Around the offices of Take Two Interactive, they're likely calling this "Black Tuesday."
In the wake of this morning's word detailing Britain's ban on Manhunt 2 comes more bad news for publisher Take Two and developer Rockstar.
Citing concerns over the Nintendo Wii's popular motion control system, the Center for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) has demanded that Manhunt 2 be rated AO (adults only) by the ESRB. The game is scheduled for release in North America on July 9th.
Although Manhunt 2's rating has not been made public to date, the ESRB says that it has already informed Take Two and Rockstar of the game's rating.
The watchdog group's demand was made this morning via letter to ESRB president Patricia Vance. In a press release, CCFC also says that it will launch a letter-writing campaign "so that parents and advocates for children could share their concerns."
AO ratings for commercial video games are virtually unheard of and are considered the kiss of death at retail, since many stores won't carry AO-rated titles. The only commercial game to receive an AO in recent memory was Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas following the 2005 discovery of the notorious Hot Coffee animations and the game's subsequent recall.
From the CCFC press release:
In Manhunt 2, players can saw their enemies’ skulls in half; mutilate them with an axe; castrate them with a pair of pliers; and kill them by bashing their heads into an electrical box, where it is blown apart by a power surge. On Wii, players will not merely punch buttons or wield a joy stick, but will actually act out this violence...
Said CCFC co-founder, Dr. Susan Linn of Harvard:
If ever there was a time for the ESRB’s strongest and most unambiguous rating, it is now. An Adults Only rating is the only way to limit children’s exposure to this unique combination of horrific violence and interactivity...
An “M” rating is more like a wink and a nod than an effective safeguard. The industry appears to be going through its paces, but as the FTC’s most recent data show, these games are still being marketed to children.
Also quoted in the CCFC press release is Dr. Michael Rich, Director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston:
Video games are among the most powerful educational tools yet developed... players experience and learn the game’s skills, whether they be based in strategy, logic, or violence. The content of Manhunt 2 and the unique physical interaction with the Wii control combine to take this simulation a level closer to reality - we can expect that the effects of this experience will be even greater.
On June 6th GamePolitics broke the news that, prompted by Miami activist Jack Thompson, Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum was looking into Manhunt 2 on the Wii. It is unknown what role, if any, Thompson may have played in the CCFC's action, but it's clear that he knew it was coming.
The original Manhunt, controversial in its own right, was rated M (17 and older) at the time of its release in 2003. In addition to the Wii version, Manhunt 2 is scheduled for release on PlayStation 2 and PSP.
A statement received by GamePolitics from ESRB president Patricia Vance said:
We have received the letter from CCFC and, while we might take issue with some of the statements made within, we sincerely appreciate their expressed concerns. Our ratings are intended to provide guidance that allows parents to choose games they deem suitable for their children, and that is a responsibility we take extremely seriously.
It should be noted that ESRB has already assigned a rating for the Wii, PS2 and PSP versions of Manhunt 2, and that rating has in fact already been communicated to the publisher. However, we are unable to publicly release the rating at this time as it is our policy that ratings be posted to our website 30 days following assignment, unless the game is released prior to the end of that period. This is done to give publishers the opportunity to consider modifying and resubmitting their games for rating or appealing the rating assigned to our Appeals Board should they wish to do so. We have not yet been notified by Rockstar as to what they intend to do with respect to our rating assignment.