ESRB defends Manhunt rerating

Ratings board rebuffs California lawmaker's calls for transparency, concedes content was edited; Yee says organization can't be trusted.


Yesterday, California Senator Leland Yee publicly called for the Entertainment Software Rating Board to take the veil off the rerating of Manhunt 2 and explain exactly what happened and why the game now deserves a rating of M for Mature, instead of its original AO for Adults Only. Similar calls have come from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which publicly demanded the game receive an AO rating just hours before news of the real rating broke.

Today ESRB president Patricia Vance responded, but perhaps not as thoroughly as Yee had hoped. "Publishers submit game content to the ESRB on a confidential basis," Vance said. "It is simply not our place to reveal specific details about the content we have reviewed, particularly when it involves a product yet to be released. What can be said is that the changes that were made to the game, including the depictions themselves and the context in which those depictions were presented, were sufficient to warrant the assignment of an M (Mature 17+) rating by our raters."

Vance also shot back with a suggestion that the effort behind such complaints are better directed elsewhere. "Rather than publicly second-guessing what is unmistakably a strong warning to parents about the suitability of a particular game for children, which presumably neither Senator Yee nor CCFC have personally reviewed, we feel a more productive tack would be to join us in encouraging parents to take the ratings seriously when buying games for their children," Vance said.

She later added, "It is a parent's rightful place to make choices for their own children. The ESRB and console manufacturers provide families with the tools and information to help them do so."

Vance pointed to a recent Federal Trade Commission study on the marketing of violent entertainment to children, saying that major game retailers "currently stop the sale of M-rated games to buyers under 17 the vast majority of the time, having surpassed the level of enforcement achieved by theatre owners in connection with children's access into R-rated movies."

In the FTC report, the "vast majority" is actually 62 percent of national retailers that stopped mystery-shopping minors from purchasing M-rated games in 2006. And while that figure is better than the 61 percent of movie theaters tested that denied minors entrance to R-rated films, the slim margin disappears when local gaming retailers are factored into the number. Overall, minors were stopped from purchasing M-rated games at 58 percent of the gaming retailers tested by the FTC.

When contacted by GameSpot for comment, the senator's response to Vance's statement was quick and pointed. "What are they trying to hide?" Yee asked. "Unsurprisingly, the culture of secrecy continues at the ESRB. Even individuals within the video game industry are now calling into question their rating system. Parents simply can not trust an entity that is unwilling to disclose or give any meaningful rationale at how they come to their decisions... When weighing in on laws to prohibit the sale of ultra-violent video games to children, the industry has said over and over, 'Trust us; our rating system will protect children.' This latest episode demonstrates once again that the ESRB in fact can not be trusted."

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