Stuart Harling, currently being tried for the brutal murder of the nurse Cheryl Moss in April last year, is one of the latest figureheads of the unquestioned demonisation of video gaming in the media.
“… the defendant was a "loner and fantasist" who spent much of his time playing computer games and surfing the internet to fuel his interest in serial killers, knives, racism and pornography.”
One year later on the other side of the Atlantic, the murder of 32 people at Virginia Tech University by Cho Seung-hui was blamed on the influence of video games. In this particular case the hugely popular online shooter Counter Strike took the flak, largely thanks to the disturbingly swift cod-punditry by the infamous Jack Thompson. The well-known US anti-games campaigner once again lost no opportunity to bend a tragedy to his motives, flying in the face of a total lack of evidence: Click
The urge to jump to conclusions and strike out at the nearest scapegoat is familiar, and echoes the media coverage in 2004 after the murder of Stefan Pakeerah by Warren Leblanc in a Leicester Park. In this case it was the turn of Manhunt, an undoubtedly violent game by the developers of the Grand Theft Auto franchise, Rockstar. Stefan’s mother, Giselle, called for a ban on violent games as she saw Warren’s alleged obsession with the game as a core factor to his actions, despite the fact that the police discounted this possibility based on the fact that the murder was motivated by robbery:
which is more likely?
This didn’t stop several retailers withdrawing the game from sale in a bid to avoid unwanted negative attention.
This week’s news shows us that this time around, retailers may not even have the choice. The BBFC has rejected Manhunt 2 from gaining a certificate, making it illegal to sell in the UK and the first case of a game being totally banned to my knowledge.
The game has received an ‘Adults Only’ rating in the USA, (presumably equivalent to US cinema’s ‘NC-17’ or the UK’s ‘18’) but seeing as it has been developed for the Playstation 2 and Wii, and both Sony and Nintendo refuse to carry ‘AO’ rated games on their systems, this too is an effective ban on release.
Predictably, multitudes of enraged net-denizens have seen fit to lambaste the actions of the BBFC, and indeed of ‘the Man’, despite obviously having never played the game for themselves. There could very well be sound reasons behind the decision, but I can’t see how Manhunt 2 managed to distinguish itself from so many games for which violence is the sole raison d’etre, particularly the original game. Is it more depraved than Hostel? (a film I’ve not yet seen, merely because it seems like an excuse to see what torture scenes they can come up with, as opposed to something like Jason X which revels in violence and death scenes but does so in such a way that it’s hard to deny at least the attempt at black comedy)
At this point in the 5th generation of consoles, it’s hard to say what the qualitative differences are between gaming and films in terms of their effect upon the audience, but I can’t help but think that this is a 21st century version of the urge to cover up the penises of statues lest they tempt maidens into wanton acts of depravity.
Sure, that comparison is a bit facetious, but I think it’s worth comparing the cause/effect relationship. The existence of myriad examples of Beatles recordings doesn’t make me a massive fan, despite the fact that I like them. But the person who does take a big shine to the Fab Four is likely to spend a good deal of time and money tracking down all the different recordings they can lay their hands on.
A propensity for violence may not be in the same class of leisure-time pursuits, but it is hard to deny that someone interested in maiming or killing their fellow man is likely to hold an interest in violent games and movies, serial killers, weapons and suchlike. Most of these things are easily obtainable to all, but this doesn’t manufacture more psychos. In essence, the material does not generate the obsession, the obsession leads to seeking out the material.
On the other hand, in a move of heroic audacity, there is the possibility that Rockstar have purposely manufactured a totally OTT version of their game in order to garner reams of free publicity, before appealing to the review boards and submitting the ‘edited’/original version of the game, and then cashing in. This is highly unlikely however, in light of the fact that review copies had previously been sent to critics, offering the chance of highlighting such a scam, and perhaps more importantly the acres of negative commentary over the past months concerning the PS3 is likely to have dampened any enthusiasm for such a risky manoeuvre.
Besides the general criticism of the machine’s price-point, the lack of decent software, the hard evidence of slow sales (in the US in May, the PS3 barely shifted half what the 360 did, and less than a quarter of Wii units, whilst the first week of June saw the Wii outsell the PS3 8 to 1 in Japan) and the backfiring publicity stunts such as the fake fake blog and European God of War 2 launch party, the problems of Sony have been compounded by yet another poorly conceived sideswipe at video gaming.
The fuss over Manchester Cathedral’s use as a setting for part of Resistance: Fall of Man seems particularly bizarre.
Besides the fact that the game is undeniable science fiction, with the violence at the centre of the dispute aimed at the invading hordes of aliens into WW2-era Britain, games have featured real-life backdrops, including places of worship, for years, particularly in the many popular World War 2 shooters and strategy games.
Churches and the Vatican have long been the source of inspiration for many a violent and gory horror film, and it seems bizarre that the Church of England would choose this game at this time to pick a fight.
The fact that it gets mentioned in Parliament highlights the dangers of well-meaning but ignorant people sticking their oar in – yes violent games that are becoming increasingly photo-realistic may have an adverse affect on some young people who might play them (often despite these games being rated out of these children’s hands, blithely supplied by parents who give their kids GTA to shut them up on the one hand, and then open the Daily Mail floodgates with the other), but in the absence of any evidence whatsoever, why should games be treated any differently from movies and music?
Time and time again, otherwise rational human beings completely purge their minds of the idea that their fellow man was quite capable of committing heinous crimes in the days before games, movies and mass literacy, and in no smaller proportion than today.
After that more heavyweight fare, you may be in the need of light refreshment, and so I point to this video which shows a gamer in the making:
Also, feel free to have a read of my latest movie reviews, all accessible via the handy links section to the right, newest reviews are from the Duelist on up.
Apart from the viewing of movies, I’ve had my time eaten up thanks to my cave-in purchase of a PS2. I’ve already clocked the very violent, enjoyable and 18-rated God of War, and now I’m a good 30 hours into Final Fantasy 12, so I’m quite glad it’s been a rainy summer thus far.