The BBFC, the British equivalent of the US’s ESRB but responsible for films and DVDs aswell, has thrown out Rockstar’s appeal against their decision earlier this year to deny Manhunt 2 a rating.
In an announcement yesterday, David Cooke, director of the BBFC, said this:
“We recognise that the distributor has made changes to the game, but we do not consider that these go far enough to address our concerns about the original version. The impact of the revisions on the bleakness and callousness of tone, or the essential nature of the gameplay, is clearly insufficient. There has been a reduction in the visual detail in some of the ‘execution kills’, but in others they retain their original visceral and casually sadistic nature. We did make suggestions for further changes to the game, but the distributor has chosen not to make them, and as a result we have rejected the game on both platforms. The decision on whether or not an appeal goes ahead lies with the distributor.”
Understandably there has been outcry from the British gaming community, most eloquently from the British Gaming Blog, and it seems obvious that the BBFC has bowed to political pressure to censor this game. Rockstar have responded and say they will continue to fight.
“We are continuing to appeal the British Board of Film Classification’s (BBFC) decision to deny the edited version of “Manhunt 2″ an 18+ certificate and thereby ban its release in the United Kingdom. The changes necessary in order to publish the game in Britain are unacceptable to us and represent a setback for video games. The BBFC allows adults the freedom to decide for themselves when it comes to horror in movies and we think adults should be similarly allowed to decide for themselves when it comes to horror in video games, such as Manhunt 2.”
This announcement comes on the same day as a new government initiative, employing TV D-list celebrity ‘super-nanny’ Dr. Tanya Byron, is launched. The initiative will look into the internet and video games, how they affect children’s development and what the government should do about it. The media is focussing on the program’s video games remit, almost ignoring the internet side of the investigations completely, though I was heartened to hear Dr. Byron herself reaffirming that video games were just a small part of what she would be looking at in an interview on BBC Radio 4 this morning. The trend is worrying though, if government feels that they can prevent adults from enjoying forms of entertainment which they or others find aren’t to their tastes where does it stop?
What really galls though is the apparent hypocrisy of the decision, with films such as Saw III and Hostel II gaining ratings, and implied approval from the BBFC, when the violence they contain is just as visceral, in not more so, than that present in Manhunt 2. It certainly seems that games are being held to a different standard than films, which begs the question; why? I believe it is to do with the prevailing attitude among the world’s media companies that games are a direct competitor for people’s eye time. It is not about morals, or protecting the children, at all, it is about money, just as it always has been.
Unfortunately Britain has nothing like the US’s first amendment rights, free speech is assumed but never guaranteed under the law, if the government doesn’t like what you are saying then it has more right to shut you up than you do to keep speaking. What I believe Rockstar should do, if they are unsuccessful in appealing the BBFC’s decision for a second time is release the game, uncut and unchanged, to the torrent scene stating that they refuse to be censored and that adults should be allowed to make their own minds up. But of course they’re not going to do that, primarily because they don’t really want to rock the boat any more than is absolutely necessary, and secondly because it wouldn’t make them any money.
So for now at least, Manhunt 2 is going to be unavailable in the UK (though if you know where to get it…) and the state’s grip on our freedoms has tightened that little bit more.