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Manhunt 2 “banned by the BBFC”

The problem with censor-baiting games is that sometimes, you can take it too far.

Rockstar Games’ Manhunt 2 has achieved the dubious honour of being only one of two games to be refused a rating in the UK.

The reasoning behind the decision is that, according to BBFC director David Cooke, “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.”

Cooke says that the decision is not one that the board has taken lightly, and that where possible it considers cuts or modifications to the game to remove offensive material. However, in the case of Manhunt 2 “this has not been possible.”

Of course, this is great publicity for the game outside the UK – if other countries don’t ban it too. That’s a big if.

The following day…

The reaction to this on the various gaming sites has been interesting and pretty predictable: OMG WTF CENSURSHIP and so on. But I think a lot of people are missing the point. The BBFC has a pretty clear set of rules about what is and what isn’t acceptable, Manhunt 2 goes beyond them, and the BBFC feels that if the game were to be cut so it *did* fit the rules then there wouldn’t be any game left.

The BBFC isn’t in the banning business, it’s in the cutting business. Month after month, film directors crow in the movie mags about the stuff they’re trying to get past the censors and the stuff they had to cut. It’s a constant battle, with filmmakers pushing as hard as they can and the BBFC reining them back in. That rarely takes the form of a ban; it’s more likely to be “no, that scene goes too far, you need to cut it”.

Rockstar has expressed its surprise at the decision, and its surprise at the US adults-only rating that could mean commercial death (mainstream retailers don’t stock AO titles). Methinks they doth protest too much. The whole ethos of Manhunt is to push against the boundaries of what is and isn’t allowed, and it seems that this time they’ve pushed a wee bit too far.

I think that’s better than the alternative: media scaremongering leading to knee-jerk legislation. I wrote last week about games for grown-ups such as Bioshock, and I can guarantee you that in a video-nasty climate Bioshock could fall foul of a “ban this sick filth” crusade. It’s no headline-chasing “look how sick we are” gore-fest (which is why I really hope it’s as good as it has the potential to be), but that doesn’t matter: this preview from Eurogamer shows how easily a game that’s designed to challenge the player with tough moral choices could be misinterpreted. In one section, the gamer has the choice of saving or harvesting a crucial chemical from a Little Sister, a “genetically modified freak” that nevertheless is a child:

“How can you do this to a child?!”

Um…

How could I? Oh God. But… But wasn’t all this caused by her own hand? And how else can I save his family? And myself? “You’re the only hope of me seeing my wife again,” he says. That’s not much of a choice is it? Besides, how can that thing still be called a child?

I’ve just harvested my first Little Sister. And it’s one of the most arresting gaming moments I’ve experienced in a long time. Earlier this evening, Bioshock creator Ken Levine, facing the same choice, saved her.

We grab the girl and draw her right up to us. She’s screaming, fear etched into her face, hopelessly, pathetically writhing and trying to push us away. “No! No! NOOO!” She still seems pretty human to us…

Sod it. “Harvest”.

The hysterical child moves briefly out of view, there’s a skin-crawlingly grotesque sound effect and… Well, you’ll want to see this for yourselves.

“How could you do this to a child?!”

As one commenter notes:

Daily mail are gonna have a field day with this.

I’m sure they will, but I’m also sure that the BBFC will give Bioshock whatever rating they think is appropriate and defend it if there’s a media storm. They did with Rockstar’s Canis Canem Edit (aka Bully), after all.

13 replies on “Manhunt 2 “banned by the BBFC””

After careful consideration, I believe that Rare’s Viva Pinata should be banned. I played the demo this morning. As it is a family game, you wouldn’t expect it to promote homosexuality – but you must actively force two visitors of your site to perform the “Romance Dance” in front of a camera. My two (obviously male) whirms, Keith and Brian, were obviously humiliated by the experience. Also the extreme dullness caused me to batter every single one of them to death and feast on the “candy” that was spilled.

>>“Against this background, the Board’s carefully considered view is that to issue a certificate to Manhunt 2, on either platform, would involve a range of unjustifiable harm risks, to both adults and minors”

Which are what exactly?

>>”its availability, even if statutorily confined to adults, would be unacceptable to the public.”

No, certain people would find it unacceptable. There are an awful lot of people who would find it perfectly acceptable.

I don’t think they’re being overly censorious here: all the pre-publicity has suggested Manhunt 2 was going to be nasty, and it seems that the BBFC agrees.

From IGN:

Consider for one moment that in Manhunt 2 you can, Wii remote and nunchuk in hands, use a pair of pliers to clamp onto an enemy’s testicles and literally tear them from his body in a bloody display; and if that weren’t enough, you’ll take one of the poor victim’s vertebrae along with his manhood.

http://uk.wii.ign.com/articles/792/792012p1.html

I think it’s the combination of context – Dead Rising was passed happily despite a media frenzy, ’cause it’s funny and the baddies are zombies – and the difference between doing and watching, so Saw 3 gets a certificate but MH2 doesn’t.

> use a pair of pliers to clamp onto an enemy’s testicles and literally tear them from his body in a bloody display

Would any of us actually like to hang out with someone who thinks that’s fun? I mean, you go round to your mate’s house, he suggests a bit of gaming, then he picks Manhunt 2, rips off some guy’s testicles, and makes celebratory noises about this victory. Sounds horribly like watching TV with your parents when a sex scene comes on, if you ask me. Next time he invited you round, you’d be washing your hair, wouldn’t you?

Heh, good point. It’s very different from Dead Rising, which is really funny when you watch someone else whacking zombies with saucepans, electric guitars and other daft things.

I do think a lot of the criticism of the BBFC decision has missed the point: there are set criteria and Rockstar’s marketing technique seems to be based on pushing against those criteria as hard as they can. This time they’ve misjudged it.

Incidentally, it does raise another issue. It’s implied in the BBFC statement that they know the ratings system is routinely ignored by games retailers and/or parents, so part of the rationale for the refusal is because Manhunt will almost certainly be played by underage kids. Which raises the question, should censors base their decisions on the actions of a few irresponsible arses and thus deprive grown-ups of things they shouldn’t necessarily be prevented from getting?

>>Would any of us actually like to hang out with someone who thinks that’s fun?

If they buy the game then they are less likely to have free time to hang around with you. Good thing, surely. :-)

Manhunt 2 is unlikely to be a good game. Manhunt was pretty average and I think it only sold well through hype. This will probably get a rating on appeal and will sell tons – that it doesn’t deserve.

I’m still waiting for a BBFC employee to go on some sort of rampage since they get to see all the stuff that is so dangerous.

> It’s implied in the BBFC statement that they know the ratings system is routinely ignored by games retailers and/or parents

What, you mean, why don’t they enforce the existing laws? That’s a thought.

Is there a law against parents buying age-restricted games for their kids?

There certainly shouldn’t be, but I think there is. Otherwise, everything would effectively be PG, wouldn’t it? But I was referring more to the retailers ignoring the law.

I don’t think so. Should be.

It’s looking less likely that the game will get released at all. Since it got an AO rating, Nintendo have dumped it on the wii and it looks like Sony might too on the PS2.

Interesting that we post almost simultaneously with completely conflicting posts.

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