Manhunt 2, ESRB in senators' crosshairs

Rockstar's latest game has US politicians crossing party lines, proposing Wii games be held to different ratings standards.

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The violent-game debate is back on the national stage once more. Just as the controversy over Manhunt 2 appeared as if it might have finally subsided, a group of senators have brought the issue back to the forefront.

The cadre of politicians includes two Democrats, a Republican, and an independent who used to be a Democrat; all of them have previously supported legislation involving games, and all have (or had) presidential aspirations. Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY and current presidential candidate), Joe Lieberman (I-CT, formerly a democrat and candidate for president in 2004, and Al Gore's running mate in the 2000 presidential race), and Evan Bayh (D-IN, who publicly considered a run in 2008 only to opt against it) proposed the Family Entertainment Protection Act to restrict minors' access to violent games. Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS and recently withdrawn 2008 presidential candidate) attempted to pass the Truth in Video Game Rating Act, which would have required the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) to play through the games it assesses.

Today, the four senators sent a letter to the rating board suggesting that "it may be desirable to revise or enhance the current ESRB rating system." Specifically, they express concern over its rerating of Manhunt 2, which gave the game an M for Mature instead of the original AO for Adults Only. In the letter, the senators note that the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) maintained its ban on the game even when presented with the revised edition that received an M from the ESRB.

In addition, they called for a closer look at the ratings on games for Nintendo's Wii, due to the nature of its motion-sensing controller.

"That system permits children to act out each of the many graphic torture scenes and murders in Manhunt 2 rather than simply manipulating a game pad," the senators wrote. "This led one clinical psychologist to state that the realistic motions used with the Wii mean that 'You're basically teaching a child the behavioral sequencing of killing.' While this was not cited as the reason for the BBFC decision, we do believe that the ESRB should take the Wii Remote controller, and future advances in game controllers, which create more realistic gaming environments, into consideration."

The senators then questioned the ratings process and said that the group withholds information from the public and developers about why a game's rating is given or changed. They stated that previous explanations from the ESRB about maintaining confidentiality for unreleased games shouldn't hold any weight once a game is released, and sought more detailed information about the reviewing process.

"In sum, we ask your consideration of whether it is time to review the robustness, reliability, and repeatability of your ratings process, particularly for this genre of 'ultra-violent' video games and the advances in game controllers," the letter reads. "We have consistently urged parents to pay attention to the ESRB rating system. We must ensure that parents can rely on the consistency and accuracy of those ratings."

An ESRB representative confirmed for GameSpot that the letter had been received, and said the board would be responding.

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