Following the approval and subsequent release of Manhunt 2 in the UK (it was given the highest certificate possible, an 18 rating, as there is no AO over here), game ratings have come under fresh scrutiny. After a 9-month wait and a battle between the BBFC (the British Board of Film Classification) and Rockstar, Manhunt 2 met with mixed reviews.
I’m not sure if any of them commented on the “unremitting bleakness and callousness of tone” which David Cooke feels that the game possesses. In fact, I think they rather picked up on the repetitive gameplay and similarity to the first. In the U.S., the game was met with an A.O. certificate for Adults Only – something I’m quite happy to accept. The fact that an 18 over here is effectively the same thing leaves me wondering why the BBFC took a decision to ban it in the first place. But I digress.
Currently, eminent (and reasonably fair) investigation into these matters is being carried out in the form of the Byron review – headed up by Dr Tanya Byron. This looks into the effects of video games and content on the Internet on children. Of course, this beggars the question of why children are being assessed for content that is clearly not suitable for them (if Manhunt is involved that is).
In the UK we use BBFC legislation for games, as well as the PEGI system, which is based on a set criteria whereby publishers answer questions on the games themselves. I’m not sure that either system is fair – I mean a few people deciding for the whole of the populous? I suppose with PEGI then producers can match content to fit an age rating.
Overall, the system in the UK is liable to change, no doubt because the Byron report will be part of a government white paper. Realistically though, the whole industry (especially publishers) should really push the fact that age rating 18 games really are for 18 year olds. David Braben asked whether there should be something above 18 – well I don’t think so. Barring pornography, here in the UK we don’t have a rating above 18 for film, so why should we do so for games?
Ultimately, there’s still a prejudice surrounding the media of gaming, and that is one based on the thought that gaming is for kids. Therefore, children will play any game, even an 18 rated one. This is something I disagree with and I sincerely hope that the Byron report is fair and sensible, either forcing a change in marketing (so that games like GTA aren’t marketed to children) or ensuring that the public are educated about the medium as a whole.