Sparks fly at BBFC Manhunt 2 appeal

Rockstar Games argues that the game should never have been banned in the UK, but ratings body insists the line must be drawn somewhere.

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Today, Take-Two subsidiary Rockstar Games officially asked the Video Appeals Committee of the British Board of Film Classification to lift the ban of its controversial title Manhunt 2. The original version of the game was denied a rating by the board when it was submitted in June. A modified version which was later resubmitted was also refused a classification, despite going on sale in the US, Canada, and other parts of Europe.

Only one other game has ever been banned in Britain--Carmageddon in 1997, although this decision was later overturned on appeal. For the appeals process, an independent panel is gathered by the BBFC to hear the case from both sides and determine whether or not to uphold the ban or overturn it. Today in a daylong event, the seven jurors heard evidence from three witnesses and two lawyers--one for Rockstar Games, and one for the BBFC itself.

Representing Rockstar was Queen's Counsel Geoffrey Robertson of Doughty Street Chambers, who kicked off the appeal by stating, "We wonder why Manhunt 2 has been singled out for special treatment." He listed other violent games which have made it on to store shelves with little fuss, including Condemned: Criminal Origins, The Suffering: The Ties That Bind, and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

He then took the gloves off and laid into the BBFC, questioning the board's ability to rate games, saying that it "doesn't understand them at all... This completely ignorant letter [that says]... 'unremitting bleakness, casual sadism, callousness of tone,' these are mere words culled from a thesaurus and have nothing to do with the gaming experience."

Rockstar put forward that in the game, the characters who are killed are all part of the evil agency, The Project. The people killed have no emotional depth, and will immediately attack the player on sight. Robertson explained, "These are not 'innocent victims,'" and underlined that no women or children die in the game.

Robertson also rubbished claims that the first game, Manhunt, had had a connection to the murder of 14-year old Stefan Pakeerah, stating that police had ruled it out, and that the killer had never owned a copy of the game. He said, "The failure of anyone in the last 20 years to show any link to crime and playing video games. There comes a point where you have to conclude that if there was a link it would have been found by now."

Next up, three witnesses were called. Fred Hasson, CEO of European game developer trade body Tiga, was first up on the witness stand. There, he told the panel that after playing the game, he had been a bit disappointed, jokingly saying, "I'd expected it to be a lot worse." Hasson was then asked if he felt that the game had been singled out because of media pressure, and after a pause, he admitted, "I can't see any other reason why you would have done that [banned it] given the content of the game. You seem to be wanting to single out a particular game rather than trying to work out if the violence is worse in any way that violence in other readily available media."

Also providing expert testimony was Dr. Guy Cumberbatch, a psychologist who has been studying media violence and its effects since the 1970s. He stated that he undertook a research project in which 86 people who experienced other 18-rated games and movies to play Manhunt 2. He then asked them if they rated the game equally, more, or less violent than other titles already on the market. He said that the study found that 68 percent said it was as violent as other games, and 80 percent said it was as violent as current movies.

Robertson then took back the floor and addressed the individual points from the statement which the BBFC made when it first banned the game. He said, "Unremitting bleakness? What's wrong with unremitting bleakness? Should we ban Bleak House as well?" Discussing whether the game has moral dilemmas, he asked, "Does tennis? Does football? Does tiddlywinks have a moral dilemma?"

QC Andrew Caldecott, representing the BBFC, argued that one of the major considerations must be that underage audiences are always going to get hold of the game, and the need to protect them was one of the reasons it was not allowed a certificate. He said, "In Utopia, over-18s could play what was suitable for them without regard to others. But you can't make classification decisions without regard to others, and it's as simple as that... It would be morally bankrupt."

Caldecott also said that a number of other factors had influenced the decision, including the fact that there were no "diluting agents" in the gameplay to offset the killing elements. "It's about stalking, and it's about killing," he said. "That's what the game is about." He concluded by addressing the panel, "Is there never a point where you can say 'this is unacceptable?' And if there is, where do you draw the line? Is this where a line should have been drawn or shouldn't it?"

Robertson responded by stating that had the game never been banned in the first place, it would not have achieved the kind of notoriety that makes it "forbidden fruit" to youngsters. "By banning this game, the board itself has made it notorious," He said. "Who would have read Peter Wright's recollections in Spycatcher were it not for Mrs. Thatcher's attempts to ban it? Stop the fascination. End the allure. Unban the game."

The independent panel has each played the game at least to the end of the first level, and seen videos of the most violent scenes. They retired to decide their verdict, which will reportedly be announced shortly.

Discussion

245 comments
Nomad0404
Nomad0404

"A wholistic and multi-faceted approach is what is needed. Develop a clear system of ratings, educate the parents, implement financial fines and deterrents to the whole game supply chain, from developer to shop floor for inappropriate sales and finally back up with a strong cultural message of freedom of expression to the right target audience. And the people responsible for this? The BBFC. It just might work " This is already in place, we have a very clearly labelled certification system in place that is used for films, videos and computer games. Every adult in the country will be aware of it's usage - to someone underage to see a film or purchase a game/video is criminal offence! The major problem we face is parent apathy - I'm 35 with a 4 month old daughter and consider myself the first generation of parents to have played games that offer a near relastic experience. The generation before me may have played games but not like Punisher, Manhunt or Scarface. Therefore, it is time the government, BBFC and games shops started to educate parents more about what is suitable for their children to play. Games like Manhunt 2 should be given an 18 certificate that would be the end of it. Phil

Nomad0404
Nomad0404

QC Andrew Caldecott, representing the BBFC, argued that one of the major considerations must be that underage audiences are always going to get hold of the game, and the need to protect them was one of the reasons it was not allowed a certificate. He said, "In Utopia, over-18s could play what was suitable for them without regard to others. But you can't make classification decisions without regard to others, and it's as simple as that... It would be morally bankrupt." I don't get this in the UK films are reviewed and certified based on this very remit - you can't certificate a game based on the assumption that someone underage may play it. I can't see how that would stand up to a legal challenge of any sort what so ever. Phil

Weemanrulez
Weemanrulez

Rockstar need to win this to ensure that it prevents the BBFC from getting more powerful coz if they loose then the BBFC will be thinking well if we have banned this game why not ban the next GTA's. If Rockstar win then the BBFC might think well we didn't ban this what chance do we have now. Plus it could effect rockstars reputation for the best mature rated games and therefore a good old violent game will not get the go ahead coz of this which will leave rockstar resorting to churn out softer games. That also will effect their sales they are a company, and obviously they need money to survive and their adult games are a major contribution to their profits. when it comes to it Rockstar are the nuts at making mature games.

ninjarat
ninjarat

While I personally would not play a game like Manhunt 2, I resent that we are living in a "Nanny state". What ever happened to making informed choices?

Darth_DuMas
Darth_DuMas

The BBFC are BS, I don't think they actually play the game, they just look at the violence. I have played the first game and it controls worse than the Hitman games, its like your controlling a tank, there was no satisfaction in the kill what so ever, if they used the Splinter Cell engine it would be a different story as it would be very realistic this gen, but I have a feeling it doesn't. Yet films like Hostel, which is basically a snuff film, just violence for violence sake, are ok? That film was disgusting; it hit a new low, where it was just indecent, why a film body with such a moral high ground would want people to be subject to such imagery doesn't add up. At least films like Saw and Apocalypto backed up the violence with a story, with purpose. I just think the BBFC should re-check those double standards, thats the only thing which makes me angry about this.

a_delorentis
a_delorentis

@ariotuk: Well, we seem to be thinking along the same lines here. I think you are entirely correct about extending some of the responsibility of censorship to the parent. I mean it is so plainly the case that until a minor can support themselves and take responsibility for their actions, that onus falls to the parent. By extension, it is the parents responsibility to protect their children both physically and mentally. The sad thing is - parents are well overwrought already without having to also be made the only defence against inappropriate material. We see minors these days able to do pretty much what they please with examples of 11-17 year olds forming gangs, defying shool attendance, drinking, smoking etc. A wholistic and multi-faceted approach is what is needed. Develop a clear system of ratings, educate the parents, implement financial fines and deterrents to the whole game supply chain, from developer to shop floor for inappropriate sales and finally back up with a strong cultural message of freedom of expression to the right target audience. And the people responsible for this? The BBFC. It just might work ;)

ultramar10
ultramar10

Keep it banned, do us all a favour.

mooseman721
mooseman721

It is and always has been a scapegoat, a sacrificial lamb to appease the daily mail readers. Rockstar has repeatedly challenged the boundaries of acceptability and now paid the price. The first game was nothing special anyway, but if it gets the ban revoked Manhunt 2 will sell like Halo 3!

Paveric
Paveric

While I think games like Manhunt 2 are sick, I think it's ridiculous to ban them. Go Rockstar!

zaphod_b
zaphod_b

BBFC might as well have said they are banning the game because their ratings system is a broken system that isn't enforceable.

YukoAsho
YukoAsho

The BBFC is dissapointing me. Rockstar toned down the most sickening parts of the game, and now they're just digging their heels. Robertson's absolutely right about the forbidden fruit, by the way. Manhunt 2's going to get sold in the UK regardless, with people getting it off auctions in other European countries such as the Netherlands. At first I applauded them, but now it's become clear that this is nothing but politics.

raiden_mgs2
raiden_mgs2

Unban it! Rockstar have a good point and people want it (me lol) so let em ave it!

AriotUK
AriotUK

"QC Andrew Caldecott, representing the BBFC, argued that one of the major considerations must be that underage audiences are always going to get hold of the game, and the need to protect them was one of the reasons it was not allowed a certificate." I know this has been raised several times already but this part of the BBFC argument is entirely worrying. As I stated a few pages back, I am very much pro-censorship for children but the idea that even with the BBFC doing their job, that children would get ahold of the game is perhaps the strongest argument for just removing the BBFC from our society. If they do not even believe in their ability to censor material for our children then what use are they? I see where they are coming from: they are saying that once a movie or game is bought (by the adult / parent) then anything is possible and that responsibility must also lie with these adults / parents in censoring material for their children and not allowing them to play or watch this items. I spoke to some other people last night about the Jamie Bulger case and more than placing those two boys in custody for 8 years, the parents also should have been sent to prison for at least the manslaughter of Jamie Bulger if not the direct murder of him. Life just shocks me mostly and at the tender age of 28 that I am, I live in fear of bringing another life into this world. I'm coming down on the side of the BBFC in this because parents cannot be trusted: don't un-ban this game but I think there should be strong changes in the law that place a lot more responsibility on adults and their role in censorship.

diablobasher
diablobasher

"The government needs to step in and look at how to control the sale of adult rated games to children." They already do. This is what makes the ban even more ludicrous, the age ratings mentioned above (12, 15 and 18) are law enforced in the UK, and you can face up to a £50,000 fine and 6 months in jail if you sell an underage person an age rated product. So yes the responsibility is solely with the parents to do their jobs.

Kravyn81
Kravyn81

[quote="m_shepard"]The government needs to step in and look at how to control the sale of adult rated games to children.[/quote] Um, correct me if I'm wrong but isn't that what the PARENTS are for? The Government needs to worry about terrorists and taxes; not VIDEO GAMES. And you contradicted yourself: "The sale of ADULT rated games to CHILDREN"? Hello, that's why they're rated ADULT...because they're NOT meant for children.

Kravyn81
Kravyn81

I quit reading after the second paragraph. Anyone else sitting there feeling how utterly retarded this all is?

Erebus
Erebus

"I'm here to protect you from pain, truth, choice, and other poison devils."

Darkreaper_1
Darkreaper_1

I still can't see why games like Manhunt 2 are banned while films like Hostile (which is bscailly a sift porn tourture film) are allowed without any fuss. I also agree with the forbidden fruit argument. By banning stuff you make people want it more.

m_shepard
m_shepard

"Robertson explained, "These are not 'innocent victims,'" and underlined that no women or children die in the game." Well then, the game should be banned for sexist and discriminatory behaviour on the part of the protagonist. Personally I think the BBFC has a point in that the only thing you do in the game is stalk and murder people. The government needs to step in and look at how to control the sale of adult rated games to children. Strict laws and harsh fines for retailers (as alcohol is controlled) might be an idea.

ginnaaah
ginnaaah

should never have been banned in the first place, i think they are singling out rockstar especially after the "hot coffee" incident lol. i think horror films that are an 18 are much worse than this game but i dont see any of them getting banned. i did hear someone mention about kids getting hold of it but at the end of the day that is nothing to do with rockstar, its down to the seller and the parents, same as it is with movies, if people really cared then they would realise it is down to them to protect their children from what is out there. i have 2 kids myself and if a game has an 18 rating and i buy it for me then it is up to me to make sure they dont get their hands on it, i wouldnt ring rockstar and complain cos i failed to look after my kids. i think rockstar are right to be fighting this, wether the game is crap or not its the principal that matters, we dont want to see any future games ruined by people abusing power or ruling on something they know nothing about.

Devvy01
Devvy01

Good, there's no need for games like this

nsoufiani
nsoufiani

rockstar should hire phoenix wright as their defence.

bazzatuk
bazzatuk

I think that they are defending Manhunt so furiously is testament that Rockstar are concerned that this could become a big issue here in the UK. If they ban Manhunt, what is to say that this time next year we aren't in the same boat with GTA IV. Rockstar will be aware of this and may well be defending this to avoid problems with GTA in the near future.

doctorteeth
doctorteeth

Everyone will have to concede that since this is, for the most part, a liberal video game website, and there very well could be bias here. That being said, from what I've read here it sounds like the defense made an excellent case, which is great. I'll have to look it up and read about it elsewhere, too.

canerac1234
canerac1234

i think rockstar should just let go of what is a mediocre game which is only going to sell due to its hype in the press

GreenC4T
GreenC4T

From what I read, it seems they have a strong defence. Sounds like they could very much win this case and have the ban removed.

Brother_Boney
Brother_Boney

There is so much hypocricy going on here. Another things that is hypocricy is Nintendo not allowing adults only titles. I know that rating applies only to the US. First they say they want to expand the market, then they basically make it impossible to make certain type of titles that would attract certain people. I mean damn why are videogames STILL suffering of the cartoon syndrome? After 30 years!! Time to realize games industry is not just for kids. But fear not my friends. We shall overcome. One day authoritie realize what stupid idiots they are and what they are doing to business. Maybe that's the day when games really start looking like movies and they start seeing the connection. There's simply no scientific evidence to back their actions up right about now. But why the heck is the game not published elsewhere in Europe? Ban it in UK but leave the rest of us the heck alone!

beeber79
beeber79

Gamespot have been routinely biased in their coverage of this issue - attempts to air the issue on the Gamespot UK podcast were embarassingly unbalanced. Specialist games media needs to grow up and have a serious debate about this issue in order to have any hope of influence on the mainstream. Should it be banned? I'm honestly not sure, but I am sure I don't trust Gamespot on this issue.

sancezz
sancezz

Pleeeaaase unban. Even though I don't own a PS2, and won't ever play this game...it's the principle.

Articuno76
Articuno76

unremitting bleakness, casual sadism, callousness of tone,' these are mere words culled from a thesaurus and have nothing to do with the gaming experience." I'd have to agree with that. The description there sounds wishywashy and abstract, in other words not the kind of criteria that a classification board should be using.

Jedilink109
Jedilink109

Well I'm sorry but this "kids might get ahold of it" defense doesn't fly with me. If a kid gets on the internet they have full access to harcore pornography but people aren't banning it. Kids have access to horror films with really gruesome killings in it...but you aren't banning that. Talk about your double standards people.

PolkaStripe
PolkaStripe

this is really stupid! just unban it1

fred3324
fred3324

Utter stupidity there has never been a proven link between violent media and actual violent behavior among people or even minors. I highly doubt any of us when we were kids did not witness some violent movie or movie scenes. I've never felt the desire to act violent because of it. This whole rating games business should be aimed at allowing parents to decide what they consider to be proper content for there children but it should never get to this stage of actually banning a game. Disgraceful and ridiculous and a insult not just to parents but to normal gamers as well. It's time rating boards learn that there isn't anything special about video games compared to normal media.

LsTr_Of_SmG
LsTr_Of_SmG

'QC Andrew Caldecott, representing the BBFC, argued that one of the major considerations must be that underage audiences are always going to get hold of the game, and the need to protect them was one of the reasons it was not allowed a certificate. ' Then sort out the sodding enforcement of the ratings. Legal consumers should not have to settle for a censored version of the game just because of consumers who shouldn't be getting the game in the first place. The BBFC is a joke.

Emma_UK
Emma_UK

Westsiderz28: It's my understanding that a decision will be made by the end of the week, though I could be wrong. And it will be the edited version.

WizzyKid
WizzyKid

'unremitting bleakness, casual sadism, callousness of tone,' these are mere words culled from a thesaurus and have nothing to do with the gaming experience." Man Rockstar have great representatives. The BBFC is a joke, its shameful how they can't even answer in any interview what "unremitting bleakness, casual sadism, callousness of tone" means. Disgraceful.

razu_gamer
razu_gamer

Well R* do bring in some valid points.

proud722
proud722

jmace86 its a fair point. But to be banned in the first place you have to assume the ideal as you put it that it is worse than an 18 until its unbanned and by that means that its far worse for a underaged person to get their hands on that then the likes of gta. You see when we on only look at the ideal its ignoring a problem, the problems still there were just pretending its not. So should'nt we tighten everything up and then unban manhunt 2?

Bart247
Bart247

jmace86: EXACTLY!!! You see the point!

jmace86
jmace86

"QC Andrew Caldecott, representing the BBFC, argued that one of the major considerations must be that underage audiences are always going to get hold of the game, and the need to protect them was one of the reasons it was not allowed a certificate." This underlines everything that is wrong about the BBFC's ratings system. If you are going to say that underage kids are going to get their hands on a game or movie regardless of the rating then what is the point of rating in the first place. If you assume that a kid can get his/her hands on an 18-rated game then how can you allow any 18-rated game to be released. Ratings need to be made using a set of ideals whereby you assume that only people of a suitable age will have access to the game. If a parent lets their child have a game unsuitable for them, then it is the parent that should be punished and l ikewise for a store that sells a game to an underage kid. The punishment should certainly not fall on the members of the public who are old enough to play the game but who are not allowed to because it is banned!

Bart247
Bart247

You know who's to blame. The parents. It's the prime ingredient on problems in the gaming community. The BBFC doesn't really give a **** about the parents. They care about children? What are these people on? And who in their right mind would want to ban a video game if they don't know the damn story and only focus on the violence? Manhunt 2 is just like a suspense thriller like 2 of Rob Zombie's movies (House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil's Rejects). This is no different. British Board of Film Classifications? Bull****. They are being WAAAAY overprotective. They're there to save children? Then who will save me from their stupidity? edable_giraffe, you are absolutely right about online stores. The BBFC has no right to say what goes. It's all the parents fault for being such fools by not keeping an eye on their children. Seriously, and I ask again, what are these people on? Only one word I have to say to conclude this: Idiots.

TehPickle
TehPickle

That was a riveting article! I'd have loved to have been there to watch all that happen before my eyes. I love the tiddly winks quote Way to sock it to the BBFC Rockstar! I think now they must be starting to realize what a stupid mistake they actually made by banning it. If they can't see R*'s point after this, then they're far more narrow-minded than I ever gave them credit for previously.

proud722
proud722

edable_giraffe, so you would ignore the fact kids could get there hands on it instead. Until the system works this seems like reasonable measurements to me. I mean the game has'nt even scored that well so your unlikely to be missing out on much. As for the allure stuff mentioned by the lawyer representing rockstar, what do you think will happen if it gets unbanned then? All those kids will just forget its original notoriety? I question the bbfc's motive for banning the game but they've only ever banned one other game ever, america has had far more games banned then us (yes I know they let the uncut version through but the pont stands) so things could be worse. For alot of reasons I disagree with it but due to the fact I know how easy it is to get hold of alot of things here and that they've only ever banned one other game I think people are just getting whiny. We've lost one game, one game that is'nt even that good, oh well. Though I swear movies get away with alot worse, which is completely wrong in the bigger picture we lose alot less games then most people and its a mediocre one at that and people are acting like we're fighting the jack thompson brigade over here?

markevens
markevens

dj_b02us said "God I hate old people." Yeah dj, that is a great response. Why don't you go convince the BBFC that their thinking is messed up because they are old. Grow up. I can see why they don't want this game available. I don't agree with using the argument that "kids will eventually get their hands on it." But I can agree with the comment, "Is there never a point where you can say 'this is unacceptable?'" The former is a cop out, the latter is honest.

JahanX
JahanX

"Does tiddlywinks have a moral dilemma?" Bwa ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

darkmind-tvtome
darkmind-tvtome

glad to see there's a few people struck by the bbfc trying to render themselves impotent by this whole minor's access argument

edable_giraffe
edable_giraffe

rockstar appealed the uncut version in the UK so, if they win we should get the uncut version it isnt up to the BBFC to deny a game a rating because underage kids will get their hands on it, thats down to the retailers who enforce it extremely well, its online stores that cause the problems

stev69
stev69

What a total joke the BBFC are with this one comment "one of the major considerations must be that underage audiences are always going to get hold of the game, and the need to protect them was one of the reasons it was not allowed a certificate" So its ok if young children get there hands on a movie like saw? because it has a certificate right?, but they will get their hands on it anyway right? So what the point in having cerificates then? this is a glaring admission that their rating system doesnt make a damn bit of difference. Stop wasting our time and tax payers money with such cretins. Parents hold the ultimate responsibility for their childrens upbringing, if they cant teach them right from wrong then a video game isnt going to make any diference at all.

stev69
stev69

What a total joke the BBFC are with this one comment "one of the major considerations must be that underage audiences are always going to get hold of the game, and the need to protect them was one of the reasons it was not allowed a certificate" So its ok if young children get there hands on a movie like saw? because it has a certificate right?, but they will get their hands on it anyway right? So what the point in having cerificates then? this is a glaring admission that their rating system doesnt make a damn bit of difference. Stop wasting our time and tax payers money with such cretins. Parents hold the ultimate responsibility for their childrens upbringing, if they cant teach them right from wrong then a video game isnt going to make any diference at all.

stev69
stev69

What a total joke the BBFC are with this one comment "one of the major considerations must be that underage audiences are always going to get hold of the game, and the need to protect them was one of the reasons it was not allowed a certificate" So its ok if young children get there hands on a movie like saw? because it has a certificate right?, but they will get their hands on it anyway right? So what the point in having cerificates then? this is a glaring admission that their rating system doesnt make a damn bit of difference. Stop wasting our time and tax payers money with such cretins. Parents hold the ultimate responsibility for their childrens upbringing, if they cant teach them right from wrong then a video game isnt going to make any diference at all.