Video Game Violence and Sexual Content

Posted: June 21, 2007 in Video Games

Normally I wouldn’t bother to blog about these types of issues but I’ve been reading about Manhunt 2 and all the hoopla its been generating lately and its really gotten under my skin. 

There have been a number of articles on the various news and gaming websites lately about Manhunt 2 possibly receiving an Adults Only (AO) rating and even being banned in England and Ireland.  Now I am unfamiliar with those countries political systems and the rights the people in those countries have but I find it completely sad that in this day and age any government censors games, movies, music, etc.  Without ever letting the public make the decision themselves the governments of these countries have banned the game from being sold and therefore have told their public “sorry you don’t have the right to play that, or watch that, or buy that, or listen to that and we’ve taken the liberty of deciding what’s good for you and your family.”  Ireland called Manhunt 2 “gross” and they have most likely never played the game. 

The other big deal surrounding this game is its possible Adults Only rating it may receive here in the United States.  The three big console makers Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft all refuse to publish games that are rated AO.  In some ways I find this to be very hypocritical.  Sony publishes R rated movies and their DVD and Blu-Ray players all allow playback of pornographic movies and movies that contain extreme violence.  Through Microsoft’s Internet Explorer I can access porn through the internet, or look at extremely violent imagery (executions anyone?). Nintendo rarely goes into these areas (don’t forget they were the company that turned Mortal Kombat blood into gray sweat on their Super Nintendo) so I can’t say too much about them.  Now you’ll want to keep in mind that all of the afore mentioned products, as WELL as their game consoles contain parental controls that allow a parent to lock out games that contain content they don’t want their children to see.  All DVD players including HDDVD and Blu-ray all have similar parental lock options so what’s the big deal in releasing an AO game?  Certainly any one of these companies would state that they don’t make their consoles or video playback machines for materials that contain pornography or extreme violence but they’d would also state that what their consumers do with those machines is up to them, use it as they see fit.

So why won’t any of these companies allow a game with an AO rating to appear on their consoles?  First off let’s look at the AO rating itself.  It’s a rating that simply means anyone under 18 is not allowed to purchase the game and that those under 18 or their parents may find the content of the game unacceptable.  The rating that a game receives just under AO is “M” for Mature which dictates the same thing as an AO rating only the age is dropped from 18 to 17.  Now certainly anyone with the capacity to think clearly would realize that the difference mentally at 17 and 18 years of age is minimal.  You’re still young, you’re still very wet behind the ears, and you generally tend to think you know everything.  That said the difference between an “AO” and an “M” rating is equally as minimal.  One of these ratings needs to go or the two need to merge to make one because receiving an “AO” rating in the gaming industry is the kiss of death.  I haven’t always been the biggest fan of the video game rating system but I do agree that it should be there, if for no other reason than to give parents a heads up when they buy a game for one of their children.  Then again I played all kinds of games growing up, some violent, some not, but all fun, and all JUST games.  I truly believe the AO rating needs to be abolished because in all likleyhood a 17 year old and an 18 year old gamer have the same mental maturity and are going to make the same decisions when it comes to gaming.  The heaviest rating any game should receive is a Mature or “M” rating.

Next I’d like to take a look at the attitude of the three major video game companies.  Sure there are those at the top that make policies forbidding AO games to appear on their consoles but don’t think for a minute that all if any of those people really care what you play or what your kids play.  They care about your money and how much of it they can take from you.  As for those individuals who honestly have moral and ethical obligations to keep those types of games off the store shelves or out of my living room, don’t do me any favors!  Why are you deciding what me and my kids bring into our home?  Why are you worried about what my kids see, hear, or play?  Thank you for your genuine concern but stay out of my business and please allow me to make those decisions for myself.  In addition to this I can go back to an early argument I made where I stated that at least two of the three major companies allow pornographic and violent movie playback through their consoles, video playback machines, and computer software.  Why is this acceptable but publishing a game with an “AO” rating is not?  It’s fairly common knowledge that sure many gamers are kids, but there are a lot of adult gamers as well.  As a man in his mid 30’s I’ve been gaming since 1977.  Back in those days and throughout the 80’s and even the early 90’s the video game industry was mainly made up of kids, both young and old.  All of my friends still game, both hardcore and casually.  So I ask again…why do you forbid the release or play of “AO” rated games on their systems?  They know that older people are playing and they know that the hardcore crowd loves games like Manhunt and Manhunt 2.

Perhaps these companies believe that a game with an “AO” rating would tarnish their name or business model. One could also assume that they fear all of the political and special interest pressure they’d receive by releasing a game of this nature.  I believe both of these would be a reality they would have to deal with but on the other hand the reality is as a business you’re supposed to cater to your customers not your critics.  I’m sure that the United States government would also put some type of pressure on these companies but I really believe that one, if not all of these companies need to stand up to these “bullies”, give them the middle finger and release whatever they believe will make money, which is what businesses are supposed to do!  I believe there would be many “AO” rated games that would be excellent games and that would sell very well.  Games that throw violence and sex into itself just for the sake of sex and violence are stupid but when they add to the realism of the game or are part of the art these games shouldn’t be a big deal. 

Now onto the retail outlets that refuse to carry “AO” related games.  I say the same things to them and about them that I have about the video game console makers.  For those of you who have morals that prohibit you from approving a game that you believe has excessive violence or sexual content, thanks for the concern but your morals aren’t mine nor are they the morals and opinions of the rest of the country so stop trying to police things for me.  For the rest of these people, I can only say that the demand for games that end up rated “AO” is there, will be there and aren’t as “offensive” as many of you might think.

I think a major ongoing issue here is the fact that everyone and their mother these days continues to think that only kids play video games or that kids will get their hands on games they shouldn’t be playing.  Again I have to say that all of these companies, ratings people, politicians, and nuts need to stop making decisions for the consumer and allow us to decide what’s right for us and our kids.  You’re not helping us, you’re taking away our right to choose, the right to free speech, and our right to enjoy what we want in the privacy of our own home.  Video games are not being played only by children; they’re played by people of all ages and the parent or adult should be allowed to make the final decision in these matters.

In conclusion, I would say that these companies should make all games of all ratings available and allow adults to buy whatever they choose.  As it currently stands, banning of Manhunt 2, or giving it an “AO” rating doesn’t protect kids from getting their hands on it, it only servers to keep what could be a good game from reaching the hands of wanting gamers who are old enough or parents who think it’s ok enough for their kids to play the game, from playing it.

Yes I rant but this type of thing is extremely politically driven and it just annoys the shit out of me that there is any type of censorship in this day and age.  My kids don’t play Grand Theft Auto type games because they are very very young children.  When they become teenagers my wife and I will take another look at them and their maturity to determine if we will allow them to play games like that.  I have those types of games in my home now but my kids don’t have access to them.  Sure some stores will sell these games to people who don’t meet the age requirements of the ratings system and those stores should face penalties for doing so however outside interference should go no further than that. 

Games are just games; they don’t “make” anyone do anything.  Many of those who oppose video game violence and sexual content would have you believe or make it look like shootings etc, happen everyday and are related to a video game.  I’ve played many games that are lighthearted and good natured yet I don’t run around lighthearted and am not happy all the time.  At the same time, I have played many violent games, both as a teenager and an adult and not once have I every wanted to or thought about shooting someone up, stealing, burglarizing, killing, car jacking, or being a general asshole to people.  The few people who do commit such heinous acts already have emotional and/or mental issues.  Games don’t kill people, people do, and video game pulishers and retailers don’t care about morals, they care about money.

  1. David says:

    My name is David Dandie, I’m 24 from Toronto, Caanda. I completely agree with you. The only problem is that among all the civil-minded gamers out there, we have no outlet except for anonymous, unseen, unheard blogs and forums to rant on which is comparable to speaking to a brick wall. I really feel that gamers like you and me could really take a stand against these companies but like I said, I have no idea how to get them to listen.

    Well, you take at least solace in the fact that there’s at least one more “little guy” out there that believes in you.

  2. Jonathan again, I commented on your other rant too, this one was just as good. I agree all around and I enjoyed reading it. I am 21 and from Oakville, Ontario and am going to take the same approach to family gaming as you do yourself when I have a family, as will many I am sure, it is a logical approach. I adore games, for all ages, adult, family-friendly, shooters and will not allow my children to play them unless I understand they are ready. I was in my early teen’s when Conker’s Bad Fur Day came out and I asked my parents to rent it for me. At first they were skeptical and disallowed it, but after time they began to understand that I wasn’t harming myself and I was just having fun.
    The one comment I would like to make, however. Is I, in turn, think that M and AO can coexist. Though this debacle has proved otherwise. M (17+ to purchase) should be apporached that way. you must be 17+ to buy it, but if a guardian feels their 15 year old is able to understand and not be disturbed by it, then can purchase it under their protection, however a AO(18+ to play) should not be purchased OR played by anyone under 18+. Granted, you are going to have people who feel that minors are safe to play it and will allow them that but if a retailer has a suspicion that this is the intention at the time of purchase, than they should hold the game back for legal reasons.
    Granted, like I said, this situation is slowly changing my opinion and they should make Mature games 18+, and all systems should allow it. As Nintendo has created the Wii with sole intentions of making games for anyone, adults included, and adults should be able to chose what is safe for their offspring.
    I hope we are playing a AO copy of Manhunt 2 soon my friend and this rating fiasco passes us by. Sounds like you have a lovely family, and thank you for being a respectable and informed parent when it comes to entertainment.
    All the best.

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