Written by: The CinCitizens
In a special two-part event, the CC2k Gaming Geeks address multiple angles of the controversial issue of violence in video games. In this first installment the team looks at the ratings systems here and abroad, and our man down under defends violent video games.
Click HERE to read Part 2!
The Rating Game
Much like Hollywood, the video gaming industry has adopted a rating system for consumers to know how appropriate games are for players based on their age. You might be aware of the fact that here in the United States that responsibility falls to the ESRB – Entertainment Software Rating Board. Much like the MPAA, the ESRB has several classifications for games ranging from EC – Early Childhood (suitable for children aged 3 years and older and often educational in nature), all the way to M – Mature (not suitable for children under 17) and AO – Adults Only (unsuitable for minors and often pornographic in nature or featuring extreme depictions of violence, blood, and gore).
Although the rating system here in America is totally voluntary, practically every game publisher submits titles to the ESRB for rating prior to domestic release. It is interesting to note that the ESRB has only ever handed down AO ratings strictly for violent content twice, for The Punisher (2005) and Manhunt 2 (2007); however, both of these games were edited by their developers in order to receive the less restrictive M rating. So you might be thinking to yourself, “the system works, and as long as I’m over 17, I never have to worry about not be able to get my hands on a game.” That would be true, but not everyone has it as good as us Yanks.
Mike Leader, our resident Nintendo know-it-all from across the pond, tells a different story in merry-old England:
Video Games in the UK are primarily rated by PEGI (Pan-European Games Information), which is a system endorsed by the majority of European countries that only DESCRIBES and RATES games. Purely informative, they cannot ban or edit games, and they have no legal standing in the UK (i.e. if it has a 12+ PEGI rating, an 11 year old can still buy it).
However, there's a law that a video game shall be rated by the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) if it contains: human sexual activity, acts of gross violence towards humans or animals, criminal activity, and/or drug use.
The BBFC rates on the same certification scale as you get at the cinema – over here it is 12, 15, & 18. Because of the specific content that requires a game to go to the BBFC, these games almost always receive 15s or 18s. This IS legally binding. The BBFC aren't too bad, although there are certain flashpoints of questionable practice. Video games are a young form of entertainment and the moral panic around their "corrupting" aspects, and apparent links with real-world violence, have forced the BBFC's hand in a couple of situations.
They have only ever banned 2 games. Carmaggedon in 1997 was refused certification, and currently there is a long-running battle between the BBFC and Rockstar Games since Manhunt 2 was refused classification last year. However, the moral panic around certain games like Bully, Hitman, and the Grand Theft Auto series has resulted in politicians and pressure groups trying to get their own way. Bully, for example, was cleared with a 15 rating; however, a member of parliament tried to get the game banned and the computer sales chains Pc World and Currys have refused to stock it. Equally, after a claim that a teenager allegedly murdered a friend after playing Manhunt, retail chains GAME and Dixons stopped stocking the game (it's still pretty hard to find). Editor's note: the following video is a compilation of executions from Manhunt. It may not be suitable for all viewers.
This is pretty much the "situation" in the UK. The moral panic around certain games has obviously led the BBFC to be hard on Manhunt 2 (even though an 18 certificate should be enough to allow adults and only adults the legal right to play the game). There is a disparity appearing between the BBFC's attitude towards violence and explicit content in films and their attitude towards computer games.
Meanwhile Ed Van Velsen, our PC gaming power player, tells of a similar situation Down Under:
When it comes to games in Australia, classifying a game is a strict process, with one major flaw. First of all, each game is sent to a panel called the OFLC (Office of Film and Literature Classification) and goes through a thorough review for content in order to set the correct classification. Every single game, in every Australian state, is subject to the same National Classification Code. Obviously, games with extreme violence, sex, or drug content will be closely looked at. This is where the system fails. In Australia, books, albums, TV and movies can (if warranted) be rated as "R 18+ Restricted”, meaning no one under the age of 18 is allowed to buy, rent, or exhibit such content. Games however, can't. Just so we’re clear on this, if a game is reviewed and deemed in excess of a rating of MA15+ (Mature – not suitable for children under 15), similar to the ESRB rating of T (Teen – not suitable for children under 13), it receives a rating of RC – Refused Classification. This means the game, by not being rated, is effectively banned throughout the entire country. For this to be overturned, a bill will have to go through both houses of parliament with huge support. The bottom line is, don't look forward to games like Manhunt or Soldier of Fortune: Payback down here anytime soon.
In Defense of Violent Video Games
Ed Van Velsen:
Shooting, stabbing, slashing, bashing and even dismembering, these are just some of the actions that are performed in some of the most praised games of 2007. We all have played a violent video game; however, have you taken notice of what actions you actually perform in these games? When was the last time you sat down to play a family game? Our youth are more violent and untamed than ever before. Is this caused by the extreme content and violence that “plagues” video games today?
In the June 2007 edition of the Toronto Sun, an article was published about the Montreal college shootings and about the murderer that apparently, played video games. Police had found that the suspect had violent video games in his home. However, the Toronto Sun turned that into an article of hate and disgust towards one of the largest entertainment industries in the world today: Video Games.
Like plenty of you, I have been playing video games since a young age. Games that involve weapons and heated fire fights, or “shooters,” make up half of the video games released in the past decade. Add to that the fact that there are more “fragile,” younger gamers than ever before. Does the abundance of both mean we should review the state of video games today? I think not!
The numbers of incidents, similar to the Montreal College shootings, are only very small. If you shoot a fellow human being in a video game, would you do it in real life? I doubt it. Most people play video games to escape reality, experience something unknown to them, or to simply be entertained, not to recreate the same actions in their daily life. Yes, certain games are inappropriate to younger gamers but that’s where parents have a responsibility to step in and parent their children.
These are the glory years of gaming. There are more video game developers than ever before. Not to mention that video games are more popular, accessible, and entertaining too. Restrictions on violent content should never get in the way of creating breathtaking pieces of interactive art, which are Video Games.
So there you have it. You know the boards responsible for rating games, and the content in games that can warrant restrictive ratings, or in some countries a ban. You've heard from one gamer arguing in defense of violent video games. Join us next week as the discussion continues, and the team argues the beneficial qualities of video games, looks at the suspect double-standard for violence in video games in the UK, and more!
Got a topic you'd like to see covered in The Weekly Guide to Gaming? A game you'd like us to review? Do you have a love of video games and a talent for writing, and want to join the team and contribute to the weekly column? Send requests and inquiries to bigross [at] cincity2000 [dot] com.