Earlier this week, Rockstar Games' unreleased action game Manhunt 2 was banned in the UK and Ireland. The controversial PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, and Nintendo Wii title was then issued an AO for Adults Only rating in the US, effectively extending the ban to domestic shores, as neither Sony nor Nintendo allow AO-rated games on their systems.
Running With Scissors CEO Vince Desi is no stranger to controversy, having seen his violent Postal series of games banned in countries like Brazil and New Zealand, as well as blamed for real-life tragedies. Given his familiarity with the subject, GameSpot today posed a handful of questions to Desi in order to get his views on the Manhunt 2 controversy, the effectiveness of the Entertainment Software Rating Board, and whether or not these high-profile incidents help or hurt the bottom line.
GameSpot: What's your general take on the Manhunt 2 situation?
Vince Desi: My main concern is for our industry, the game industry itself. Whether I or any other developer or gamer likes, loves, or hates Manhunt 2 is not the issue. The real issue is we as an industry allow ourselves to be set up. I'm a big fan of the ESRB, I think in general they do a great job. The dilemma is that while we are supposedly a free society (who knows about the UK), the fact is government, hypocritical politicians, and the media dictate directly and indirectly who wins and loses, or who gets to play, so to speak. Does Hillary really have a clue?
GS: Have any Running With Scissors games ever received an initial rating of Adults Only from the ESRB?
VD: No, all of the Postal games have been rated M.
GS: Are you at all jealous that Rockstar managed to land an AO rating with a game before you?
VD: We make games that are humor-driven, not violent-centric. As for being first, Postal 2 received six descriptors; you know we were the first to get an "Intense Violence" descriptor. Seriously, I don't think any developer purposely intends to corner a negative score.
GS: How has controversy over the extreme content in Postal helped or hurt the series' sales?
VD: 2007 is our 10th anniversary, and we are currently developing Postal III for the 360/PC/Mac and we have a major motion picture coming out in September, so looking back we've done great. However, in the beginning it clearly was harmful here in the USA; we were never big enough to buy our way onto the retail shelves.
GS: If Manhunt 2 were a Running With Scissors product, do you think the rating would have been the same?
VD: Who knows? I would like to think that all games are evaluated on their own. At least that's the way it should be.
GS: If Manhunt 2 were a PC-only game, do you think the rating would have been the same?
VD: Again, in a perfect world I would say yes. That said, I'm not sure it would get the same rating if it was submitted at a different time or if a different individual scored it.
GS: Will this rating do anything to keep politicians and parent watchdog groups off the industry's back?
VD: I don't think so. The video game industry is too easy for them to complain about, and with a presidential election next year I can only imagine the pseudo talking points we'll be hearing. It could be the only issue the Democrats and Republicans agree upon.
GS: Will this rating do anything to prevent children from getting their hands on inappropriate or violent games?
VD: How old were you when you lit your first cigarette? Drank your first beer? I think rating systems work in general as they provide consumers with so-called valuable information, [but] they should never be seen as or expected to be a policing policy.
GS: Do you expect Microsoft's prohibition on AO-rated games for its systems will become an issue when Postal 3 is ready for its Xbox 360 release next year?
VD: Not at all. Our design policy is really very simple. When we consider content we first ask ourselves, "Is this fun to play?" And second, "Is it funny?" We never think in terms of violence, it reduces the game to a one-dimensional perspective, aka BORING. We design for laughs. It's so much more entertaining when you can play for fun and at the same time laugh your ass off.
I think it's important for developers to reconsider their motivations; it shouldn't be about money, or the latest trend or tech feature. We're in the game business, games are meant to be played, and playing should be a fun experience. That's it!