Manhunt 2, the followup to the lukewarm stealth/murder game Manhunt, hasn't had the smoothest ride to store shelves. The game originally earned an AO (Adults Only) rating from the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, contractually preventing it from being supported by any of the three ubiquitous game consoles (PlayStation, Wii, and XBox).
Left dead in the water without a system for which to release their game (other than the stagnant PC market), Rockstar, the game's publisher, went back to the drawing board and devised a software solution, blocking out some of the more extreme content and eventually earning an M (Mature) rating and opening up the console market once again.
On news that the PlayStation Portable version of the game has been hacked to release the hidden content, Jason DeRusha at WCCO recently reported that Minnesota's own Target corporation has refused to carry the game on their shelves.
The Manhunt series is extremely graphic, as you can see in this YouTube clip. The player's character is allowed and encouraged to murder and maim in horrific ways, inflicting extreme damage on fairly realistic representations of human bodies. Some may view the gore as senseless and without artistic merit.
But if Manhunt did find its way to Target shelves, it would be in good company, alongside the entire Saw series of movies, a film concept that in many ways mirrors Manhunt in its exploration of the extreme limits and effects of violence. In this scene from Saw II, for instance, a character crawls around in a pit of hypodermic needles, screaming in agony as the needles are realistically depicted stabbing into her body.
The issue at the heart of the debate is that video games are still being viewed as medium almost exclusively for children. Even if the ESRB label on a game clearly reads 17+, the assumption among many is that it's really intended for children and that kids will make up the majority of the game's purchasers and players.
The facts oppose that view. According to the Entertainment Software Association, the average age of game players is 33. Forty-four percent of the most frequent game players are older than 35. A staggering 83% of purchasers of video games are 18 or older.
It's time to stop carrying around this three-decade-old notion that games are for kids. The gamer generation has lived and grown through Pong and Pac-Man and Super Mario to a middle age of gritty, adult games where the player is free to choose a range of options, not all of them morally pristine. I'm not saying all video games are for adults or that we shouldn't consider the content of games with a critical eye; I'm just saying it's time to expand our idea of the purpose of games, who plays them, and who they're for.
And Target needs to get its priorities in order. If it wants to be seen as the vanquisher of tasteless media, apply the rule with an even hand and take Saw off the shelves. If, on the other hand, it believes adults can make their own choices about the media they consume, start treating video games with the same standards by which movies are judged.