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Lawmakers take aim at videogames

Political quartet find fault with ratings process

Unhappy with a downgraded rating of the new, controversial videogame “Manhunt 2,” four key lawmakers — including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton — have called for a thorough review of the current vidgame ratings process.

Sens. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Clinton (D-N.Y.) sent a letter Monday to the Entertainment Software Rating Board, saying the rating change from the original Adults Only to Mature for “Manhunt 2” raises “a number of serious issues” about the board’s ratings.

Last June, three European countries banned the vidgame, and the board slapped it with the AO rating for the same reason: a high level of violence. Blighty officials said “Manhunt 2” was unacceptable because of an “unremitting bleakness and callousness of tone” that constantly “encourages visceral killing with exceptionally little alleviation or distancing.”

Publisher Rockstar Games — which also distributes the notorious “Grand Theft Auto” — decided to delay release of “Manhunt 2” pending changes.

European officials did not feel the changes that Rockstar made were sufficient, and they upheld the ban of the vidgame. The Entertainment Software Ratings Board, however, dropped the AO rating to an M, which is far more conducive to mass sales.

Solons noted that, according to the Federal Trade Commission, children younger than 17 — ostensibly not allowed to buy M-rated games — still manage to buy them 42% of the time. They also pointed out that “Manhunt 2” has been released for the interactive Wii platform, which essentially “teaches children the behavioral sequence of killing” when playing the game, they said.

The board should consider whether a vidgame will be available on Wii when deciding on a rating, the lawmakers said. They also posed several questions about the internal decisionmaking process on ratings, particularly when they are changed.

“In sum, we ask your consideration of whether it is time to review the robustness, reliability and repeatability of your ratings process, particularly for this genre of ‘ultraviolent’ videogames and the advances in game controllers,” they wrote.

“We have received the letter and we will be responding to it accordingly,” said Entertainment Software Ratings Board spokesman Eliot Mizrachi.

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