Following a prolonged battle with the BBFC, Rockstar’s controversial Wii, PS2 and PSP title, Manhunt 2 has been granted a release by the Video Appeals Committee. It is expected to go on sale in the UK later this year.
The game was twice refused classification by the BBFC, which described it as “unremittingly bleak, callous and sadistic”, and effectively banned the title from sale. Following the appeal and a High Court ruling, VAC members voted four to three to allow the game classification. It’s safe to say that Rockstar well and truly tested the boundaries with this one.
The BBFC’s response to the ruling sounds surprisingly bitter: “It is now clear, in the light of this decision, and our legal advice, that we have no alternative but to issue an ’18’ certificate to the game,” said BBFC Director David Cooke. Err, hang on… Aren’t the BBFC and the VAC supposed to be working toward the same goal here?
It seems the BBFC is sticking relentlessly to its original belief that the game could somehow prove genuinely harmful to society. It was clear from the appeal hearing that there just wasn’t a lot of evidence to back this up: Rockstar relentlessly pointed out that there was just no proof of videogames causing violent behaviour, especially in the game’s intended 18+ audience and the BBFC’s argument that it would inevitably fall into a minor’s hands seemed a little too despairing.
However, the BBFC might have a different agenda at this particular moment in time. It is expected that when the Byron Report is eventually published, it will recommend that games should be subjected to a stricter, cinema-style ratings system. One ratings board stands to win that responsibility and it could be either the BBFC or PEGI, the European ratings board.
Perhaps the BBFC is concerned that it might come across with too much of an air of leniency or that it lacks the conviction to stand up and make the hard decisions following this ruling. I didn’t agree with the original decision to refuse classification as this is essentially censorship, but I actually was happy that the BBFC was prepared to draw a line in the sand somewhere and send a message to all those Daily Mail readers who are so swift to blame the world’s ills on gaming that says, ‘hey look, there are protection in place, and here is where we draw the line’.
There hasn’t been a concrete confirmation of when the game will be released. Some publications are saying June and that makes sense. Obviously the game has been out for bloody ages in the US (and somehow total societal meltdown has been avoided) so it’ll be starting to show its age if Rockstar leave it too long. However, there’s a strong possibility that upcoming gaming blockbuster GTA IV might overshadow it if they fling it on to shelves too quickly.