BBFC, videogames and double standards

The BBFC have banned Manhunt 2 yet again after the publishers decided to rework the original, which was also banned, and submit it once again.

This banning reeks of double standards in an era when videogames have become the new enemy of the minority of moral crusaders, and the double standards of the BBFC are easily shown.


If we are to replace the idea of the videogame with that of the “video nasty” from back in the eighties, then we can see that we are in the exact same situation with the BBFC today. They believed that these films were responsible for corrupting our society and causing people to be more violent and dangerous and they banned them.

It’s now interesting to note that these so called “video nasties” are now generally available and given a proper certificate by the BBFC, allowing their release.

With the banning of videogames the BBFC are implying that they do not measure to the same scale as film. They are suggesting that videogames are the new “video nasty”, and that their content affects and influences us more than any other medium.

This idea is, of course, utter rubbish. Consider films that have recently been given certificates by the BBFC – Hostel, Hostel: Part II, Saw III, Saw IV, Captivity, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, I could go on and if I looked through the catalogue of Tartan Films (horror films from all round the world especially Asia) the comparisons would be incredible, what about Audition as an example?

These films show non-computer generated people being tortured, mutilated and murdered, and the BBFC are telling us that the content of a videogame which shows similar scenes in obviously unreal computer animation is not suitable for people over eighteen, and let’s not get hung up on that age, what about me at thirty-six, can I not watch this?

I haven’t seen all the films above, but let me pick a few scenes where the film shows actual people in some terrible scenes:

Hostel: Part II – A man has penis cut off and fed to dogs, a woman is suspended upside down and bled to death from multiple cuts made by a long blade as the blood pours over a naked woman lying beneath her in a bath.

Hostel – a man cuts a woman’s eye off as it is hangs by the optic nerve from her eye socket, she has just been tortured with a blow torch.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – Well, many scenes of people getting attacked by a chainsaw, or the sledgehammer scene, etc.

Ôdishon (Audition) – A woman severs a man’s feet with piano wire, she also sticks acupuncture needles into his eyeballs.

These films show people in these situations, and the audience realises that this is all camera trickery, special effects and these people are actors. Yet the BBFC are implying that we will believe that a videogame is reality and similar scenes cannot be safely viewed by those aged eighteen upwards, that’s people in their twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, sixties – my parents play videogames – and so on.

Since they are saying that the content of the videogame Manhunt 2 cannot be seen, I wholeheartedly expect that they will follow this up with a mass removal of certificates for hundreds of horror films, from mainstream to foreign.

Wait up though. Let’s assume that you can argue away the comparison to those films for a moment, and then let’s look at Faces of Death.

Faces of Death is a series of videos that show actual, real life executions, suicides and post-death surgery on screen. When I say real I really do mean real. When I was younger I saw one, and I watched a man being executed by being repeatedly shot, an image that haunts me to this day. The BBFC granted these films 18 certificates.

Let me just recap that for a moment. A series of films showing real life executions and suicides on real people have been granted 18 certificates by the BBFC, and yet a British made videogame is banned for being too violent. Isn’t there something wrong here?

However we’re all realists, well most adults outside the BBFC are, and we know that there are a couple of things that are really happening here.

First is the aforementioned “video nasty” syndrome, where the crumbling of society has to be blamed on something other than the crumbling of society, and right now that’s the videogame industry.

The next issue is that the BBFC are actually penalising the videogame industry and the over eighteens for the illegal selling of material to underage children and for poor parenting. The argument that this shouldn’t be seen by children is redundant because it would receive an 18 certificate if it wasn’t banned, that means anyone over eighteen can play it, under that age and you shouldn’t have it. That puts the issue at the feet of the resellers and parents, not the videogame maker.

There’s one other aspect of this that struck me, now I’m not sure about the exact process the BBFC take, but let’s assume that they watch all the content when reviewing it for a certificate. When I checked Manhunt 2 on the BBFC site they showed the following information for what was supplied to allow them to review the game:

This work is made up of a number of separate components.

Note that since February 2001 the BBFC has measured each component separately, but older works may not have the exact details, only a list of titles.

n/a MANHUNT 2

n/a (04:00:00:00) DVD PLAYTHROUGH

00:24:03:00 CUTSCENES

00:20:15:00 GAMEPLAY FOOTAGE

So instead of playing through the game as normal gamers would, they could watch a DVD play through of the entire game, which would be extremely dull and lose so much of the experience of actually playing.

The viewer would just sit there watching these images, but when you are playing a game you’re far more involved in the actual playing than the cut scenes. A small point, but I think a relevant one. It’s not the same experience.

Hold on though, look at the next entry, all the cut scenes have been removed from the game and placed in a run back to back, with a separate twenty minute clip of watching someone play the game.

None of this is the same experience of playing, of actually following the story, and there is a story with Manhunt albeit horror based. This is the equivalent of removing all the torture scenes of Hostel and editing them back to back, then sitting and watching them without the story or the dramatic engagement. In effect that’s what the 18 certificate Faces of Death is, but real scenes, not obviously computer generated images and characters.

So not only do the BBFC not understand the game, nor do they seem to actually play it, but they also watch the cut scenes back to back, something that films are not subjected to. They aren’t engaging the product in its intended medium, as they do with film.

However this is all academic because they are restricting the game to people from aged 18 and upwards (that means people like me in their thirties), and at the same time letting films such as Captivity, Hostel and the actual deaths of real people in the Faces of Death series through with 18 certificates.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Hostel, I love being scared, and amazingly I haven’t tortured anyone to death, but the BBFC aren’t applying their rulings fairly, there’s one set for film and another for videogames.

The BBFC are taking the control and choice away from the grown up adult and placing it at the mercy of the opinion of a handful of individuals. Not scientific fact and not the accepted standard for other entertainment mediums such as film and DVD, but the opinion of a small group of individual people – they are deciding what the nation of adults can and cannot see.

Let’s say the game received an 18 certificate, that’s a certificate that states that it is illegal to sell the item to anyone under the age of eighteen and acts as an indication to parents as to what they should be allowing their children to have access to.

Any respectable and caring parent, or adult come to that, should look at the film or game, check the certificate, and read the blurb to see if it is suitable for children. When I’ve bought a game or film for children in my family, or friend’s children, I do this exact thing, isn’t it my responsibility and the parents to do just that?

So why is Manhunt 2 getting the brunt of this? Why is a videogame created in Britain, indeed in Scotland, being judged as being worse than films like Faces of Death?

Why can I watch real life executions on the BBFC 18 rated film Faces of Death but not play a computer game that has computer images, characters and storyline that is so obviously not reality?

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