In a New York Times column, Seth Schiesel notes the double standard applied to violence in video games vs. violence in movies or TV shows:
Just look at coverage of Halo, the top-selling science-fiction series that is akin to "Star Wars" in its level of made-up mayhem. In the mainstream media Halo is often described as a "violent space epic" or a "violent shoot-'em-up game." But when was the last time "Star Wars" was described as George Lucas's "violent space movie"? For that matter, when was the last time anyone referred to "The Sopranos" as a "shoot-'em-up television show," which at some level it was?
The answer to both questions is basically never, and that is because American culture has become so inured to violence in linear media that even the most heinous depictions of brutality go almost without comment.
As a recent example of the heightened scrutiny games receive, Schiesel cites Manhunt 2, which the industry's Entertainment Software Rating Board initially gave a sales-killing Adults Only rating. After revisions, the game qualified for a Mature rating, meaning it's cleared for players 17 and older. Since the cutoff for Adults Only is 18, that may not seem like a big difference, but major retailers shun AO games, just as many theaters will not show NC-17 movies. Schiesel describes Manhunt as "a straight-up horror survival game for adults" and says "the redacted version…seems to retain at least 99 percent of the original content." While "Manhunt 2 is certainly not for the squeamish," he says, "it is no more violent than so-called torture porn films like the 'Hostel' and 'Saw' film series"—movies that were rated R.
Ultimately, Schiesel concludes, the controversy over Manhunt 2 probably will be good for U.S. sales, helping to generate buzz within the target audience. In the U.K., by contrast, the game was simply banned.