Thursday, June 21, 2007

AO....(Huh!)...What is it Good For?

As many of you are no doubt aware, Rockstar's Manhunt 2 recently received an AO rating from the ESRB. If released, this would mark the first console game intentionally released at the AO level (GTA: San Andreas is technically the first, since the ESRB retroactively rated it with an AO when it discovered poorly rendered humping action in the game...oh the horror). Nevertheless, AO is a legitimate ranking. Pity that the console makers don't think so.

From Gamespot:
GameSpot has confirmed with Nintendo and Sony that one of those options, which would be to accept the ESRB's judgment and release the game with the AO rating, isn't an option at all. Both companies forbid licensed third-party publishers from releasing games rated AO for Adults Only on their various hardware platforms. Though Manhunt 2 isn't slated for any of Microsoft's systems, the company has also confirmed that it does not allow AO-rated titles on the Xbox or Xbox 360.
Now, I understand Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo want to protect their brand, I do. But save for Nintendo (which really is marketed at the kiddies almost exclusively), I would think that there is a branding advantage to be gained from being the only console with "cutting edge" fair.

Manhunt 2 is really this generation's Mortal Kombat. If you were into video games at the time, you will remember that the release of Mortal Kombat sparked senate committee hearings, the formation of outraged parent groups, and the birth of the rating system itself. The whole "controversy" went so far as to cause Midway to release two separate versions of the material: One with all of the content of the arcade game on the Sega Genesis (which admittedly still required the use of a "blood code"), and one watered down to the point of being irrelevant on the SNES. Certainly the Genesis gained a great deal of street cred with the release of the real version.

And yet here we are. I could talk until I'm blue in the face about the fact that in order for the high end of the rating system to work we cannot eliminate the use of the highest rating, or that the most recent torture porn masterpiece from Eli Roth is likely more violent and disturbing then Manhunt 2 will be (Full Disclosure: Obviously I haven't played Rockstar's latest), but what do you all think? Is there market share to be gained by allowing AO games on one's system? Or are the console makers right to believe that adults need to be coddled as much as the kids do?

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