spit On Your Grave’ is art. However, should that determine whether or not it’s content is suitable for me? Of course not. However, Take-Two themselves have brought the artistic validity of Manhunt 2 into question by even considering an edit. Obviously, with such time and effort having gone into creating the game it’s logical that they would want a commercial release. However, Strauss Zelnick’s statement that “It brings a unique, formerly unheard of cinematic quality to interactive entertainment, and is also a fine piece of art,” is contradictory – were it such a fine piece of art, perhaps they would have argued this point more strenuously before agreeing to alter their ‘vision’ for the sake of a commercial release.
As easy as it is to say, if Take-Two believed in the artistic merit of their product, an edit would never have been considered. Rather, compromising the original content of the game for commercial viability is something that we should have expected – after the hype generated by the ESRB and BBFC’s original decisions had died down. After all, Manhunt 2 is just another obvious media target, and – from what we’ve seen in terms of marketing material and the content of the original game – a rather pedestrian title. You can’t buy this kind of marketing, especially for a game that likely would’ve shifted far fewer units if it weren’t for the high-profile media coverage that the game has enjoyed of late.
Remember not so long ago, when Gordon Hall was telling us we should rally behind them?