On Tuesday, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) announced that it had banned the sale of Manhunt 2, a video game produced by Rockstar Games.
The game is a sequel to the 2003 original, Manhunt, which at its release was given an "18" classification by the BBFC. The new release features a murder spree by an amnesiac scientist and a psychotic killer from an insane asylum, in which they use a variety of weapons to commit increasingly gruesome murders.
"Rejecting a work is a very serious action and one which we do not take lightly," said BBFC Director David Cooke. He went on to say that the BBFC does prefer to recommend cuts or modifications in the material to remove content that violates the BBFC's Guidelines, but that such steps were not possible in the case of Manhunt 2.
"Manhunt 2 is distinguishable from recent high-end video games," Cooke said, "by its unremitting bleakness and callousness of tone in an overall game context which constantly encourages visceral killing with exceptionally little alleviation or distancing. There is sustained and cumulative casual sadism in the way in which these killings are committed, and encouraged, in the game."
On Tuesday, the Irish Film Censor's Office followed suit, marking the first time that Ireland has banned the release of a video game. In a statement posted to its Web site, the Censor's Office said that it "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."
Video game ratings in the United States are determined by the Entertainment Software Rating Board, a self-regulatory organization created by the video game industry following public and governmental outcry over earlier violent games, including Mortal Kombat and Night Trap. The ESRB has no authority to ban a game, but can assign it an "Adults Only" rating, which will keep the game off of most retail shelves.
Rated 'Adults Only' in U.S.
In an e-mailed statement by Eliot Mizrachi, ESRB's Assistant Director for Public Relations and Marketing Communications, ESRB President Patricia Vance acknowledged that Manhunt 2 has in fact been given an AO rating by the Board.
"The ratings assigned by ESRB are based on the consensus of our raters," Vance said, "who consider several factors including not only the content itself, but also elements such as the reward system, context, and degree of player control. It should be noted that this is not the first time that an AO rating has been assigned for violent content, nor will it likely be the last."
Vance said that it would be inappropriate to comment further because Rockstar is still considering whether to resubmit a modified version of the game or to appeal the decision to an ESRB appeals board.