Monday, July 30, 2007

Condemned to Censorship

So the senior producer of Condemned 2 has revealed a cautious approach to game content brought on by Manhunt 2's AO rating. I suppose it's kind of sad to think that game makers are beginning to feel the need to tone down their productions in order to ensure wide release, but I guess it's nothing new. Hollywood's been walking the fine line between R and NC-17, and I'm sure that has led to the same kind of content considerations.

I suppose the disconcerting thing is that the content in Manhunt 2 didn't seem any different from a lot of the splatter films being released today. Of course since I haven't played Manhunt 2, I can't say for sure how the violence in Manhunt 2 compares to that of these movies, but without that firsthand experience, my mind is left to wonder. Are the rating boards treating the violent content of games more harshly because of the interactive nature of the medium? Is that fair? Furthermore, does the more immersive control scheme offered by the Wii skew judgement? Is this fair? Perhaps making the player the perpetrator of these brutal attacks as oppose to the victim somehow gives off an air of consent or encouragement in the minds of the reviewers. Maybe the majority still sees video games as a childhood pastime with no room for adult content. Still, it could be simpler than that. Manhunt 2 might very well be worst than GTA or God of War, gorier than Hostel or Saw, if we can fairly make that comparison.

Ultimately, the argument should not matter to me. I'm old enough to buy my own games and make my own decisions. The rating system should be a great tool for restricting the intake of minors and informing parents. The problem is that the AO rating makes it something more. If the rating system is merely for parents, than the inclusion of a M rating (for 17+) and an AO rating (for 18+) seems pretty redundant. The truth is that the AO rating does more, essentially barring a game from widespread, console release.

At my age and position in life, I should be able to ignore the ratings. If I'm buying the games for myself, than the only barriers I should have to procurement are my own reservations (luckily, I have none). I'm not saying that no topic is taboo and that there's never a reason to ban a game, but an AO rating shouldn't effectively be a ban.

More troubling is that this isn't really different from the home video market right now. Major retail like Wal-Mart don't stock NC-17 movies, leaving other specialty shops to provide an outlet. It's not the best solution, but retailers have a right, I guess, to choose what they stock, although that itself could lead to another murky topic if taken to the extreme. It's more or less a question of what's morally accepted in the mainstream, a view that will always be contested by someone. As long as there's more money in morality, that's just how it's gonna be.

In the end, the truth is both simpler and more complex than this whole meandering rant I've been on. If the integrity of the story and content absolutely mattered more than money to Rockstar and Monolith, they'd take the AO rating and stick their games on the computer. Of course there's more to this than income and integrity. It's a balancing act between what they want to sell, and what they're allowed to sell in the market they chosen. Rockstar will go back and retool the content, Monolith with watch what the code, both will benefit from a larger profit and audience than if they had an AO rating and, hopefully, all of this will be done without sacrificing what's most important in my mind, the gameplay. The censorship is a shame, and it is an important topic to muse on, but as someone who enjoys digging up fossils as much as saw-blading heads off, I won't lose much sleep over it.