All Aboard The Censorship (part two)

So we now see, after reading part one, that interactivity being used as a justification for the study concentrating on games falls apart on close examination of the study itself. Which begs the question: why did TRIAL and Pro Juventute choose to concentrate on games? One possibility, is that these organisations – previously almost unheard of outside of their native Switzerland – wanted more visibility on the international stage. As certain politicians and bland daytime TV ‘celebrities’ know well, video games remain an easy populist target for criticism (though much less than they were ten years ago). But there is another, wholly more admirable possibility, suggested by another paragraph from the introduction:

“The link with reality is in fact so direct that nowadays several armies rely on video games both as a recruiting and as a training tool. Military from some states put video games on their websites to give the viewers a virtual experience of what being a soldier is like. Such games allow them to virtually participate in trainings, be deployed on missions, fire weapons, take decisions in unexpected battlefield situations, etc. Military also use video games, or “simulations” more and more often as a training tool in addition to “on the field” training. This demonstrates the impact of video games on the players and their behaviour in reality.”

The basic idea of tighter regulation on war games, from the viewpoint of them being used as military recruitment tools, is sound. However, this study seems very uninformed and confused when it comes to what, exactly, it sees and does. For starters, it seems that the authors have great difficulty in distinguishing between military combat simulators and commercially available video games – which is a huge and important difference. They also mention video games being made available to play on army websites – but you’re not going to get Operation Flashpoint or Modern Warfare 2 as a free – to – play flash game on any army’s site. Most army games nowadays have military or ex – military advisers involved during development, which is worth bearing in mind. But rather than pretending all soldiers across the planet play by the rules, perhaps a better suggestion would be to stop perpetuating the myth that armed combat is all about riding in helicopters and high – fiving your buddies; and walking away from battles with barely a scratch. It would also be worth, just every now and again, pointing out the fact that the enemy think they’re doing the right thing every last bit as much as ‘our boys’ do. And how about reminding people that sometimes, people like the Brits and Yanks, you know… actually start wars? And that when it’s Them that started the trouble, it’s often Us (usually the American government) that put Them into power in the first place? Saddam Hussein, ever heard of him? But I digress.

The point is, every person or organisation that calls for a game to be censored or banned has some kind of personal motive. Often, as I have already mentioned, it’s a glory hunting politician or lawyer, frustrated at the fact that they’ve been out of the public eye for 48 hours. Can be a vote winner, too (but in a few generations, that’s going to change completely). As I’ve previously posited, it is fear of video games that leads to irrational criticism of them.

By and large, it is personal gain of some description that is the engine driving ludicrous machines of hate aimed at the games industry. More votes, more viewers, more papers sold, more airtime…for me, me, me. It’s nice to see this attitude backfire which, on rare occasions, it does.

Manhunt 2 encountered problems getting rated across the world, but was eventually released in almost all significant territories. It encountered a lot of trouble in the UK, when the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) initially refused to rate it at all. Rockstar offered them a watered down version – but again, it was refused a classification, making it illegal to sell in the UK. So Rockstar went to the Video Appeals Committee, who overturned the decision, and forced the BBFC to award Manhunt 2 an 18 certificate. The BBFC fought the decision, but lost; and with much gritting of teeth, allowed the game to be released. When declaring their intention to fight the appeal decision, the BBFC’s statement included this interesting paragraph:

“The VAC judgement, if allowed to stand, would have fundamental implications with regard to all the Board’s decisions, including those turning upon questions of unacceptable levels of violence.”

Basically, the BBFC (who classified the first game without such a fight) made a last – ditch attempt to save face – and failed miserably. Whether or not this played a part in video games being taken away from them in the UK the year after the game’s release (all games in the UK are now rated by PEGI) is something we’ll never know for sure.

Censorship, or calls for it, in games can sometimes be down to the erroneous belief that they are played almost exclusively by children. Indeed, at one point, the human rights study I have been talking about says that the games they are concerned about are played by “thousands of children and young people”. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt however, as the age certification for each game is stated, and therefore acknowledged, throughout the study. There can be no doubt how the Australian censors feel about video games, however.

The OFLC (Office of Film and Literature Classification) in Australia is stricter than most other similar bodies elsewhere in the world, but is unforgiving when it comes to video games. Incredibly, there exists no R18+ certificate for video games in Australia. This is why games rated ’18’ or ‘R’ elsewhere in the world are heavily censored in Australia, or fail to be released in the territory at all. This attitude seems to make it clear that the official stance in Australia is that video games are for kids; but there is a growing movement to push for an R18+ certification for video games.

There are some people who call for an end to censorship altogether; allow anything and everything to be released and, so long as it has the appropriate age rating, allow people to decide what they find acceptable for themselves. This is lazy thinking, however. Concentrating on games for the purpose of this article, some degree of censorship and regulation is not only desirable, but also necessary for a strong and respected gaming industry. I’m not talking about stamping out rude words, and removing blood and gore from violent games. See how we don’t have child molestation simulators, gay and black extermination FPS games, and war games with FMV of real executions on shop shelves? That’s censorship and regulation, and it’s a good thing.

Do you think that nobody would make those games if they were allowed to? Really? Definitely not respectable publishers and developers; but the world is an ugly place, and the sad truth is that each of those games would have a market for two – bit companies to exploit.

Overzealous censorship is the problem. Next time you hear about an individual or organisation calling for a game to be banned or censored, ask yourself: why? What’s in it for them? You’ll find that they’re very rarely concerned about other people…

Playing By The Rules

MCV: BBFC Applies For Official Judicial Review On Manhunt 2 Ruling

OFLC Wikipedia Page

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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