Mass Media has always produced movies, books, video games and television shows to shock, surprise and thrill their viewers; yet none like the unregulated horror of the video game series Manhunt. This series, developed by the video game giant Rockstar, is just about as over the top, gruesome, and brutal as games can get in my opinion. The level of brutality that is a large running theme in the game, is to the point of horror as the game description states. I believe mass media and its corresponding beliefs should be allowed to exists under almost all pretense, even though I may not agree with the ideal or theme, it still deserves to be heard. While I understand the mass appeal of a horror filled game, the implications and repercussions that our society could face are undeniable. I believe this genre of video games has a large, loyal fan base, but the series Manhunt pushes the envelope right to the very edge, dangling by their fingers to societal acceptance. With every twist, turn and torture you inflict on innocent lives in Manhunt 2, the lives of thousands of gamers are being shaped due to its evident disregard for wholesome, mature fun.
*Image Courtesy of Rockstar Games Inc.(http://www.rockstargames.com/manhunt2/screens/images26.html)
Manhunt the video game series is a survival, horror, third-person shooter with its first installment releasing in 2003 and the sequel Manhunt 2 releasing in 2007. The series was produced by Rockstar North and published by Rockstar Games, most infamous for its creation and production of the immensely successful and also controversial Grand Theft Auto series. Rockstar is known for its over the top games, pushing the envelope often to the edge with their use of unusual and at times scandalous ideas, themes and content. The Grand Theft Auto series was prominently filled with violence, drunk driving, constant objectification of women and torture. Following a similarly controversial, yet widely accepted trend, Rockstar released the first installment of the series, self titled Manhunt with a positive audience acceptance. The games in this series both center around mentally unstable characters who have had troubled pasts, and who both seek vengeance against those who have wronged them in violent, evil and disturbing ways. During the game, the protagonist Daniel Lamb is given a series of destructive, harmful choices which are revolved around the execution and extinction of anyone who stands in your way. The underlying tone of the series is self is centered around deceit and retribution but in the most horrifyingly graphic manner conceivable.
I was fortunate enough to find a friend of my brothers’ who owned one of the installments in this franchise, as he navigated seamlessly through every challenge presented, I watched and took notes. He explained all the concepts and play by play action of Manhunt 2, the significantly more popular second installment, as he played the Playstation 2 version of the game. You begin as Daniel Lamb, a mental patient at the Dixmor Asylum for the Criminally Insane who, at first seems to be the only relatable character in the entire game. He awakes disoriented and free from his cell, to take on the world wreaking havoc with an unlikely guide, Leo Kasper. I was honestly very intrigued to see what exactly classified as a “psychological, stealth, horror game” because in my mind, I assumed almost all action video games could fit in both stealth and psychological categories. However, I was proven to be immensely wrong, as this is a form a media I have never seen before in my life. The game begins as you hear the voice of the antagonist Leo Kasper, (who is revealed later in the game to be Daniel’s alternative identity) attempting to convince Daniel to murder a nurse stating, “go ahead try it, see how it feels to own a life.” Throughout the entire game, Leo can be heard behind the actions of Daniel encouraging him and acting as a “mentor” to what seems to be a kindhearted, passive Daniel. Below is a Lets Play of the first chapter of Manhunt 2, by Youtube user Elanip in December 2012. As I did not own the game myself, I watched portions played by my brothers friend, as well as watching up to chapter 13 of Elanip’s Lets Play videos. As you listen to the commentary, you can hear the shock and distaste in his voice as he plays which mimicked my own watching both in person, as well as online.
*Video courtesy of Youtube.com, Commentary and Recording courtesy of user Elanip
As we went through episode by episode, every addition in game play was worse than the one before. The first few episodes are mostly tutorial based, so that the player may become accustomed to the format of the game. In addition to adding new moves and directions, as you progress, the game begins to offer up more uniquely appalling methods to execute your victims. Whether it be a syringe to the heart, a crowbar to the head or an “environmental execution” which could range anywhere from beating a victim’s head with a toilet to sticking a victim in a spike filled coffin and slamming the doors closed. The brutality of this game took be aback, with the overwhelming graphic content, it is no surprise this game received an Adults Only rating when it was first released in the United States. Slated for release in July 2007, the game was suspended by Rockstar’s parent company Take-Two Interactive when it was refused classification in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Italy due to its overwhelming violence. In a statement by David Cooke, Director of the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) he elaborated on the Board’s decision to ban Manhunt 2: “Manhunt 2 is distinguishable from recent high-end video games by its unremitting bleakness and callousness of tone in an overall game context which constantly encourages visceral killing with exceptionally little alleviation or distancing. There is sustained and cumulative casual sadism in the way in which these killings are committed, and encouraged, in the game.” In response to this, Rockstar blurred the screen during several executions, removed the execution rating system, removed all but two plot driven decapitations, and removed innocent characters from certain levels. Finally, Manhunt 2 was released for PSP, PS2 and Wii in the United States on October 31 2007 with an newly issued M rating from the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board).
The graphic content and overall disheartening nature of this game made it hard for me to watch or enjoy as a viewer, let alone a player of the game. As a media lover, I am not shy nor do I not enjoy the occasional violence in movies, television, and video games, however this series takes the word “haunting” to a whole new level. The manner in which victims can be executed paired with the dreary plot that is revealed episode by episode, makes this a hard-to-swallow game, especially for infrequent gamers such as myself. The controversy surrounding this game was so immense, CBS News produced a news piece about Manhunt 2 before its release in 2007. In the video below, Katie Couric can be seen delivering a warning to families across the nation, even premising her broadcast that if there were children in the room at the time, to remove them before the story progressed. In the Wii adaptation of the game, players are required to do the same movements you would do if you were to actually performing these actions in real life. This is overtly horrendous and promotes violent actions through the use of mirroring images as Daniel Lamb conducts horrific, unspeakable crimes. In the report, video games who were interviewed stated their distaste for the Wii adaptation and the harmful effects it could have on the populous.
*Video courtesy of Youtube.com, Commentary, story and editing courtesy of CBS News and Katie Couric
Over recent years, there have been hundreds of studies and research hours put into supporting or refuting the theory that violence in video games, can attribute to increased aggression in players, most notably children. According to a study conducted by Jia-Kun Zheng at Southwest University in China, children who played a violent game, where more violence equalled a higher score, aggression was elevated compared to students who played a nonviolent game. “Specifically, as predicted, we saw an increase in the number of children whose aggression was significantly activated after exposure to the violent, versus nonviolent, game” (Zheng). This can only be attributed to the mass production and popularized violent games which have captivated society in the past few decades. The rampant use of violence as logical solutions to all of your problems walks hand in hand with the dark and depression tone that the game presents. It is worthwhile to mention that the plot of the game itself is very cleverly designed, unfolding before you as you succeed and move on during your quests.In all honesty I did enjoy learning Daniel Lamb’s complicated and intricate history, however it is over shadowed by the unnecessary bloodshed throughout every aspect of the game.
*Image courtesy of Rockstar Games Inc. (http://www.rockstargames.com/manhunt2/screens/images30.html)
In conclusion, the violence displayed, curated and celebrated in the video game series Manhunt, with specific emphasis on its second installment, Manhunt 2 is unnecessary, detrimental and overtly cruel. When the game was rerated by the ESRB after Rockstar made changes to the content, the game did well with critics and fans alike. While I do agree with the freedom of speech and the freedom of creativity that goes along with it, I believe that this is an example of a game that pushes its luck right to the edge. The ‘line’ of entertainment vs. sadistic nature was blurred in the creation of this game, setting this game in stone as one of the most violent games in history. While the plot overall theme of the game elicits interest from gamers who are tired of the same old same old, Manhunt 2 put itself at the very edge of acceptable. I personally would never desire to play this game again, however I understand why there is a market for this genre of games. In today’s society, with the popular media of horror movies, television and books, it is not surprising that the video game industry looked to cash in on this trend. However, the overt graphic disturbing cruelty displayed in this game makes it a hard pill to swallow, even to those the most enthused of video game lovers.
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