Friday, June 22, 2007

Movies and game distribution: A Double Standard

When I wrote yesterday's article about the Manhunt franchise, I did not know that the second part of that series had been effectively banned for the Wii and Playstation 2 because both Sony and Nintendo have stated that they will not license a game that is AO for their respective consoles.

And then I was reading an article in Entertainment Weekly about how weak the Restricted rating is, because a brutal movie like Hostel II received an R rating, meaning that a parent or guardian could take their kid to see that film, when in years' past, the current cut would have most likely been the commercially suicidal NC-17(but much less severe than AO for games which comprise only 23 titles, 21 of which are pornographic).

When the two stories came together, I noticed a stunning and incredibly hypocritical parallel that I think is worth exploring in regards to home entertainment.

Sony says they won't license Rockstar's Manhunt 2 because of the AO designation, and yet, the company releases any number of Restricted rated movies for the DVD market with additional footage as Unrated releases. And as Sony is also the company that released and marketed Hostel series amongst, and released those titles for consumption. How much do you want to bet that if I stuck a copy of that movie into my PS2, it would play?

And if Sony is so concerned about what adults play on their consoles(as the average age of US video game players is 33), why would they allow their unrated DVD's play on the hardware they control? And why would they release Hostel in Blu-Ray format?

I think Dan Zuccarelli from the BBPS really nailed the point when he said of the issue:

My being upset at Sony and Nintendo stems more from them [being] more than happy to play the game and release a game like this, but then take the high road when it gets the rating. Had the game, in the state it is now, gotten the M rating neither company would object to the content, they’d release it just like any other game.

Given the fact that console game makers do not have the luxury of releasing unrated games, this unequitable arrangement comes into further contrast. The MPAA allows film companies to release titles as unrated as DVD's if they are totally forthcoming about them being unrated, and that is a loophole that these companies use to avoid the stigma and financial consequences of releasing those movies as NC-17, because like many theatres, a lot of the major players in the rental business like Blockbuster have made a corporate policy stating they will not distribute those movies. And I have a feeling that even if the ESRB policy changed to allow unrated titles, retailers would not give games the same fair shake that movies receive with the same status. And since retailers routinely sell movies and games in the same department, this differentiation is even more pronounced.

I am a legal adult(as are 69% or more of gamers) and I am capable of making my own choices, and this increasingly apparent double standard is becoming disturbing, and on some level untenable. This issue is really going to come to a head sooner rather than later.

I would like to thank Sony, Nintendo and the ESRB for forcing me to defend something I had a hard time doing just a day ago.

Who will think of the children? A better question is, who will think of the rest of us?


Blue Sky said...

They will argue that in movies, you are just watching; however in games, you are actually doing.

I am surprised the game is almost technically banned in US and UK. Of course in Singapore, the ban stick comes naturally -- God of War and GTA games are half heartedly banned (ie they are banned a while after they were sold in stores lol)

I will agree that it is strange behavior that parents do not make such a big hoo-ha over R movies as they do over things like video games.

"Think of the children"

I don't like that phrase, the whole thing stinks of high-ass hypocrisy. Besides, isn't it the parents' job? Or maybe that is what it is about?

Think of the parents -- now they actually have to monitor what their kids are playing instead of just leaving them in front of the television with a playstation.

MC said...

I heard that Australia is one of the most egregious banners of them all.

But here is the story that people who work at game stores keep saying: parents don't read the labels on games, they just buy what their kids are asking for, and the question becomes why should someone like me be punished because they can't be bothered to just look at a small label in the corner.

I'll bet you anything those same parents read the label on every bit of food that is coming into their house.