Category Archives: censorship

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie – Or Just Kill Them

And so the Manhunt 2 saga continues unabated. Whilst it feels almost as if Manhunt 2’s media coverage should have it’s own channel (or blog – maybe the nice folks at Weblogs, Inc could capitalize on this missed opportunity), today’s installment – from the opposition, no less – raises a valid point regarding the ESRB and the way in which they operate.

Since neither Rockstar nor the ESRB themselves have yet disclosed what despicable acts of depravity were cut (sorry, edited) from Manhunt 2 in order to grant a commercial release, California Senator Leland Yee has not only called for this information to be made public, but also the communications between Rockstar and the ESRB that resulted in the edits and subsequent release. He claims that parents cannot trust a regulatory body that doesn’t disclose how they arrive at a particular rating, despite the fact that this page offers quite a considerable amount of information on their process. This can mean only one thing – he’s just pissed that he can’t find out exactly what was cut so he can use it for his own dastardly political gain in future nonsensical arguments about video game violence. However, he does raise a good point – should we know what content were cut from the original game? Or should we just trust the ESRB to make that call? After all, that’s their job, right?

Perhaps what would be more prudent would be to identify the qualities that makes the ESRB’s ‘specially-trained game raters’ (whom are, presumably, gifted with superhuman powers granting them more resistance to porn and violence than ‘ordinary’ people – y’know, like gamers) suitable for their roles. The fact that their official information specifies that ‘at least three’ game raters are required to pass judgment on a title before being allocated a rating is perhaps more worrying; three people is hardly indicative of an accurate cross-section of opinion. To quote the official site; “They rate games on a full-time basis, although they may be assisted by part-time raters when necessary.” I can only imagine the strength of moral fiber necessary to resist the evils of video games on a full-time basis; Herculean feats of endurance matched only by their determination to protect the youth of America from the immoral filth manufactured by developers like Rockstar; wearied, exhausted Republicans, dripping with sweat having spent the whole day resisting the temptation to fuck, kill and profane everyone around them – truly they are heroes indeed. As for the ‘assistance’ from part-time raters – do they ask the interns on their way to the hotplate if something is ‘too evil’? Does this look like porno to you, Jimmy? No sir, it don’t.

Whilst I’m less concerned with exactly what was cut (due to my aforementioned distaste for all censorship on principle along with many other rational, thinking adults capable of making decisions all by themselves), I would most definitely welcome more news regarding the ESRB’s process of determining suitable content, and what qualifies their staff to make these decisions. And needless to say, the communications between Rockstar and the ESRB would almost-certainly be more entertaining than the content of the game itself, censored or not.

Add to Technorati Favorites

Subscribe in a reader

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under censorship, politics

‘Victory’, But At What Cost?

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?

Add to Technorati Favorites

Subscribe in a reader

Leave a comment

Filed under censorship

A Brave New World

Dare to imagine, if you will, a world where affordable haute cuisine is as commonplace as junk food, where every local movie theater is screening intelligent, challenging films and not just movies, and where games are considered art and nothing as low as mere ‘entertainment’.  This seems to be the world that John Lanchester is secretly wishing for every time he happens to glance upwards and observe debris from comets entering the earth’s atmosphere, in this article as reported by the guys at Joystiq.

Whilst I am genuinely trying to limit the numbers of purely reactionary posts that appear here, I felt compelled to comment on the stark contrast between his obvious skill as a writer, and the staggering naivete of the article.

I should probably make it clear at this point that whilst I would dearly like see more games like Okami and Shadow of the Colossus hit the shelves and prove popular with gamers on a scale comparable with titles like GTA, the chances of this transpiring in reality are similar to Uwe Boll’s chances of making a decent video game adaptation.

Lanchester’s article is also marred by questionable research, in that not only does he count each individual direction of the D-Pad on the DualShock controller as a ‘button’, but he also manages to overlook the true perspective of Rockstar title Bully, relying on common media misconceptions rather than any first-hand investigation into the game’s content.  He also succeeds in making sweeping generalizations regarding gamers due to the manual dexterity supposedly required to operate a DualShock controller; “A ‘DualShock’ controller of the type used in the Playstation 2 has 16 buttons and levers, and the game uses all of them, many simultaneously. The old, slow or time-poor need not bother.”  Disappointing, John.

Perhaps the fact that games’ considerable potential as an art form is constantly overshadowed by cold-blooded commercialism has left me bitter and jaded, or perhaps I’m just tired of reading articles like this one – with companies like EA and Microsoft still firmly in control of the market with titles like Madden ’08 and Halo 3, the lofty dreams of high-brow intellectualism in games imagined in Lanchester’s article is, sadly, still a long way away.

Add to Technorati Favorites

Subscribe in a reader

Leave a comment

Filed under censorship, misc.

Take-Two Take Cover?

So, since Manhunt 2’s release date seems conspicuous by it’s absence from all official Take-Two release schedules, are we to assume that the troubled software house have, albeit temporarily, given in to censorship pressure? This amidst news of a sharp decline in the value of Take-Two shares and a possible delay in GTA IV’s release due to ‘technical challenges’ have contributed to what could be described as a less-than-optimal week for Take-Two, and their investors – you know, those guys in suits with yachts that like money and don’t like video games.

However, the lack of a solid release date (or any news as to Take-Two’s appeal against the BBFC’s ruling) seem to highlight an interesting point made by Take-Two’s Strauss Zelnick in an interview with Dean Takahashi regarding marketing games exclusively at an adult market:

It’s a concern that we think a different standard may be applied to interactive entertainment than to linear entertainment. Manhunt 2 is set squarely in the horror genre for people over 17. It’s horrifying. We think it is no more graphic than the first Manhunt. Perhaps the only lesson is that one’s expectations aren’t always borne out in these situations.

Personally, I think this raises a valid point – the very fact that retailers refuse to carry titles ESRB-marked as ‘Adult Only’ indicates undue favoritism towards titles intended for a wider audience. Surely this would be akin to retailers refusing to carry videos and DVD’s of adult content such as horror movies, whereas horror games seem to be judged differently – a lucrative market demographic, yet deemed inappropriate for sale alongside titles less ‘horrifying’. It just doesn’t make sense, especially as current trends within and attitudes towards violent movies seem to be relaxing in terms of what is deemed ‘acceptable’. And just who the hell gets to decide what is ‘acceptable’? And for whom?

Is the ‘different standard’ that seemingly applies to interactive as opposed to linear entertainment that Zelnick refers to in the interview a result in the player’s direct involvement in the events that unfold on-screen? One could argue (were one so inclined) that ‘linear’ forms of entertainment could adversely affect individuals prone to violent outbursts, due to the indirect nature of the protagonist’s actions – surely if a player can actively decide what the character can do, this would be a more effective outlet for their darker urges than something where they are forced to merely view such actions, such as violent movies and television shows? The very nature of the BBFC’s decision to ban Manhunt 2 in the UK indicates that they take the view that often repeatedly seeing horrific, violent acts is acceptable whereas interacting and controlling horrific, violent acts is not, with little or no explanation of the basis for their stance on the matter, especially in light of the tragic case of Stefan Pakeerah in which the extent of the first Manhunt game’s involvement in the murder was closely scrutinized. To quote a spokesperson for the Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers’ Association that commented on the case;

We sympathise enormously with the family and parents of Stefan Pakeerah. However, we reject any suggestion or association between the tragic events and the sale of the video game Manhunt. The game in question is classified 18 by the British Board of Film Classification and therefore should not be in the possession of a juvenile. Simply being in someone’s possession does not and should not lead to the conclusion that a game is responsible for these tragic events.

Personally, I’ll look forward to Manhunt 2’s release date with eager anticipation – not to play it, as I didn’t really care for the first game (a little too violent for my tastes), but as a testament to independent thought and personal responsibility, to show that anyone capable of buying a product ESRB-rated ‘adult only’ is entitled and able to make up their own mind as to what they watch, play, read and think.

Add to Technorati Favorites

Subscribe in a reader

Leave a comment

Filed under censorship