The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) has taken the unusual step of refusing to grant a certificate for a computer game. As a result, the PlayStation 2 and Nintendo Wii game called Manhunt 2, which no doubt cost millions of pounds to develop, cannot legally be sold in the UK.
Video games cannot be sold in the UK without obtaining a BBFC certificate if they depict realistic or semi-realistic people. The regime is the same as for films, with releases awarded a U, PG, 12A, 15 or 18 certificate or, as in the case of Manhunt 2, no certificate at all.
The BBFC’s powers are taken from the Video Recordings Act 1984, which was amended in 1993 to include video games. As a result, it became a criminal offence to sell a certified computer game to persons below the relevant age group shown on the certificate. If the BBFC refuses to certify a work, it is illegal to supply it to anybody.
Video game bans
The decision to ban a video game is unusual. The BBFC has not refused to grant a certificate for any game since it refused to grant one for a game called Carmageddon in 1997. In that case, the BBFC’s decision was successfully appealed to the Video Appeal Committee, which required the BBFC to grant an 18 certificate.
The BBFC considers rejecting a work entirely to be a very serious step, and would normally attempt to have games modified to remove offending content rather than refusing to certify them.
Decision in relation to Manhunt 2
The BBFC states that modifying Manhunt 2 to remove particular content would not be possible.
It claims that the game is ‘distinguishable from recent high-end video games by its unremitting bleakness and callousness of tone in an overall game context which constantly encourages visceral killing with exceptionally little alleviation or distancing.’ The BBFC also criticised Manhunt 2’s ‘sustained and cumulative casual sadism’.
Unlike for Manhunt 2, the BBFC did grant a (18) certificate to the original Manhunt game. The BBFC gives three reasons for coming to a different decision for Manhunt 2:
- first, the new game has an ‘unrelenting focus on stalking and brutal slaying’;
- second, coupled with that focus is a different overall narrative context; and
- third, the original Manhunt was already at the very top end of what the BBFC considered to be acceptable.
The decision not to certify Manhunt 2 appears to show a shift in what the BBFC considers acceptable in terms of video game content. Indeed, the BBFC has hinted that the original Manhunt game might not have received a certificate were it to be released today.
This change in stance is influenced by some research into video games, which the BBFC published in April of this year. David Cooke, director of the BBFC, commented that younger players ‘often admit that they find the violence in games like Manhunt very upsetting’ and, although games could be given an 18 certificate, the research indicated that parents ‘are happy to give their children adult games because they are “only games”.’
The BBFC appears to be saying that if an 18 certificate is not enough to keep a particularly disturbing game out of the hands of children, the safer course is not to grant a certificate at all.