Darren Waters

What now for the BBFC?

  • Darren Waters
  • 14 Mar 08, 11:52 GMT

The news that Rockstar has won its long-standing battle to release Manhunt 2 in the UK brings to a conclusion a very confusing, and some would say black, period for games certification (censorship) in the UK.

Scene from Rockstar's Manhunt 2On one side Rockstar said Manhunt 2 was an entertainment product which fell within the bounds of content established by 18 certificate films like Saw and Hostel.

On the other, the British Board of Film Classification, was adamant that the game "went too far" and was unremittingly bleak and callous.

More worryingly, the BBFC said the game had the potential to do harm.

And this was the crux of the matter. What harm could the game do? The BBFC seemed to suggest that the game would find its way into the hands of minors.

But this could apply to any form of adult entertainment, argued others.

So where does this leave the games industry and those who are responsible for ensuring we are protected from harmful content?

In a mess, is the frank answer. Who should we believe when it comes to video games?

Developers or the BBFC?

One could argue that the process has proved effective - as the Video Appeals Committee, an extension of the BBFC, were the ones who eventually decided the game should be released.

But the grudging nature of the BBFC's statement, that it now has "no alternative" but to grant the title a certificate, coupled with the fact the body went to the High Court, twice rejected the game itself and tried to overturn the original judgment of the VAC leaves the organisation with its credibility bruised and battered.

Perhaps more crucially, the BBFC's role as the body which classifies games is now under definite scrutiny.

There has long been confusion among consumers as to why there are often two certificates on UK games, from the BBFC and European body PEGI.

Dr Tanya Byron is expected to deliver her report into video games, violence and children later this month and I understand she favours handing responsibility over to PEGI.

The BBFC's dogged fight to ban Manhunt 2, even though it was an 18 game and even though industry figures lined up to defend the title, might come back to haunt it.


  • 1.
  • At 01:12 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Adam wrote:

Its about time this was released, it was targeted at an 18+ audience, wanted and 18+ certificate and finally got it.

It seems perfectly fine to watch people being tortured/mutilated etc in films but as soon as its in a game (that isn't even close to being photo realistic) society is in up roar and the Daily Mail-ites go ape about it.

My view (and everyone is entitled to be different) is that as movies are far more realistic and more shocking than a game (at the moment) could ever be

  • 2.
  • At 01:16 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Jakob wrote:

Isn't is about time we did away with the BBFC all together?

Who do they think they are to tell us that, even as grown adults, we need to be "protected" from seeing virtual representations of violence?

  • 3.
  • At 01:17 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Richard C. wrote:

Once again, Britain dodges the actual issue. If a game is unsuitable for minors, then it's unsuitable for minors. When it finds its way into said minors' hands, it is NOT the developers' fault. It is the parents' fault, but heaven forbid they're blamed.

Not so long ago, an American mother sued Walmart because they sold a Grand Theft Auto game (to her - an adult), which she passed onto her son. Her son was later convicted of various violent crimes. How on earth is this Walmart (or Rockstar, or Take Two)'s fault? If a parent allows a child to use adult-rated content, deliberately or through negligence, THEY are responsible.

Organisations like the BBFC need to stop trying to wrap everyone in cotton wool in order to cover for a few useless parents' mistakes.

  • 4.
  • At 01:19 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Maz wrote:

One thing should be remembered. Unlike the film industry video game companies are NOT obliged to put age ratings on their games, they do so out of choice. It's not their fault if some parent decides to buy Grand Theft Auto for their 12 year old child and can't be bothered to read the box. I've seen it happen - at least when the parent turned up to complain to the store that the game wasn't suitable for children! Total stupididy!

I don't know, in my time I've seen rock bands, movies and now games blamed for teenage tragedies. Perhaps I'm being harsh but I think people are far too eager to find a scapegoat.

  • 5.
  • At 01:22 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • paddy wrote:

I really don't like films like Saw and Hostel, but I understand why the BBFC allows them to be released, and whilst they are nasty, the user does not have control over what is being presented to them.
The difference i find with games like manhunt and manhunt 2 is that the gamer is encouraged to "perform the action" and the more gruesome the better the reward is.
I think there is a fundamental difference between the two mediums for extacly that reason.
I play violent games like COD4 and Crysis, but the violence is in a completely different context.

  • 6.
  • At 01:53 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Peter wrote:

As a lifelong "gamer" i am fed up of people telling me what games i can and cant play on.

Im going to play the "human rights" card here and say that i have a human right to play any game that i want.

I have played alot of beat em ups and shoot em ups and very violent games and i have never once had the urge to disembowl someone or lop the limbs off the next person i come across.

If a game is rated 18 then its the parents responsibility to ensure that they know what is in the game, then consent to their kids playing the game or prevent them playing it. Simple as that.

Just keep in mind all those people who think that video games are the root of all societies problems that you see much much MUCH worse violence in films and guess what, as the characters in films are actors and therefore real people and not little electronic pixels displayed in various ways, they look more real than video games do!

Compare Saw I-IV to Manhunt and it equates to pretty much the same thing but Saw is one hell of alot more believable than a game.

Basically these protestors cant link violence to video games no matter how hard they try because there is no correlation. If there was correlation then 90% of English school children would be murdering, drug dealing criminals, loaded to the teeth with grenades, chainsaws, hand guns, mini guns, machin guns and rocket launchers because they "did it in a game".

  • 7.
  • At 01:55 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Frank wrote:

I was going to buy it before all this as I loved the first game, played it constantly (and I volentier at an activity centre for people with down's syndrome) and because of this I know for a FACT that Manhunt 2 will be NO WAY NEAR as "out there" as the first, even if it was uncut. Regarldess of the game itself this is a win for democracy that will really need more of elsewhere.

  • 8.
  • At 01:57 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Calum wrote:

At the end of the day you are responsible for what you watch and play. If a child gets to play this game it is their parents fault or the shop who sold them it. Maybe we should be shutting down games stores which sell 18 certificate games to children.

  • 9.
  • At 02:05 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • DavidS wrote:

Should more be done to prevent the game getting into the hands of minors instead of BBFC penalising a developer for producing a game aimed at over 18s? These drawn out battles only highlight these games to an audience (under 18s) that probably wouldn't care about it if there was no uproar in the first place. The first Manhunt game only sold well after the ban. Oh well, only one month until we see it all again for GTA!

  • 10.
  • At 02:09 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • James wrote:

You can't have one form of censorship for one type of media like films and a different one for games. The general British perception is that video games are still played mainly by kids which is completely wrong.

Of course it will find it's way into the hands of minors as will any explicit rap CD or violent film. But this has been happening forever, who here saw The Terminator when they were under 18?? or Porkys?.

I think blaming media for problems in society takes focus away from the main issues, poverty, drugs, parenting, bullying, alcohol, education. If we were all so corruptable by media you would have to ban people from watching the news(Seeing 9/11 unfold live on lunchtime tv will stay with me forver) or reading the Daily Mail.

Manhunt2 is a poor quality game, but if all 18r games start getting banned, it means we no longer have a choice and the UK will get watered down versions of possibly great titles like Grand Theft Auto(made in Britain), Resident Evil and Ninja Gaiden 2. I prefer to experience these games as the designers intended, not the censors.

  • 11.
  • At 02:12 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Teddy wrote:

The rela issue here isn't that Manhunt is violent, its that its rubbish. This publicity means a lot of people will get it - they shouldn't, but not because of the content. If people continue to buy games that rely entirely on shock value to paper over a weak story, flaky graphics and serious corner cutting, cynical developers will keep making them. Don't buy Manhunt, it does only deserve to be an 18... out of 100.

  • 12.
  • At 02:13 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • ChrisG wrote:

I think that the rating on games is too often ignored by parents - hopefully the publicity from this will remind everyone that age ratings aren't there for fun.

  • 13.
  • At 02:18 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • DavidS wrote:

Should more be done to prevent the game getting into the hands of minors instead of BBFC penalising a developer for producing a game aimed at over 18s? These drawn out battles only highlight these games to an audience (under 18s) that probably wouldn't care about it if there was no uproar in the first place. The first Manhunt game only sold well after the ban. Oh well, only one month until we see it all again for GTA!

  • 14.
  • At 02:19 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Scalpelblade wrote:

Gratuitous killing and murder is now 'entertainment' and a 'game'. Well done UK. What next, public beheadings?

It rather felt as though the BBFC was backed into a corner here. Although censorship is of course a bad thing, I respect the BBFC's decision to draw a line in the sand and say 'that's going too far'.

When Rockstar challenged its decision, it had to stick up for itself and if that means losing face, so be it.

Perhaps its whingeing attitude after losing leaves a bit of a sour taste, but in the end, next time someone turns around and says "ooh but video games made me do it" we can point out that there are clear measures in place to keep things in moderation.

That seems more important than whether one game, which by all accounts is a bit rubbish, is or isn't allowed to be sold here. And yes, it will probably fly of shelves as curiosity gets the better of people.

  • 16.
  • At 02:42 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Chris wrote:

It's good to see that this ridiculous farce is over and finally common sense has prevailed.

Any game could be potentially harmful to somebody, as could any film, any book, any bible.

We can't ban something because of a few mentally unstable people who may be triggered by it. We can't ban something just because someone may break the law and give it to minors.

We might just as well suggest that we should ban minors from owning video consoles... then the problem is solved right... stupid idea, just like the BBFC decision.

  • 17.
  • At 02:42 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • stephenc wrote:

Where is the confusion, if the game is marked 18 then that means it is only allowed to be sold to consumers of 18 and over this is not rocket science.
Movies such as saw and rambo depict mutilation and gore, yet dont come under the microscope like videogames do.
The problem is that videgames are seen as aimed at the teen demographic. When adults in their 20s and 30s buy a lot of consoles. So their will eventually be games made to cater for a more mature audience. Change of attitude towards the videogame industry is needed i think.

  • 18.
  • At 02:49 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • James wrote:

This annoys me so much that as an adult I'm allowed to go and watch a horrific film (Saw, Hostel etc.) but I can't play a horrific game. The article does not mention that Manhunt 2 will only be released on xbox as Nintendo and Sony do not sell adult rated games for fear of similar trouble. And the irony is that new consoles can be easily locked to prevent any game over a rating being played by minors, so I think parents should be blamed for my games being reduced to bright colours and italian plumbers.

  • 19.
  • At 02:56 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Ian wrote:

Well done to the BBFC for the free advertising it's given to the game

  • 20.
  • At 03:14 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Sumwun wrote:

I don't actually object to certain content being 'banned' and so at first, I didn't mind the BBFC's initial decision as I gave them the benefit of the doubt as to how bad Manhunt 2 actually was.

But the more I heard about the game, the more it seemed to be posturing by the BBFC and pandering to those who want to 'ban this sick filth' of any sort.

I understand the worry about content like this getting into the hands of kids but that's no excuse to ban material that is otherwise suitable for adults.

What is needed is a ratings system that parents listen to - and this is not just limited to video games, I'm sure.

And I'm not sure I find anything wrong with the current system - except for the end users. Too many times I've heard parents express disappointment that games like these get made but then let their children play games that said children couldn't actually buy!

And I don't follow the "they'll find a way to play it anyway" argument, I don't see why parents are so helpless to exercise control over what their children see and do that they can't minimalise their child's exposure to such content. It's doubly hard to believe as most kids have consoles (and often games as well) bought for them.

  • 21.
  • At 03:17 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Luke Stephenson wrote:

As for the BBFC, I'm no longer confident in their ability to fairly ascribe games an appropriate rating when they can let the likes of Saw, Hostel and Estern Promises go into the cinemas no problem. The argument that it will get into the hands of minors is true of any media and it is unfair to refuse adults the media because a minority are irresponsible.

I still think the BBFC do an excelletn job when it comes to films, I've never come across a rating I particularly disagree with. But PEGI has a better handle on the games industry, so I think classification should be handed over to them.

  • 22.
  • At 03:19 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Neil Kenny wrote:

The BBFC system just provides a rating based on likelihood to offend. The PEGI system provides information to aid the consumer of the game's difficulty with some guidance on the games central themes.
No system is currently foolproof but what should be done is to educate parents that their children are not mini-consumers in charge of their own lifestyle choices. They must take responsibility for their child’s upbringing.
All modern games consoles have age rating enforcement options that are password protected. There is no excuse for letting little Johnny or Jenny play titles designed and designated for an older audience.

  • 23.
  • At 03:33 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Brad wrote:

Even though the game was edited, this is a win for the desire to create art freely. The BBFC needs to rate content, not attempt to ban it. The whole rating system is in place so people can make their own choices on whether or not to view the content of the film or video game. Having said this, if the game is anything like the first Manhunt then it's terrible.

  • 24.
  • At 03:34 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Steve wrote:

The BBFC are an out-of-date organisation, who are not in touch with the wishes of many of the British people, on top of which, any form of censorship is a bad thing.

It's time to revoke the BBFC's ability to ban entertainment, and reduce them to their proper place in society, that of a ratings organisation, which allows informed adults to make their own informed decisions about what they do and do not want to see.

By pursuing this so aggressively the BBFC have essentially allowed themselves to be undermined.
When they should have been asking the government to look at the education of parents who buy 18+ certificate games for their children, they decided to take on an industry that is increasingly focused on adult gamers.
Taking the classification away from the BBFC is now the most obvious step - and if that occurs then they have nobody to blame but themselves.

The critical failure in the system is not the producting of such games, but the sale of them. Computer game stores fail to block the sales of inappropriate games to minors, and parents utterly fail, through laziness or ignorance, to police what their children are doing.

Banning this product won't work - it'll be released somewhere in the world and will be freely available to pirate within 24 hours. That anyone could think banning would be successful shows how out of touch they are with the way the system works.

  • 27.
  • At 03:57 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Phil Tolhurst wrote:

Although their are different types of violence the game has an 18 certificate and, therefore, should only be played by people over that age.

The problem in the UK is that more needs to be done to educate parents that games can contain content that is not suitable for children.

I am 35 and probably of the first generation to play games that could be classed as realistic AND to be a parent. Therefore, I am educated enough to know that I will never let my daughter play Manhunt, but when she is old enough I would let her play a game such as Bully.

If it is assumed when certificating any kind of medium that people under the age of the certifcation will have access to that media what is the point of the certication in the first place.

Keep the BBFC, make the warnings in Software shops, on Game and console TV and billboard adverts more prominent and provide more education to parents.

One last point, everyone in the UK recognises the BBFC certification standards. So why change them for the PEGI ones?

Whilst there is an argument for the interaction rendering Manhunt 'worse' than Saw or Hostel (to continue with the aforementioned examples), there is one substantial difference which exists between the two mediums.

One uses polygons, the other real people. Whilst increasing realism is occurring within the gaming industry, through ever more powerful technology, there is still an immediate difference in the level of immersion that 'reality' proffers (I acknowledge the use of special effects and models/puppetry in said films to achieve this reality).

As an avid gamer and film lover, I must admit, I've never grimaced at bloody violence in games, but have been frequently scared witless by filmic scenes.

I also hasten to addend my argument with a nod to the increased psychological trauma the not-knowing and not-seeing can offer. We all know Jaws is more foreboding because we don't really see the shark. Isn't this true with games? I find overtly blood-laden violence somewhat amusing in games, slightly gory in films and have never been tempted to recreate scenes from either in real life.

  • 29.
  • At 04:11 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Bryan Robertson wrote:

"The difference i find with games like manhunt and manhunt 2 is that the gamer is encouraged to "perform the action" and the more gruesome the better the reward is."

While I can understand where this view comes from, I think the flaw in this argument is that you are not really "performing the action" at all, not even remotely.

There is a massive, massive difference between killing a character in a computer game, and killing someone in real life.

The action, consequences, and implications of killing someone in a game, and of killing a real person in the real world, are worlds apart.

Computer game characters are not alive, they do not have feelings, they do not have families. This cannot be said for real people.

Ask yourself this, would you feel the same emotions pointing a gun at a real person, as you would pointing one at a computer game character?

  • 30.
  • At 04:14 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Martin wrote:

Its aboout time this game was released - remember thats what it is - A Game! With an 18 certificate it is CLEARLY aimed at the more mature gamer.
The REAL problem with violent games does not come from the developers, but from the STUPID parents who buy the game for thier underage children and then complain that they are too violent. Its the parents who should be banned from having children if thats the attitude they are going to have. The certificate is on for a reason - so dont buy it for your kids if they are not old enough!
People should stop blaming these games for the problems in society and look closer to home - THATS where the real problem are!

  • 31.
  • At 04:23 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • james wrote:

This was a political manouever to assert the authority of BBFC who were only to well aware that PEGI was becoming favourite to take over classification of games.
As for Paddy's comment, while I'm no fan of the whole sadistic genre of games and films either, You could equally argue that games such as COD4 or most action movies assert a more negative influence over society with there callous violence and casual tone by almost normalising it.
The simple fact is that if the ratings system was more properly enforced by shops and parents then there should be little need for over-zealous regulation.

  • 32.
  • At 04:30 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • S Williams wrote:

Sorry, but this game should have been banned, and the VAC should never have interfered.
Is it only me that doesn't find something where you are encouraged to murder and torture, fun? just because it's a game and doesn't look realistic doesn't mean that its right.
When violence becomes the norm - be it in TV, film or games, people aren't shocked when it happens in real life, and it is on the increase now anyway.
I never thought i'd say this, but we need more censorship. Or at least over things like this.

  • 33.
  • At 04:36 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Steve Scott wrote:

With the high cost of consoles and games, the player base is now primarily adults with disposable incomes - those who have grown up with video games from the 1980s. Yes, Manhunt 2 may be bleak and violent, but so are many films released these days. The BBFC should classify games by the same criteria they use to classify films, and move away from the incorrect perception that "games are for kids".

  • 34.
  • At 04:39 PM on 14 Mar 2008,
  • Steve wrote:

Good. The BBFC are utter hypocrites. Movies, far more influential and 'realistic', feature violence that is often worse than Manhunt 3's awful graphics - and yet they get released seemingly freely, slapped with the 18 certificate that Rockstar sought for Manhunt 2.
People need to stop looking for a scapegoat to dump all of society's problems on and wake the hell up.

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