Manhunt 2 and Censorship

I’ve been pretty busy for the past few days and I’m still catching up with the stuff that happened last week. Like the Manhunt 2 furore.

For those of you that don’t know/care, last week, the Irish Film Censor’s Office decided to make a prohibition order against the upcoming game, Manhunt 2, making it the first videogame ever banned in Ireland. A moot point, since over in the US, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board gave Manhunt 2 an Adults Only (AO) rating and the three console manufacturers have said that they will not allow AO-rated games to be released for their systems.

”Civil Liberties”

Anyway, you can can imagine the the reactions the the IFCO’s decision. An anonymous commenter on IT Law Ireland:

So lets ban any story, film, news report which contains violence and go about life in ignorance, as they want us to. God help us all, next thing banned will be the great sculpture of David done by Michelangelo because it contains nudity.

. And naturally, boards.ie went into hysterics. My favourite quote from the 7-page long Manhunt 2 thread being:

Personally, I think the idea of completely banning any game from a country is an outrage, and a blatant infringement of civil liberty.

That still makes me giggle.

Strangely, I find myself agreeing with the censor. In their statement regarding the prohibition order, they said

IFCO recognizes that in certain films, DVDs and video games, strong graphic violence may be a justifiable element within the overall context of the work. However, in the case of Manhunt 2, IFCO believes that there is no such context, and the level of gross, unrelenting and gratuitous violence is unacceptable.

And you know what? This all sounds perfectly reasonable to me. John Kelleher has proven himself to be an extremely liberal censor, and prohibition orders are typically reserved for the most hardcore porno. Think about it like this - this is the film censor that let Hostel through. This means that Hostel, one of the most brutal exercises in Gorenography I have ever seen, has more of a context for its violence than Manhunt 2. (For reference, here is their ruling - ‘strong’ across the board.)

I also agree with the censor because I am not convinced that, on its own, classification of movies or games is an effective way of preventing children from being exposed to indecent material - I just don’t think it actually works. As someone who was exposed to a ridiculous amount of horror films as a child (thanks, Gar, for letting me watch the Exorcist at age 5), I believe that if you don’t want children being exposed to something, you should make it as difficult as possible for them to get their hands on it. In most cases, by banning it.

This goes double for videogames, where lazy parents often dismiss the graphic content of games simply because they are ‘games’ and will happily buy Grand Theft Auto for their 10-year old just to keep him quiet for a few hours.

Hardware Solution

The big “however” at the end of all this is that all this could be easily avoided if the rating system was used in conjunction with parental controls. These days, most media-playing devices (including modern games consoles) have parental controls built in. If you want to watch a movie or play a game above a certain age-rating, you have to enter a password. But the problem here is that hardly anyone uses these parental controls because hardly anyone knows about them.

Maybe it’s time they were turned on by default, and bugger the inconvenience?