Rockstar Defends Manhunt 2 as Art

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Earlier this week, the British Board of Film Classification rejected Rockstar’s forthcoming Manhunt 2 video game for its “unrelenting focus on stalking and brutal slaying.” Although Rockstar can appeal the ruling—and potentially alte the game’s content to get a more favorable ruling—for now the decision means that Manhunt 2 cannot be offered for sale or rental in the United Kingdom.

Although Rockstar hasn’t yet publicized any plans to appeal the ruling, new Take-Two Interactive chairman Strauss Zelnick has said in a statement that Manhunt 2 has the full support of the company and that consumers should be able to decide for themselves whether the game has any merit. “The Rockstar team has come up with a game that fits squarely within the horror genre and was intended to do so,” Mr Zelnick said in a statement. “It brings a unique, formerly unheard of cinematic quality to interactive entertainment, and is also a fine piece of art.”

Rockstar Games is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Take-Two Interactive; Zelnick was installed as chairman of the company following a shareholder revolt in late March which saw the company’s investors throw out Take-Two’s previous management team.

In the United States, Manhunt 2 is currently classified as Adult Only, although the game isn’t scheduled to be released until July 29. Rockstar developed the game for the Sony PlayStation 2 and Nintendo Wii; neither company permits sale of Adult Only titles for their consoles. Similarly, many leading game retailers—such as U.S. giant Wal-Mart, which accounts for nearly a quarter of U.S. game sales—refuse to carry Adult Only titles.

“The stories in modern video games are as diverse as the stories in books, film and television. The adult consumers who would play this game fully understand that it is fictional interactive entertainment and nothing more,” Rockstar continued in its statement. “While we respect the authority of the classification board and will abide by the rules, we emphatically disagree with this particular decision.”

A ban on Manhunt 2 is not expected to have a significant impact on Rockstar’s bottom line, although the company would certainly incur a smaller loss—and maybe even earn some money—it were to re-tool the game to achieve a less-restrictive rating. However, Take-Two’s already jittery investors have to be wondering what the company is doing, and would no doubt prefer the developer focus on making games with broad appeal which sell millions of copies, rather than fine pieces of “art” nobody can buy.

Rockstar also develops the Grand Theft Auto franchise, which has itself been the source of considerable controversy for its content. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas had to be withdrawn from the market—costing Take-Two millions of dollars and embroiling them in an FTC investigation—when it was found to have shipped with explicit sexual content which could be enabled via a third-party tool.

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