To ban or not to ban?

Manhunt 2 image (1) Murder by plastic bag, axe, gun, knife, chainsaw, rope, or whatever else comes to hand. This is the world of Manhunt 2, the latest in a line of ultra-nasty computer games to generate controversy and column inches in the tabloid press.

Following the British Board of Film Classification's (BBFC) decision to ban the game outright, Andrew Skeates asks whether this a justified line of action or a popularist knee jerk reaction.

'Manhunt 2 is distinguishable from recent high-end video games by its unremitting bleakness and callousness of tone. There is sustained and cumulative casual sadism in the way in which these killings are committed, and encouraged, in the game.' David Cooke, director, BBFC.

Strong words indeed, words that have lead to the recent banning, on these shores at least, of Manhunt 2, the new violent video game from Rockstar Games. Following in the wake of such controversial hits as the original Manhunt and the Grand Theft Auto video games (all released by Rockstar) Manhunt 2 is the first video game to be banned in a decade.

Is such a ban required? Are the BBFC justified in their decision? Or is this just another overblown case that will no doubt generate more buzz and publicity than if the game hadn’t been banned?

Before getting into the rights and wrongs of censorship, it must be stated that Manhunt 2 is indeed a very violent game. Assuming the role of a man who must kill in order to survive, the player is encouraged to slay as many people as possible in sadistic and gruesome ways.

No Mario Brothers saving a princess, no racing other cars to the finish line, no matching up lines of squares before the screen fills up - violence is the name of the game and stepping into the shoes of a serial killer is the role, you, the player, takes.

Manhunt 2 image (2) Bleak indeed, yet debatable as the content of the game is, it is obviously aimed at adults. Misconception has bred the belief that all video games are aimed at children. Not so any more, as the video game industry (an industry that now rivals the film and music industry in terms of popularity and profit) is as squarely aimed at adults as it is at youngsters.

In fact a ratings system, very similar to the one used for films, has been adopted to classify games, which is a responsible system that helps players and their parents better decide what games to purchase. So, with a ratings system in place, why ban Manhunt 2?

To those of us in the West at least, the freedom to choose and make up our minds has always been a given right. What is acceptable to some may not be to others, but as long as no one is being hurt for profit, then shouldn't the decision for what is acceptable be left with the individual?

I suppose the argument is that there are those who are more impressionable to violent material than others and so if these games are banned it, theoretically at least, removes a potential trigger for future criminal behaviour.

The original Manhunt game was blamed for the murder of Stefan Pakeerah who was stabbed and beaten to death in Leicester in February 2004. His parents believe the killer, Warren LeBlanc, 17, was inspired by the game. The police, however, stated they believed that robbery was the motive in the attack.

In the USA, in 2003, William and Josh Buckner claimed that they were emulating the game Grand Theft Auto when they shot and wounded two people, and in Germany an 18-year male with a liking for guns, death metal music and the game Counter-Strike, wounded 11 teachers and pupils before killing himself. 

The same accusation is leveled at films, with movies such as Natural Born Killers, A Clockwork Orange and even Child's Play 3 being blamed for the violent acts of certain individuals. This debate has been raging for a long time, certainly since the early eighties and the video nasty debacle. Does violent entertainment drive people to hurt and kill?

Rating guidelines are there to better inform shopkeepers and parents about what they are purchasing/selling. But should a game as relentlessly violent as Manhunt 2 be banned?

Manhunt 2 image (3) Well I guess that is all in the eye of the beholder. The rating's guidelines help us to distinguish the things we would like to experience and those we would not. Manhunt 2 may be questionable in its violence and debate as to whether or not such a game should exist is a good thing.

Violent content is a major issue and having the pros and cons highlighted will give the individual the right to decide what is acceptable for them and what is not. The fact that it has been banned has increased the game’s profile and publicity, making even more people aware of its existence. As the saying goes 'any publicity is good publicity.'

Perhaps the discussion should be not whether this game should be banned or censorship enforced but why is it the media comes down so hard on games and film (both of which have parental rating systems) when books and literature are given pretty much free reign to include any kind of violence and depravity they wish?

American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis, is considered a literary classic, yet contains some incredibly graphic, and distasteful depictions of sexual violence perpetrated on women. However, anyone (regardless of age) can pick this book up in any good bookshop.

Responsibility is really the issue. Parents should be aware of what is intended for adults and what is intended for children and enforce restriction when necessary. The makers of Manhunt 2, who have every right to create such a game, must shoulder the responsibility of any controversy resulting from their game.

There is no way around it, the content of a game such as Manhunt 2 will always come with controversy and responsible action should be taken to make sure it only goes into the hands of those old enough to view such content.

Andrew Skeates has worked in the media sector, both in the UK and USA, for over five years as a film editor, cameraman, and in reprographics, and, apparently, has on-screen talent too. More recently he has plunged into the world of journalism, freelancing for a number of years, writing articles, interviews, and reviews on the subject of film.

July 2007