After his successful crusade against Rockstar's GTA: San Andreas, which saw the game's rating raised from "Mature" to "Adults Only" in the States, and a complete ban in Australia when the game's rating was withdrawn by the country's classifying board, it seems videogames activist Jack Thompson has found himself a brand new target.
Thompson's now turned his proverbial aiming reticule on Capcom's schizoid assassinator, Killer 7. In an all-too-familiar email to ESRB president, Patricia Vance, the lawyer argues that the stylised shooter should also see it's rating raised from an "M" to "AO", a move that would effectively see the game whisked off shelves in American stores - many of which refuse to stock the 18 and up-only games category.
The news probably won't come as much of a surprise to anyone who's played Killer 7, as the game defiantly wears it's adult-themes like a jaunty swear-hat. However, rather than waving his moral stick in anger at the game's undisputedly violent content, Thompson has taken issue with purported "full-blown sex sequences".
Interestingly, it appears that Thompson's only brush with the game comes in the form a review posted on US gaming site, IGN, where the reviewer discussed the game's controversial content: "Body parts fly in every direction. Just about every character has something eye-poppingly profane to say -- sometimes with racial implications. And there are cinematics that feature full-blown sex sequences."
Thompson claims that "The Killer 7 game underscores the fact that [the ESRB] and the industry it fronts for appear to try to get away with anything that is harmful to kids, whether already illegal or not. What it also means is that if jurors in a criminal prosecution were asked whether Killer 7 contains 'sexual material harmful to minors' in violation of statutory standards, then, based upon the above enthusiastic review at IGN.com, the answer to that question would probably be 'yes.'
"That answer would put the Entertainment Software Rating Board, in my opinion, in the middle of a criminal conspiracy to distribute sexual material harmful to minors in violation of criminal statutes. This is not a situation in which the ESRB has been blind-sided by hidden or embedded content, Ms. Vance. You all have known that the 'full-blown sex sequences' are patently present in the game, yet you chose to put an 'M' rather than an 'AO' rating on it. Big mistake."
According to the ESRB's website, games sporting the "M" certificate are likely to contain content "suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content, and/or strong language", while the "AO" category is reserved for games with "content that should only be played by persons 18 years and older. Titles in this category may include prolonged scenes of intense violence and/or graphic sexual content and nudity."
As both definitions contain reference to sexual content, Killer 7 could theoretically find itself in either category. However, the controversial scene in question contains implied, rather than explicit, sex between wheelchair-bound protagonist Harman Smith and his maid. The sexual content is kept largely off-screen with only the game's sound effects, and fleeting glimpses of the maid's face, giving any real indication of the action - it's unlikely that a similar sequence would warrant more than a 12 certificate, at worst, should it appear in a movie in the UK.
Despite the scene's relatively tame nature, Thompson's wishes are clear: "There is no question in my mind that a videogame containing 'full-blown sex sequences' cannot be rated anything other than 'AO' rather than 'M'". He continues, "If I were you, Ms. Vance, I would immediately ask the makers of this game, and all retailers, to pull it from store shelves. If you don't, expect for others to use this latest scandal, which I am hereby officially kicking off, to call for a dismantling of the ESRB."
While many will see the news as nothing more than another misfired arrow in Thompson's attempt to hit the bull's eye in his quest to crush the games industry, it does raise interesting questions regarding ratings standardisation across the various media industries - is it acceptable to judge game content under a seperate criteria to movies, for example, or does the villification of games like Killer 7 and GTA indicate a curious degree of hypocrisy from Thomson and the 'moral majority'?
Whatever the outcome of Thompson's latest crusade in the States, it's unlikely to effect the game in the UK as it's already been granted an 18 classification by the BBFC. We'll have more on the story soon.