After Lengthy Legal Battle, Manhunt 2 Ban Lifted in U.K.

March 14, 2008 -
British gamers with an urge to play Manhunt 2 will now have their chance.

As reported by The Guardian, a ban placed on Rockstar's gory sequel last summer has been lifted by the Video Appeals Committee (VAC). The game was originally refused classification - essentially, banned - by the British Board of Film and Literature Classification on June 19th of last year. At the same time, the ESRB slapped an Adults Only rating on Manhunt 2, negating its viability as a commercial product in the United States.

In October the BBFC also rejected a toned-down version of the game, although the edited edition was able to gain a M (17 and older) rating from the ESRB for the U.S. market.

In December, Rockstar won its appeal before the VAC, but the BBFC appealed that decision to England's High Court. The Court ruled that the VAC should reconsider the issue. That has now taken place and the VAC's decision means Manhunt 2 can be sold in the U.K. with an 18+ rating. Addressing the decision, a Rockstar statement read in part:
We are pleased that the VAC has reaffirmed its decision recognising that Manhunt 2 is well within the bounds established by other 18+ rated entertainment.

Lawrence Abramson, an attorney who represented Rockstar during the legal proceedings, added:
The [BBFC] system works in films, but the gameplaying experience is different.

Comments

Just to clarify the Censorship/Classification debate: the BBFC clearly has responsibility for both under the legislation; namely the Video Recordings Act 1984. From the BBFC website again -

'In 1984 Parliament passed the Video Recordings Act. This act stated that, subject to certain exemptions, video recordings offered for sale or hire commercially in the UK must be classified by an authority designated by the Secretary of State. The President and Vice Presidents of the BBFC were so designated, and charged with applying the new test of 'suitability for viewing in the home'. At this point the Board's title was changed to British Board of Film Classification to reflect the fact that classification plays a far larger part in the Board's work than censorship.'

You cite one part of the website, I cite another.

http://www.bbfc.co.uk/policy/policy-rejects.php

@EKZ

I look forward to it, another time on another thread perhaps :)

@ EZK

And all that'll happen is that we repat this lengthy process. As has been stated above, both times the BBFC tried to prevent a game from reaching store shelves (Carmageddon 2 and Manhunt 2) they've ultimately failed. If that's not legal precedent, I don't know what is.

@ Colonel Finn - [applause]

@ lumi - [applause]

@ Jabrwock, Erik, illspirit etc: I bet you don't even own passports.

Conclusion: The British legal system has been held up to be valid, credible and pretty bloody water-tight. Just like we've been saying all along. Shock, horror: the UK doesn't turn out to comprise a City17-esque society after all. Now go back to sleep and watch American Gladiators or something.

"You cite one part of the website, I cite another."

Again, you're missing the point. In fact, all you're doing is reinforcing mine, that the BBFC is not sure what it's job is. In my link, they state they are all for adults having "freedom of choice", and that their job is to "inform the public". But in your link, they state "unless the BBFC decides that adults shouldn't have freedom of choice".

So in other words, they're all for just being a classification system, unless they feel they know best, in which case they feel they should act as a censor as well.

Maybe they should put "unless we decided what's best for you" as part of their mission statement...
-- If your wiimote goes snicker-snack, check your wrist-strap...

When the BBFC was given its current powers in the 1980s the nature of the debate in Parliament was focused on the censorship issue. The treatment of so-called 'video nasties', such as 'Driller Killer' et al, created a political impetus for action. It was also clear that material to be viewed in the home was to be treated differently than cinema exhibition; as cinemas were seen as controlled environments where age restrictions could be more easily enforced.
Cinema censorship was traditionally handled by local Govt but new legal powers had to be granted to allow for the growth of home video. It is these rules that now apply to digital media distributed in the UK.
The BBFC's role has always been driven by a censorship role (an political pressure focusing on 'harmful' material), but it also understood that the majority of material would be suitable for adults and therefore classification would be the norm.

@MonkeyThumbs

Correct, now what does my not having a passport have to do with anything? Don't tell me you're going to pull a US-style "you're not from here so you're not allowed to judge". ;)

The legal system has indeed been held up to be valid. I'm questioning the motives of the organization that required Rockstar to invoke the legal system in the first place...
-- If your wiimote goes snicker-snack, check your wrist-strap...

Time for them to release the Unrated Uncut Uncensored Developer Addition for download only for PC.

"we provide media industries with the security and confidence of cost-effective, publicly trusted regulation and help to protect providers of moving image content from inadvertent breaches of UK law. "

What do you call that line then?

A classification decision is refused if the material is found to breach UK law.

I will agree with Jabrwock on one thing, MonkeyThumbs post had more than a hint of flame ;)

@GusTavToo

Thanks for the quick sum up.

Unfortunately, the BBFC has used that "classification is the norm" as their defense for censoring MH2. Essentially arguing "we've only censored two games, what's the big deal?"

The question floating around the industry though, is why the BBFC feels the need to wander into the realm of morally questionable video games, when it feels quite content to stamp "18+" on morally questionable movies and the like. Clearly it feels that classification is the norm for movies (it's even "un-banning" old movies it refused classification for in the past), yet it's "grudgingly" allowing a classification for a video game, but only because it was spanked by two higher ups.
-- If your wiimote goes snicker-snack, check your wrist-strap...

@ Jon Kanders

You are so right about them releasing the full uncut version for PC since any kind of game is allowed for the PC. They should have all the exclusives from both the Wii and PS2 versions of Manhunt 2 for the PC version.

All of us gamers should pressure Rockstar Games to release the uncut version of Manhunt 2 for the PC to give them a better image for the fans.

@Jabrwock

Like it did with Murder Set Pieces?

@Buncha Kneejerks

"What do you call that line then?"

Clearly they don't apply that "rule" consistently across the board (see Saw movies fiasco), so they obviously believe that "inadvertent breaches of UK law" is subjective.
-- If your wiimote goes snicker-snack, check your wrist-strap...

I repeat. Murder Set Pieces.

Well this is good news.

@GusTavToo

What "commercial risk" are you talking about?

@Buncha Kneejerks

Here's 3 examples: Doom, Postal, and Ethnic Cleansing. The latter of which doesn't just push the boundaries, it jumped off the cliff.

Yes, a mainstream costs ridiculous money to develop, but a small team of people could develop and publish a simple and/or crappy game for almost nothing aside from wasting spare time on it. In the case of Ethnic Cleansing (and other equally as despicable games), it's distributed in part via independent record labels to small shops which sell skinhead music and books without a rating. To the best of my knowledge, this would be quite illegal in the UK.

Likewise, if the developer of a homebrew like Super Columbine Massacre RPG wanted to press discs and could find shops that would sell it, he could do so without prior restraint from the government.

And, no, I did not realize the BBFC has to refund the cost of the appeal. I suppose that does change things slightly.

"Like it did with Murder Set Pieces"

Ok, so now we have a movie example of the BBFC going against it's own "mission statement" (which as I've pointed out, is clearly in contradiction of it's "policies")...
-- If your wiimote goes snicker-snack, check your wrist-strap...

Well I'm happy the courts have corrected the BBFC's over-zealous stance. I feel a bit better about our national checks and balances.

Regarding supposed "UK hating" and "group think" I've seen some crying wolf in my time but this is ridiculous. These comments are obviously intended to insult the people you disagree with and for what? Because you got over excited in an argument (which ultimately was lost)?

For the record I was one of the people criticising the BBFC and I'm English so it's not all down to the US contributors having a go. Nor, incidentally, did I feel anyone said anything particularly out of line about the UK.

I tried at all times to explain my objections to the BBFC's position and was as reasonable as I thought anyone could be about it too. Indeed, if "group think" was an issue I'd like to point out that I felt pressure from fellow UK posters who seemed to think I should agree with them on the basis of my nationality; accusing people of following a crowd cuts both ways...

Last but not least the BBFC was found to be at fault, thus it deserved at least some criticism from anyone capable of sensible critical thought (sic). That being the case getting upset because people put the boot in seems rather silly.

Gift.

PS I am rather proud of our courts on this occasion through :D

@Monkeythumbs

"how you can expect to hold forth on topics regarding any other country in what you perceive as a worldly, informed manner when yo0?ve never even left your own - not even once"

I had no idea visiting Yarmouth in Norfolk for a vacation could empower me with such knowledge. :P

"That said, thier semi-legislative, semi-descriptive position is not a part of that problem. That system works just fine and this ordeal has only shown that they’re not the overly powerful big brother entity so many of your cohorts have inferred them to be."

Never said they were. I'm just questioning whether they know what their purpose is. Because on the one hand they're advertising themselves as an information source. But on the other hand they're acting like they know what's best, and apparently need the courts to remind them of this. So what do THEY think their purpose is?
-- If your wiimote goes snicker-snack, check your wrist-strap...

@ Jabrwock

Yarmouth totally counts - anywhere, even Mexico, counts. It's those people that only have the culture of their birth as their sole frame of reference to whom I hold objection.

Are the BBFC slightly schizophrenic? Absolutely - it comes with the territory. Are they perfect? Far from it (although I'm glad it;s not up to me to decide how to fix them). Have they come out of this smelling like roses? Absolutely not, they should never have appealed the VAC.

Do they know what's best? I've got to be honest, they're more informed than most and I do agree with 99% of their ratings. Comments on GP.com actually changed my mind from initially supporting the MH2 ban to being totally against it, however I don't think the BBFC need to be replaced. They just need to realise that they can't get away with drawing lines in the sand in a society as liberal and informed as the UK, even if they think they're doing the right thing.

Im just glad i dont have to listen to this rambling anymore, the game isnt a bestseller. (even though i want it anyway :))

Now whens it coming out?

@Monkeythumbs

Wait, wouldn't I just be exposed to like-minded tourists if I went to Mexico?

I think I'd much prefer to do what I am now, having discussion with people who actually live across the pond, rather than visit a tourist trap and pretend I've been "exposed" to the local ways of thinking... ;)

I don't believe the BBFC should be scrapped. I'm in total agreement with you that they need to realize they can't draw lines in the sand. What I'm saying is that the BBFC needs to realize this, and it's clear from their comments that they don't feel they should do any soul searching, that the only reason they've erased the current line in the sand was because the courts told them to.
-- If your wiimote goes snicker-snack, check your wrist-strap...

@ Jabrwock

I agree, from their statement it does seem like they feel they're still in the right and are being forced to play by the rules against their will. I would love for them to be interviewed now, to determine their position and se whether or not they have a point. Bear in mind this is all against the backdrop of the Byron report, with rumours that the BBFC might be replaced with either a pan-European or (worse yet) Governmental agency. They're probably feeling very threatened right now - not a good thing, as the BBFC remain the best system going, IMHO.

As for the travelling remark - there is no substitute for first-hand experience, watered down or not. In that particular example, it would allow you to witness first-hand the influence of American culture on foreign societies, if nothing else. Nothing broadens the mind like seeing the world, although I agree that the internet is a better substitute than none at all.

:)

"In that particular example, it would allow you to witness first-hand the influence of American culture on foreign societies, if nothing else."

Hehe, I get enough of that already. Ich bin Kanuk. ;)
-- If your wiimote goes snicker-snack, check your wrist-strap...

So is it the original version that will be allowed to be released or the toned down version?

I've played Manhunt 2 on a friends console and found it boring, repetitive and very unbalanced gameplay-wise so I have no intention of buying it, however I'm extremely glad the ban has now been overturned because it strikes a hammer down on those who wish to censor video games without having the faintest understanding of them or their players.

I hope Rockstar take the BBFC to the cleaners in terms of lost revenue from the delay in release. What I don't understand is why Manhunt 2 was singled out for special treatment when Condemned 2, an infinitely more violent and disturbed game, was passed as an 18 without the slightest bit of fuss.

@Jabrwock

Lets be clear, the BBFC knows what its job is, I know what its job is, the British public know what their job is and most people here knows what its job is. You can interpret a small portion of their website and ignore the rest in anyway that gives you comfort that you’re right. You know, some people can read the Koran and see justification in it for strapping some C4 to their chest and going for a ride on a bus. Perhaps they too are being selective in their interpretation, ignoring other parts that contradict their belief. That does not mean they are right. I see no more point in arguing the semantics of a small paragraph of text.

The fact is the BBFC's job is to classify media. If the media in question contravenes the Video Recordings act they are to refuse classification. History and the facts on their website back up this statement. If you wish to take issue with their wording then email them. It’s that simple.

Ohh and I am unaware of any court order ruling against the BBFC with regards to Manhunt 2. Jabrwock and Gift have both made reference to this.

Sorry the VAC, not the courts.

Gift.

Neat...I guess.

@Buncha Kneejerks

"Ohh and I am unaware of any court order ruling against the BBFC with regards to Manhunt 2. Jabrwock and Gift have both made reference to this."

The court told the VAC to review it's decision, but it did not overturn the decision, which is what the BBFC wanted. I consider that a rule against the BBFC. A "you can indeed rule overrule the BBFC, just make sure you do it properly" ruling.

"Lets be clear, the BBFC knows what its job is, I know what its job is, the British public know what their job is and most people here knows what its job is. You can interpret a small portion of their website and ignore the rest in anyway that gives you comfort that you’re right."

If you don't get what I'm trying to say, then I've failed as a communicator. I'll try to sum it up one more time.

When the stated "overall goal" of an organization conflicts with it's stated "policies", it's time to reexamine just which exactly takes precedence, and why.
-- If your wiimote goes snicker-snack, check your wrist-strap...

sorry but who the hell cares? England, you did not miss anything!

Just to clarify, it is the edited version which will see release in the UK, and it's slated for an August release on Wii, PS2 and PSP.

As to the BBFC's duties and purpose, the concept of them refusing to rate any media has long been a controversial but understood part of their actions.

It simply is the case that latterly fewer and fewer films have been refused a rating, as the general accepted standard of what is acceptable has changed over time. Manhunt 2 is extreme in both content and concept, Their wishing to refuse it a rating came as no surprise to me, even after the edits were made. This is standard practice for the BBFC, and as such I have to disagree with Jabrwock's reading of the BBFC's purpose and goals.

Also the concept of Rockstar taking the BBFC to the courts for loss of earnings is an interesting one, but I don't think it's legally sound, nor would it be a wise idea. They may an accountable independent body, but it's still not wise to make open enemies of a group you need to work with in the future.

Good news all around.

All I'm saying is they need to sync up their policies with their mission statement. It may be "understood" throughout the kingdom what the BBFC does, but to anyone else (and this might include media companies wishing to break into the UK market), it seems a bit, well, a toss up. Mostly because when you approach that figurative line in the sand, the BBFC gets all interpretive dance on you, and you're left wonder what exactly they want...
-- If your wiimote goes snicker-snack, check your wrist-strap...

@ Col. Finn

"Also the concept of Rockstar taking the BBFC to the courts for loss of earnings is an interesting one, but I don’t think it’s legally sound, nor would it be a wise idea. They may an accountable independent body, but it’s still not wise to make open enemies of a group you need to work with in the future."

A little late for that, I think, based on how sulky the BBFC is allegedly being over this.

And I still feel like people aren't on the same page with this whole "what does the BBFC do" thing.

1. Their own mission statement and policies contain a non-trivial contradiction (rating vs. censorship).
2. Their historical record undeniably includes censorship, supporting the notion that it is part of their actual duty.
3. If we accept that censorship IS a part of their actual duty, it neutralizes claims that some people have made to the contrary; that they only rate and never ban.

Regardless of whether they are meant to do so, and it seems that they feel they are, the fact of the matter is that the BBFC DOES have the power to ban games via ratings denial... which I'm pretty sure was the dispute that started all this in the first place a couple weeks ago.

Just a shame the game sucks.

Umm yay?

Umm yay?

@ Kerotan

So the reviews seem to say. If I pick up a TT/R* title any time soon, it'll be Bully. I've a decent interest in that one.

Is this the uncut version or the censored one?

@Shock and Disbelief

"Don’t bother trying to talk to Eric. He doesn’t listen."


Actually I can multitask. I can listen to someone AND think they are totally full of crap AT THE SAME TIME.

It's great that the ban was overturned. I do hope that the BBFC will at least, reluctantly, take this ruling to heart the next time that this happens.

As for the whole BBFC policies issue, looking at this from a debate perspective, Lumi, Jabrwock, and others have proved there points quet well compared to the rest of you guys. You can't simply ignore a point or evidence and deem it trival. In an offical debate, you would lose. No countries rating system is perfect and we must all understand that

My take on this issue, as far as the future of the BBFC'S role, is not one of overall policy, vis a vis classification/censorship, as that is relatively settled. The big debate is over the handling of interactive media and its comparison to film. One of the issues raised in MH2 was its 'tone'; does it matter that in a game you 'see' the actions of a killer from the perspective of 'you' undertaking the actions and making the decisions. That is different from a film in which the viewer is passive; the choices and tone being made by the Director taking the viewer on a journey unfolding the story.
As the nature of the media is so different it raises legitimate questions about the BBFC's role in justifying distinctions between decisions. The BBFC has long held that no acts are banned, per se, in media; in the sense that depictions will result in a non-classification. The key question is the 'tone' and the way that the depiction is handled.
In this way I think that one of the key issues for the future of the debate is the way in which games handle their storytelling and interactive elements. The less context which is given to the actions, including consequences for the choices made, the more likely they are to struggle when it comes to classification decisions.

"One of the issues raised in MH2 was its ‘tone’; does it matter that in a game you ’see’ the actions of a killer from the perspective of ‘you’ undertaking the actions and making the decisions."

i do totally see your point. However lets not forget that in this game you actually play from a 3rd person perspective, and the character you play as has his own name, backstory and identity.

Surely that somewhat detracts from the idea of 'you' doing the killings. When i play such games i dont see it as 'me' killing people, i see it as the character in the game doing it. And that the character in the game is a unique individual who is in no way related to myself.

Now Australia will follow suit. C'mon, the OFLC take orders from the BBFC. It's all there in the evidence.

[...] (For a sample of the press coverage, see BBC | Guardian here and here | PA | Telegraph here and here| Times Online | Wired; of the inevitably massive blog coverage, the following is the most useful: AppScout | dot.life (BBC) | crunchgear | David Russell | Escapist | Game Politics | Game Shadow | gax | gi | International Jet Trash | kotaku | overclock3d | new level gaming | psxextreme | Shane Greer | Stuff.tv | that videogame blog | Tim Almond). [...]

[...] Source: Gamepolitics  Permalink [...]

[...] Noticia no relacionada: no quería crear toda una entrada para esta noticia, pero el Tribunal Supremo del Reino Unido ha autorizado finalmente la venta de Manhunt 2 (versión censurada). La resolución es importante porque Rockstar había paralizado el lanzamiento en toda Europa hasta que se resolviera esta situación. No se sabe todavía cual será la fecha de lanzamiento, pero dado que la polémica ha ido perdiendo fuerza con el paso del tiempo, es posible que los críticos desvíen su atención hacia el más esperado Grand Theft Auto IV. [...]
 
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