VIOLENCE IN GAMES: The BBFC

Ben Parfitt
VIOLENCE IN GAMES: The BBFC
What problems do more realistic graphics pose for the BBFC when it comes to rating violent games?

I am assuming that when you talk about 'realism' you mean the degree to which a game is capable of showing the visceral aftermath of a violent attack? Clearly this ‘process’ does and always has had a bearing on our decisions, though other factors including context (is it sadistic or in self-defence?), frequency, genre and duration of such an attack also carries weight. The fact that contemporary games look and sound much more ‘realistic’ than, say, five years ago does not necessarily pose additional problems for us.

And the same for a 'motion-sensing' controller – like that found on Nintendo's Wii?

Under certain circumstances and in certain contexts it is possible that motion-sensing devices might have an effect on category decisions. It is not a prime consideration for us at the moment and has not affected any Wii games we have passed so far. We certainly didn’t single out the Wii version of MH2 from the PS2 version on the basis that users could simulate the delivery of a blow more realistically than the hand-controller of the PS2.

Indeed, motion-sensing devices are nothing new. Prior to the release of the Wii nobody had ever expressed concern that one could buy peripherals such as pistols or flight/driving controls to add to the game experience.

Are a higher percentage of games 'violent' now than five years ago?

No. If anything, the number of available platforms plus the introduction of online gaming may give the impression that there are more violent games around than is actually the case.

You are are preparing to review your guidelines for games to help differentiate them from how you rate films. Will this be noticeable when it comes to rating games?

We have not reviewed our guidelines on games yet. This will form part of a review of all of the guidelines over the next year. In any event, we are not harsher on games than we are on films though problems generally arise where it can be difficult to make a contextual defence for a game as opposed to a film.

Many game narratives are often fractured and detached from the interactive element of the game, making it difficult to see them as a whole, coherent piece. Trying to understand the context of a 40 plus hour game (even with a storyline) is very different from understanding a 90 minute movie.

Does the interactivity of violent games mean that their influence differs to violent films?

The Board is narrative/context sensitive in its deliberations.  Interactivity may have an influence in certain contexts though our recent research seems to suggest that this is not a key issue for most users.  Where ‘interactivity’ can be an issue is the question of who the player identifies with.

You rejected a revised version of Manhunt 2, whilst the US’s ESRB granted it a mature rating. Rockstar has told us that both versions were identical. Would you say that you are more stringent than your peers over the pond?

We classify for a UK audience and we make different decisions about films from those made by the MPAA, sometimes taking a tougher line with violent films. The BBFC operates on a quasi-legislative basis and has at its disposal a number of sanctions available to it (cuts, reject, etc) authorised by that legislation. The ESRB has no such measures available to it and, more importantly, is bound by US First Amendment which makes it impossible for them to ban games. 

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