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Friday, March 14, 2008 

Manhunt 2 finally unbanned.

The other welcome good news story of the day could hardly be more different. The BBFC, after months of haughtiness, has finally been forced into giving Manhunt 2 the 18 certificate the makers originally requested:

The Video Appeals Committee today announced that the result of their reconsideration of the Manhunt 2 appeal remains that the appeal against the rejection of the work by the BBFC is upheld.

The Board’s decision to refuse a certificate to Manhunt 2 was successfully challenged on appeal to the Video Appeals Committee. The Board challenged the VAC’s decision by way of Judicial Review before the High Court, which quashed the decision on grounds of errors of law. The VAC has now reconsidered the appeal in the light of the High Court’s directions on the law but has decided, again by a majority of four to three, to allow the appeal on the basis that Manhunt 2 should be given an ‘18’ certificate.

In the light of legal advice the Board does not believe the VAC’s judgement provides a realistic basis for a further challenge to its decision and has accordingly issued an ‘18’ certificate.

David Cooke, Director of the BBFC said:
“As I have said previously, we never take rejection decisions lightly, and they always involve a complex balance of considerations. We twice rejected Manhunt 2, and then pursued a judicial review challenge, because we considered, after exceptionally thorough examination, that it posed a real potential harm risk. However, the Video Appeals Committee has again exercised its independent scrutiny. It is now clear, in the light of this decision, and our legal advice, that we have no alternative but to issue an ‘18’ certificate to the game.”

This entire petty situation could have been avoided if the BBFC had treated the game fairly from the beginning. Rockstar's case has always been that Manhunt 2, which it freely admits is a violent game and has never suggested should be sold to anyone other than adults, was treated far more harshly than any film purely because of the fact that it is a game. This might have been acceptable if the BBFC has separate guidelines for films and video games, but it does not. It should therefore have been judged on the exact same criteria as any of the current gory batch of horror films, such as Saw, Hostel and indeed the just released Frontier(s) are, all of which have passed uncut with no trouble or controversy whatsoever. Indeed, the BBFC's comments on Frontier(s) are an exact replica of what it should have done when first faced with Manhunt 2:

FRONTIER(S) is a subtitled French film that has been classified '18' uncut for very strong bloody violence.
The film contains scenes dwelling on the terrorisation of victims and the infliction of pain and injury. The inclusion of several 'strongest gory images' (mutilation) preclude the possibility of a '15' classification. However, all elements in this work are containable, uncut, by current guidelines for the '18' classification.
Current guidelines state: The BBFC respects the right of adults to choose their own entertainment, within the law.

Instead, the BBFC with Manhunt 2 clutched at the straw of "harm" which has so often in the past been used by both censorship bodies, politicians and campaigners alike with the aim of protecting children, when all this has actually done is prevented adults from choosing what they can and can't want watch, as well taking from them the responsibility to ensure that material that is not suitable for children does not fall into their hands. In actual fact, the BBFC were not just claiming that Manhunt 2 could be harmful to children, but to adults also, something which it knew it could not possibly provide evidence to substantiate, and which their very own research into video games and those that play them certainly did nothing to back up.

Always in the background of this case was the ghost of both a murdered teenager and that of outrage from the tabloid press. Despite both the police and judge dismissing the mother of Stefan Pakeerah's claims that her son's murderer was influenced by playing the original Manhunt, something itself undermined when the game was found in Pakeerah's bedroom rather than Warren Leblanc's, it's difficult to believe that the BBFC was not influenced by the possibility of a campaign, especially one led by the Daily Mail, about the classification body's latest insult to common sense. It was far easier instead to reject a game it could dismiss as containing "sustained and cumulative casual sadism" than have to deal with the Mail again demanding to know who actually makes the BBFC's decisions, something it howled for after it dared to give the remake of War of the Worlds a 12A certificate, a decision more or less in line with the rest of the world.

As always happens when the BBFC gives into the demands for a ban, all it's done is instead given the game/film a marketing advantage than any of the other producers would kill for. If Rockstar so wished, it could now advertise the game with "PREVIOUSLY BANNED!" splashed across it, milking the past few months' back and forth between the courts, the VAC and the BBFC itself for all its worth. This is idiotic not just because it could have avoided the embarrassment and also legal cost of its original decision, but also because the game itself has been rather harshly critically received, with one review suggesting that it's the original game with slightly better graphics and because of the toning done, less violent and therefore less satisfying. The BBFC has martyred a game when it could instead have left it to stew in its own mediocrity.

The one bright spot is that the BBFC's authority has been challenged and even potentially critically wounded, and it will also no doubt influence the decision on the part of TLA releasing on whether to appeal against the BBFC's ban on Murder Set Pieces. While it might not have much effect in the short term, it could well be another step on the road towards the BBFC losing all its powers of censorship, and instead turned into the actual classification body that it long should have been transformed into.

Related post:
Lee Griffin - Manhunt 2 is no longer banned

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