Opinion: Manhunt 2's release will kill the current video games classifications

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Jon_smal.gifJonathan Weinberg writes…

It’s a row that’s been rolling on for far too long. It’s a row that does nothing to help the perception of gaming among wider society. And it’s a row that is going to run and run for quite some time yet.

Rockstar has now finally overturned a ban that meant it was unable to release Manhunt 2 in the UK. But while that’s good news for the firm, for gaming itself, this whole bloody saga is just another nail in the coffin of gaming.

The media is already far too focused on the negatives – the violence, the calls to ban so-called “killer games” and the conflicts over having a voluntary code to provide an age rating for the majority of titles.

Occasionally a positive story will slip through, like the OAPs playing Wii to keep in shape, but on the whole, games are treated with far more disdain than rap music and horror movies, both of which have had their fare share of criticism in the past.

Despite reviewing games for a living, I’ve still not been sent a copy of Manhunt 2 to preview. Now the British Board of Film Classification has been curtailed and their decision to stop it going on sale overturned, I’m sure one will drop through the post soon enough.

But the argument here is not whether Manhunt 2 is bloody, brutal, sick or whatever other superlative people want to choose. What it shows is that the current certification system the Government can’t wait to get involved in, is now not worth the paper it’s written on.

How can the BBFC ban a game twice, only to have that changed by a court? I don’t know what the legal point was that the case win rested on, I’m sure it’s very complicated. But it leaves the system in tatters. If the BBFC have the responsibility for deciding which games are right and which are wrong, their decisions have to be respected.

It’s not like they’ve been banning games left, right and centre so when they say one could be problematic, we should believe them.

What use is the BBFC now? If their rankings can be challenged and over-ruled so easily, what’s the point in them bothering rating a game for over 15s or over 18s. Of course, I don’t think they should stop, but the system has just been knifed through the heart, if you pardon the Manhunt-style analogy.

We can debate the whys and where-fors of the gameplay in Manhunt 2 until the cows come home. Yes, I do think it’s over-the-top and should be brought back into some sort of “acceptable” lines. But what’s acceptable, and to who? That is always the crucial question.

Personally, in the current times of youth violence, I don’t think it’s right to have a game on the Wii where you use the Wii-mote as such a viciously realistic weapon. There’s a fine line between real-life and fantasy violence in the gaming sphere, and this crosses it for the worse.

But I also don’t really believe it will cause the kind of society chaos that many critics claim. One game cannot turn the nation’s children bad, just like the Child’s Play films did not convert a whole generation to murder and carry chainsaws.

What is now clear to me is that this court result has played right into the hands of Gordon Brown and Dr Tanya Byron, who is writing a report on the Prime Minister’s behalf into gaming and its effects for the negative and the positive. That is due to be published any minute and is sure to recommend a whole raft of changes to the way games are classified.

Government intervention as I predicted here months ago, is not far off. For that, every gamer will be the poorer. The voluntary code has worked well for years alongside the BBFC’s ratings for titles stronger in tone. But a two-tier system under such pressure from the media was always going to collapse.

After all, it also had to compete with the weight of stupid parents who buy their 10-year-old a game meant for an adult, and under the even greater weight of the “big brains” of some MPs who seem to see gaming as an easy target, one that will ensure their name gets in the papers.

The BBFC called Manhunt 2 “unremittingly bleak, callous and sadistic”. Well get used to it gamers. This court decision has blown the whole remit of the BBFC wide-open and given the industry a major problem for the near future.

Rockstar may have won this battle, but in doing so, it has started a new offensive for all publishers to fight against even greater censorship and stricter ratings that don’t solve the problem of increasing violence on our streets, whatever factor is contributing to that.

For gamers themselves, that means more control and potentially watered-down gameplay. And for those inside Parliament, Rockstar’s victory will be a stick to beat gaming with for many months, and years, to come.

Jonathan Weinberg is a technology and gaming journalist who writes a games review column in The Sun newspaper every Friday.

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One thought on “Opinion: Manhunt 2's release will kill the current video games classifications

  • It seems strange that Mister Wienberg has such enviably clear opinions on a game he freely admits he’s never played. Something here stinks of his tabloid pedigree. Having played the game both on Wii and PlayStation2, I heartily disagree, and feel he’s missed the real issues by a country mile. If anything, the Wii version is further removed from the violence, because you have to concentrate so hard on the on prompts in the corner of the screen, you hardly notice what’s happening elsewhere.
    I too review games for a living, and rather than complacently wait for a copy to plop through my letterbox, I actively sought out a copy from the US and played it start to finish. Rockstar’s changes add a psychedelic hue to the killing moves and there is therefore little clarity to the violence that Mr Wienberg criticises with such aplomb.
    The real issues here, I feel are a quango unanswerable to the electorate (the BBFC) having the power to censor a game when an 18 certificate would more than suffice. Let adults decide what adults would like to play. This title is no more violent than Condemned, The Suffering or GTA, and far less violent than the current “gorenography” trend in the cinema of movies like Saw and Hostel. And this rating must be enforced by a currently massively disinterested retail.
    A robust and scrupulously enforced ratings scheme is surely preferable to censorship by quango? And go play a game before forming opinions next time, eh Jon…

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