Question For The British Ratings Board: What Would Make "Manhunt 2" Acceptable?

Manhunt 2Just what is the problem with "Manhunt 2"?

What would make a game that has twice failed to get a rating by the British Board of Film Classification acceptable to sell in England?

I've been wondering this since Monday, when the BBFC announced that it was denying a revised version of the yet-to-be-releases PS2/PSP/Wii game a rating. In America, the revised game was given an M rating by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, setting it on course for a Halloween release. (The original had been rated Adults Only, which ran afoul of Nintendo and Sony's approval standards).

"Manhunt 2" development studio Rockstar Games has yet to issue a list of changes that made the game worthy of ratings downgrade by the ESRB. But a report in IGN last month indicated that most of the game's gory, cinematic executions were blurred to the point that the actions in those scenes was not discernible. (I've only played the AO-version -- extensively.)

But if that wasn't enough for the BBFC, what was?

In the Monday statement, David Cooke, director of the BBFC said "We did make suggestions for further changes to the game, but the distributor has chosen not to make them, and as a result we have rejected the game on both platforms."

That sounded like a list of suggestions had been issued.

So I contacted the BBFC and asked if they would share it with me.

I assumed that these "suggestion" would help clarify the situation. How do games get rated? What makes a game acceptable or unacceptable in the eyes of the BBFC? Exactly what constitutes crossing the line?

I e-mailed the BBFC and told them that, assuming Rockstar wasn't going to volunteer these suggestions, I hoped they could share them with me.

Sue Clark, head of communications for the group, wrote me back:

"Stephen, unfortunately I cannot list the changes we suggested as this is a matter between us and the distributor and if they are not happy to give you chapter and verse I'm afraid I can't either. I can say, however, that the changes were to the level of visual detail in the kills and to some of the dialogue. As our news release said, "The impact of the revisions on the bleakness and callousness of tone, or the essential nature of the gameplay, is clearly insufficient. There has been a reduction in the visual detail in some of the ‘execution kills’, but in others they retain their original visceral and casually sadistic nature."

That's a little bit illuminating. But not really.

As for Rockstar, they offered no other comment aside from the statement they issued on Monday:

"We are continuing to appeal the British Board of Film Classification's (BBFC) decision to deny the edited version of "Manhunt 2" an 18+ certificate and thereby ban its release in the United Kingdom. The changes necessary in order to publish the game in Britain are unacceptable to us and represent a setback for video games. The BBFC allows adults the freedom to decide for themselves when it comes to horror in movies and we think adults should be similarly allowed to decide for themselves when it comes to horror in video games, such as 'Manhunt 2.'"

So let's see these suggestions. There is a list somewhere, isn't there? Wouldn't it be nice to see where the ratings board draws the line and judge for ourselves whether it's a line game developers should ever cross?

Or am I barking up the wrong tree?