The Manhunt 2 video game has ignited a firestorm among violence experts who say the video-game industry has gone too far and needs to be reined in.
Manhunt 2 chronicles the murderous rampage of a sociopath who escapes from a mental hospital. Players, who assume the role of the escapee, proceed through the game by hunting and killing innocent victims who are trying to flee.
“This game teaches children how to kill,” Lt. Col. Ted Grossman, an expert of video-game violence, tells Newsmax.
Ted Baehr, chairman of the Christian Film and Television Commission, says the game "teaches susceptible children to commit sadistic violence."
"In most first-person shooter games," he says, "the shooter is being attacked. Here, the killer is a crazed psychotic who is going on the hunt for innocent people.”
The game's primary character slaughters innocent victims with clubs, guns, knives, axes, manhole covers, chainsaws, broken glass, and even a pair of pliers.
The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) banned the sale of Manhunt 2 in the United Kingdom, noting that its “unremitting bleakness and callousness of tone … which constantly encourages visceral killing.”
The Board decried the game’s “sustained and cumulative casual sadism.”
The Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB), an industry-supported group that rates U.S. video games, initially gave Manhunt 2 an adults-only rating, meaning few video stores would sell it.
The makers of the game, Take Two Interactive and Rockstar, then reworked the game, blurring many of its more violent scenes, and eventually received a mature (or "M”) rating. ESRB's Web site says games rated for mature audiences "may be suitable" for those over 17 years of age.
The Federal Trade Commission has reported that 42 percent of undercover shoppers 13 to 16 years old are able to buy games rated for ages 17 and older.
Last November, Baehr called for the revised game to be given an adult-only rating, meaning it should be viewed only by those 18 or older. Many outlets will not carry adult-only games.
When Target Corporation received reports that tech-savvy teen hackers could undo the blurring of ultraviolent scenes and return Manhunt 2 to its original adults-only status, the store chain announced it would not offer the game on its shelves.
Politicians on Capitol Hill are grumbling about the video-game industry following the release of Manhunt 2 and the growing litany of tragic shootings that includes the church-school shootings in Colorado Springs, Colo., the mall shootings in Omaha, Neb., and the massacre on the campus of Virginia Tech.
Four senators - Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., Evan Bayh, D-Ind., Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn. - have written a letter to the ESRB about Manhunt 2, suggesting it reconsider its ratings system.
Among their concerns: Manhunt 2 is available in the Wii game format, meaning players get physically involved in the game. According to the senators' letter: "This led one clinical psychologist to state that the realistic motions used with the Wii mean ‘you’re basically teaching a child the behavioral sequence of killing.’”
Two congressmen, Rep. Joe Baca, D-Calif., and Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., want more transparency in ESRB’s in-house rating process, with clips of games posted online so parents can better assess their suitability.
Lt. Col. Grossman points out that there have been several cases of students who frequently played violent video games later going on rampages, including Virginia Tech killer Seung Hui Cho; Paducah, Ky., schoolyard shooter Michael Carneal; and the Columbine killers, among others.
“These games decrease empathy toward fellow human beings and the tendency toward violence is increased," he explains, adding, “The ESRB is hired by the video gaming industry and they are kicking, screaming, and fighting to provide this stuff to kids.”
Of the senators' letter to the ESRB, Grossman says, “That’s not good enough -- the government needs to do something.”
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