Stuart Dredge writes…
The British Board of Film Classification’s recent decision to Manhunt 2 banned in the UK for “sustained and cumulative casual sadism””>refuse a certificate for Manhunt 2 – thus banning it from sale in the UK – has caused a predictably huge uproar among gamers and the mainstream media.
It’s outrageous censorship! The BBFC are clueless old farts who don’t ‘get’ games! If the film Hostel 2 gets an ’18’ certificate, then it’s discrimination not to give one to Manhunt 2 too! And so on.
But y’know what? Maybe Manhunt 2 deserves to be banned. Does saying that make me a card-carrying religious extremist hell-bent on castrating the games industry? Well, no.
I should get a few things straight. I haven’t played Manhunt 2, like many of the people who’ve weighed into the debate. But unlike them, I’m not going to foist my opinion on you about whether it should be banned or not. I don’t know.
But the important thing is this: it’s a legitimate debate. Games have grown up immeasurably in the last two decades, to the point where they can and should be considered as proper popular culture / art (Which? that’s a heated discussion in its own right) alongside books, films, music and Damien Hurst’s latest expensive wheeze.
You can’t have it both ways though. Censorship, for better or worse, is part of the deal. Check out the BBFC’s reasoning behind its decision, which is about as far from clueless old fartdom as you can get. It’s long, but worth reading again nonetheless.
“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,” said BBFC director David Cooke. “There is sustained and cumulative casual sadism in the way in which these killings are committed, and encouraged, in the game.
“Although the difference should not be exaggerated the fact of the game’s unrelenting focus on stalking and brutal slaying and the sheer lack of alternative pleasures on offer to the gamer, together with the different overall narrative context, contribute towards differentiating this submission from the original Manhunt game.”
That’s not reactionary logic. The BBFC has compared Manhunt 2 to its peers, and they’re talking about stuff like “tone” and “narrative context”. That’s a far cry from the hackneyed ‘Well, it might turn children into serial killers’ argument favoured by the anti-games lobby. Our modern proper grown-up games are facing proper, grown-up certification, just like films do.
Censors’ do get decisions wrong, and their standards shift over time. But all too often, gamers and elements within the games industry seem to expect a free pass when they encounter any official resistance to games’ boundary-pushing. “You can’t censor my game, because you don’t understand it”.
Well, bollocks, frankly. Maybe the reason Manhunt 2 has been banned is because they DO understand it. Maybe there is a line between acceptable and unacceptable violence in a game. You might not think the BBFC is the organisation to do it, but many of the arguments against Manhunt 2’s ban seem to boil down to the notion that nobody has the right to censor games except the developers themselves. And that’s just ridiculous.
There is a corking debate to be had comparing Manhunt 2 to films like Hostel 2, and whether the former is intrinsically worse because you control the killer, rather than the latter, where you just wallow in someone else doing the slaughtering (with added creepily moralistic subtext).
But the point is, it’s a debate. Censorship and certification isn’t an iron boot stomping on game developers’ creativity. It’s confirmation that games matter. Many of the people shouting about the Manhunt 2 ban are as blinkered as the right-wing anti-games lobbyists they claim to despise.