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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.