Canada plays ratings game its own way
As with movies, the rating a video game receives can keep it out of the hands of consumers.
Last June, video-game publisher Rockstar Games encountered a problem with its game Manhunt 2, which was developed for the Nintendo Wii and Sony PS2 and PSP consoles. In the game, players take on the role of Daniel Lamb, a scientist who has been put in an asylum for the criminally insane. During a lightning storm, Lamb and the other inmates find themselves released, and players try to learn the truth behind Lamb's incarceration and survive a horror-movie-type environment, which involves killing other inmates.
The British Board of Film Classification refused to grant a rating to the video game due to its "unremitting bleakness and callousness of tone" and "sustained and cumulative casual sadism". Games without ratings cannot legally be sold in the U.K., so Manhunt 2 was effectively banned.
Soon after, the Entertainment Software Rating Board, the organization charged by the video-game industry with rating games in North America, handed the game an Adults Only rating. As Sony and Nintendo do not permit AO–rated games to be released for their gaming systems, the ESRB decision meant that Manhunt 2 wouldn't be available in North America either.
Given that social and cultural sensibilities in Canada are often quite different from those in the U.S.–often reflected in movie ratings, for example–the Straight contacted Danielle Parr, executive director of the Entertainment Software Association of Canada, to find out if there are any plans for a ratings process unique to Canada.
On the phone from her office in Toronto, Parr explained that Canadians participate in ESRB ratings discussions in two ways. The first is the inclusion of a Canadian advisory committee, made up of an industry representative appointed by the ESAC and members of the Interprovincial Film Classification Council of Canada. Secondly, the ESRB's ratings committee, which is made up of industry members, includes Parr as a representative of the Canadian industry.
As well, the ESRB Web site takes complaints from the public. "We see the specific text of the complaints that are received from Canadian consumers," Parr said. "The bulk of those complaints are from kids who are upset that the ratings are too harsh."
New research conducted by the ESAC indicates that parents and consumers in Canada agree with ratings being given to games by the ESRB and have confidence in those ratings: 77 percent of parents are aware of the ratings; 76 percent of those parents check the rating before purchasing a game for their child; and 83 percent of Canadians believe that the rating system helps parents select games appropriate for their children.
Faced with having developed a game that might not see retail shelves, Rockstar Games decided to modify Manhunt 2. But last week, the BBFC rejected the revised version. When it was resubmitted to the ESRB in August, however, the game received a mature rating, meaning for ages 17 and older. It will be released in North America on October 31.