Hot Washington-on-ESRB Action

By Pete Haas 2007-11-20 20:28:19 discussion comments
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Four United States Senators have decided to respond to the Manhunt 2 controversy with the deadliest weapon in their arsenal – a strongly worded letter. Senators Hilary Clinton (D-NY), Joe Lieberman (D-CT), Evan Bayh (D-IN), and Sam Brownback (R-KS) sent a letter to Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) president Patricia Vance yesterday asking for a review of the ESRB rating system.

As reported by GamePolitics, the senators took offense to the Rockstar-produced game’s original rating of “Adults Only” being downgraded by the ESRB to “Mature” after revisions, including the blurring of gory kill animations. The letter cites the British Board of Film Classification, who refused to rate the revised version of the game and called the changes “insufficient.” “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’ videogames” the letter went on to say. In other words, “clean up your act or we’ll clean it up for you.”

It would be easy to just accuse these politicians of beating this dead horse issue to pick up some votes, especially considering Senator Clinton’s presidential aspirations. It’s tough to prove that either way, though. What I will say is this probably won’t end with a letter and will likely result in some sort of legislation and/or knee-jerk reaction by the ESRB. Each of these senators has a history of video game restriction legislation. Senators Clinton, Bayh, and Lieberman were proponents of the failed Family Entertainment Protection Act in 2005 that would have imposed fines on businesses that sold Mature or Adults Only to minors.

Senator Brownback, for his part, has pending legislation in the Senate that would require the ESRB to play the entirety of a game before rating it. Brownback’s bill gave me an idea for a bill of my own – why don’t we require politicians to play the entirety of a game before they criticize it and try to pull it off the shelves? Do you honestly think any of these politicians have played a second of Manhunt 2, or any video game vaguely like it? With that in mind, it’s tough not to roll my eyes when they try to weigh in on these issues.
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