The UK Video Appeals Committee (VAC) has upheld its rejection of an appeal by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) not to give the game Manhunt 2 an 18-rated age certificate.
Developed by Rockstar London and Rockstar North (based in Scotland), the controversial game was initially denied an age rating, in both censored and uncensored form, by the BBFC because of its violence and “unremitting bleakness and callousness of tone”.
This decision was subsequently overturned by the VAC, who concluded that the game was unlikely to cause harm to adults or children if given an 18 certificate (the highest age rating available in the UK).
On hearing the verdict, the BBFC vowed to take the issue to the High Court, where a judge ruled in the BBFC’s favor by declaring that the VAC’s decision was “a clear error of law” in terms of assessing the question of harm.
In a majority decision of four to three, the VAC has ignored the High Court’s directions and allowed Rockstar's original appeal against the BBFC to stand. The BBFC has confirmed that it has no further legal recourse and will so issue the game an 18 certificate.
“As I have said previously, we never take rejection decisions lightly, and they always involve a complex balance of considerations. We twice rejected Manhunt 2, and then pursued a judicial review challenge, because we considered, after exceptionally thorough examination, that it posed a real potential harm risk,” said BBFC director David Cooke.
“However, the Video Appeals Committee has again exercised its independent scrutiny. It is now clear, in the light of this decision, and our legal advice, that we have no alternative but to issue an ‘18’ certificate to the game,” he added.
The entire process has been unique in the British games industry, where bans on games are extremely rare. The only comparable situation was the BBFC’s refusal to grant 1997’s Carmageddon an 18 certificate. This decision was overturned on appeal and not again contested.
The case of Manhunt 2 has proven so controversial because of theorized links between the first game and the murder of teenager Stefan Pakeerah. Despite police denials that the game was in anyway linked to the crime, British tabloids and Member of Parliament Keith Vaz continue to blame the game for the murder, despite only the victim owning a copy of the title.