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Justice minister says no ban on video game Manhunt II possible under Dutch law

The Dutch Justice Ministry declined to intervene Wednesday to prevent the Dutch release of ”Manhunt 2” – a video game that caused a flap in the United States and has effectively been banned in several European countries for excessive violence.

In a letter to parliament, Justice Minister Ernst Hirsch Ballin said there was no way to ban the game under Dutch law, but it would theoretically be possible to prosecute people who distribute it to youth under 16 if its images were violent enough. No such case has yet been tried in the Netherlands.

In the game, players perform a series of killing moves as an amnesiac scientist who escapes from an asylum.

The game had been scheduled for an international release in July, but that was put on hold after the British Board of Film Classification refused to rate the game, making it impossible to distribute in Britain. Germany banned it outright.

In the U.S., the Entertainment Software Rating Board, an industry group, slapped it with an adults-only rating, for consumers 18 and older. That would have prevented it from being distributed in the largest U.S. chains, and the game’s maker, New York-based Take-Two Interactive Software Inc., is now toning down the initial version.

Unlike in Britain or Germany, there is no authoritative ratings board or law in the Netherlands banning games purely for violent content, Hirsch Ballin wrote.

”The current law is based on the principle that every adult is considered capable of deciding for himself which games he wants to play, unless it contains illegal material,” he said. That would include racist propaganda or images appealing to pedophiles.

Deciding on whether children should be allowed to play a game is currently ”the joint responsibility of parents, the audiovisual industry and the government,” he said. His ministry was now examining whether new laws or policies were needed ”to better protect the youth,” he said.

He pleaded for a unified EU standard for video game ratings. ”A joint approach could lead to a ban on the most violent games,” he wrote.

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