BOSTON – Citing concerns that harmful effects of ultra-violent video games on children will be magnified by playing them on the interactive Nintendo Wii system, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) is demanding that Manhunt 2 – the most violent game available on Wii to date – be given an Adults Only rating by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). The game will be released by Take Two Entertainment/Rock Star Games on July 10, 2007.The British Board of Film Classification banned the game in the United Kingdom today.

In Manhunt 2, players can saw their enemies’ skulls in half; mutilate them with an axe; castrate them with a pair of pliers; and kill them by bashing their heads into an electrical box, where it is blown apart by a power surge. On Wii, players will not merely punch buttons or wield a joy stick, but will actually act out this violence. A reviewer for the gaming website IGN describes using a saw blade to “cut upward into a foe’s groin and buttocks, motioning forward and backward with the Wii remote as you go.” The same reviewer calls Manhunt 2 the goriest and most violent game he’s ever seen.

“If ever there was a time for the ESRB’s strongest and most unambiguous rating, it is now,” said CCFC’s co-founder, Dr. Susan Linn. “An Adults Only rating is the only way to limit children’s exposure to this unique combination of horrific violence and interactivity.” Today, CCFC sent a letter to ESRB president Patricia Vance urging her to give Manhunt 2 an AO rating and launched a letter-writing campaign so that parents and advocates for children could share their concerns.

The ESRB typically assigns the most violent video games a Mature (M) rating, which is supposed to mean “content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older.” Yet despite industry claims to the contrary, M-rated games continue to be marketed to children. A recent report by the Federal Trade Commission found that 42% of unaccompanied 13- to 16-year-olds were able to purchase M-rated games. The FTC also found that the video game industry continues to advertise M-rated games on television programs and in magazines popular with younger teens. On the Internet, the FTC found that the industry repeatedly violated its own “very limited standard.”

At the 2006 Summit on Video Games, Youth and Public Policy, academic, medical and health experts signed a statement saying: “Behavioral science research demonstrates that playing violent video games can increase the likelihood of aggressive behavior in children and youth.”

“The most recent studies employing state-of-the-art neuro-imaging techniques support the behavioral research,” said psychiatrist Alvin F. Poussaint, of the Judge Baker Children’s Center and Harvard Medical School. “There is evidence that violent video games can engender more aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors; and decrease empathetic, helpful behaviors with peers.”

“Video games are among the most powerful educational tools yet developed.” said Dr. Michael Rich, Director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston. “By creating a virtual reality and allowing players to act out, rather than simply witness, fictional narratives in virtual worlds, players experience and learn the game’s skills, whether they be based in strategy, logic, or violence. The content of Manhunt 2 and the unique physical interaction with the Wii control combine to take this simulation a level closer to reality – we can expect that the effects of this experience will be even greater.”

The ESRB’s AO rating is given to games that “have content that should only be played by persons 18 years and older.” Among the criteria that can earn a game this rating are “prolonged scenes of intense violence.” Of the more than 13,000 games rated by the ESRB, only 23 have been given an AO rating – and only once was an AO rating given for violent content.

“An “M” rating is more like a wink and a nod than an effective safeguard,” said Dr. Linn. “The industry appears to be going through its paces, but as the FTC’s most recent data show, these games are still being marketed to children.”

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