Saturday, July 28, 2007

Me Me Eff Cee

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Re-reading this old post (it's not vanity, it's self-improvement) reminded me that the researchers from the BBFC were also on the receiving end of my Syriana rant, which made it in to their report on why gamers like games. If you want to see just how much more rambling and garbled I am in speech rather than on paper, you can compare and contrast on p83. The rest of it is much more worthy of a read.

Re-reading its conclusions (summarised here) makes an interesting backdrop for the more recent Manhunt 2 fuss, which the board refused classification, effectively preventing its sale in the UK.

Here's BBFC's director David Cooke's response to the research:

People who do not play games raise concerns about their engrossing nature, assuming that players are also emotionally engrossed. This research suggests the opposite; a range of factors seems to make them less emotionally involving than film or television. The adversaries which players have to eliminate have no personality and so are not real and their destruction is therefore not real, regardless of how violent that destruction might be. This firm grasp on reality seems to extend to younger players, but this is no reason to allow them access to adult rated games, as they themselves often admit that they find the violence in games like Manhunt very upsetting.

And here's his response, two month later, to Manhunt 2:

Manhunt 2 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... There is sustained and cumulative casual sadism in the way in which these killings are committed, and encouraged, in the game... Although the difference should not be exaggerated the fact of the game’s unrelenting focus on stalking and brutal slaying and the sheer lack of alternative pleasures on offer to the gamer, together with the different overall narrative context, contribute towards differentiating this submission from the original Manhunt game.
Against this background, the Board’s carefully considered view is that to issue a certificate to Manhunt 2, on either platform, would involve a range of unjustifiable harm risks, to both adults and minors, within the terms of the Video Recordings Act, and accordingly that its availability, even if statutorily confined to adults, would be unacceptable to the public.

The disparity between those two stances makes me angry, but thinking about why it makes me angry has made me happy. I'm angry because the reasoning for the rejection is the kind of paternalistic, interventionalist patter which always gets me hot under the collar. But that means what makes me frustrated about this decision is not videogames being scapegoated, misunderstood or persecuted, but the usual, unresolvable objections to censorship in general. Cooke isn't saying that Manhunt is especially dangerous because it's a game, he's just saying - as he is called upon to do with all the material the BBFC examines - that he thinks we'd all be better off without it. And he could well be right. From what I've seen of Manhunt 2 (which isn't much, but might be more than the BBFC's 34mins 43s), it's lost the sharp moral focus that made the original so compellingly uncomfortable, and that means that all you're left with is the shlock.

But does rejecting it on those terms mean we're still left with a double standard between what's judged acceptable for game violence and film violence? Absolutely. But for all my free speech posturing, I can't help but wish we'd drawn the line for film somewhere before we hit Hostel II, on whose relentlessly nasty 8462 feet (and 12 frames) the BBFC didn't inflict a single cut. How much will we really lose by calling a halt to gaming's love affair with mindless (rather than mindful, a distinction the BBFC has shown itself well able to make) violence here?