ESRB: Dial 'M' for 'Manhunt 2'


NEW YORK -- The board that assigns age ratings to video games will keep the "Mature" label on "Manhunt 2," resisting calls to raise it after hackers defeated measures that blur some of the game's violence.

Patricia Vance, president of the Entertainment Software Rating Board, said Friday the rating "is still valid, and we stand behind it."

"Manhunt 2" went on sale in the U.S. on Wednesday for the PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable and Wii platforms. On Thursday, publisher Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. confirmed that hackers had managed to unblur some gruesome scenes on the PSP version.

The hack only works on PSPs that have been modified to allow unauthorized content.

In the game, the player guides two people who escape from an insane asylum and go on a killing spree with a variety of implements, including axes.

When originally submitted to the ESRB earlier this year, the game received an "Adults Only" rating. Many stores refuse to carry games with that rating, so Take-Two made modifications, including blurring some details. The modified game was rated "Mature," which means it is intended for players 17 or older.

It is not the first time Take-Two and the designing studio, Rockstar Games, have been in trouble over game content. Two years ago, their game "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas," shipped with a hidden sex scene that was easily unlocked by gamers.

In that case, the ESRB changed the rating from "Mature" to "Adults Only," causing retailers to pull it off shelves. It is now facing calls to do the same thing with "Manhunt 2."

"Not only should the AO rating immediately be reinstated on this game, the Federal Trade Commission should investigate Rockstar and the ESRB to determine how this was allowed to happen again," said California state Sen. Leland Yee, in a statement.

The demand was echoed by Common Sense Media, a San Francisco nonprofit that advises parents about entertainment that may be inappropriate for children. The ratings process lacks basic transparency, said Common Sense Media CEO James Steyer.

"We believe that families and all consumers should have an assurance from game publishers and the game ratings board that the content being advertised is the same as the content being sold," Steyer said.

The ESRB's Vance said the "Manhunt 2" case differs from the "San Andreas" case because it's much harder to restore the hidden content. Also, the publisher followed the ESRB's procedures and submitted all the content, even the parts that were obscured, for the ratings review, she said.

"This is not a simple matter of unlocking content that's easily accessible to anyone who has a PC or a PS2," Vance said. "Software and hardware is susceptible to illegal or unauthorized modification. As an industry, there are many measures that are taken to prevent that from happening, but there is no way to prevent it altogether."

She stressed that parents need to be vigilant just not about the games that children buy, but also what they're downloading from the Internet or how they're modifying their game hardware.

The board is a private, nonprofit organization founded by a game industry trade group.

Meanwhile, the National Alliance on Mental Illness condemned the game, saying it perpetuates the stereotype that the mentally ill are violent. It asked the publisher to further modify the game. Take-Two had no immediate response to that request.