Video games: the new media boogeyman?

As you may have heard Manhunt 2 has had been rejected by the BBFC, meaning that it cannot legally be sold in shops in the UK*. I was going to write a post on the the topic of video game violence and censorship however soon afterwards the news came out that another video game, ‘Law and Order: Double or Nothing’ (to be honest I had to Google that as I’ve never heard of it before) is to be removed from shelves because in one scene the infamous CCTV picture of murdered toddler ‘Jamie’ Bulger being taken away by his killers can be seen. So from this looks of it the BBFC has banned Manhunt 2 because of “unremitting bleakness and callousness of tone in an overall game context which constantly encourages visceral killing with exceptionally little alleviation or distancing” and in completely unrelated news a game no one has heard of before is pulled by the publishers at the request of the murdered toddler’s parents.

Not according to the mainstream media. The Guardian (link) seems to see this as a ‘focus’ on ‘violent and tasteless’ (tasteless: media opinion rather than anything anyone involved said) computer games and gives the impression to the reader that there is a direct link between Manhunt and the murder of a teenager: “The original Manhunt game caused huge controversy and was blamed for the killing of Stefan Pakeerah, who was stabbed and beaten to death in Leicester in February 2004.” Who blamed the game for the killing, the police? The parents did but the police ruled it out stating that robbery was the motive. The Daily Mail’s story on Law and Order (link) also provides a loaded article that focuses more on the families understandably angry words towards the publishers rather than the facts. Facts such as this game was published back in 2003 and can’t probably be found anywhere apart from the bargin these days and that the picture was one single photo pinned on a notice board (though the Daily Mail seems to be the only news source to actually provide a screenshot) seem not be relevant. The wording of the Mail’s article is mirrored by the news reporting on the radio this morning that seem to see that as major news.

Similar media reporting on video games could be seen recently with the story of the Church suing Sony over the PS3 game Resistance, which featured Manchester Cathedral without permission. No context is given, no background. In that case it seemed that no media outlet seemed to bother playing the game, but all seemed instead to download a grainy YouTube video of it and call it research. This sort of incomplete and biased news reporting, in my opinion, fuels public opinion against computer games. Many (if not the majority) of people watching or reading the news will have had little experience of video games and thus rely on the media for their education on the subject.

This is not a new issue, in the eighties violent movies (anyone remember the term ‘videonasties’?) were the media target. Now that people seem to have matured in their opinions on that topic, it would seem the media have their sights set on a new boogeyman. Will we reach a point in the near future when the media begins to accept games and report fairly on them? Is this indeed limited to video games, are experts in other fields such as politics, healthcare, crime etcetera also ranting at the TV when they report on the topic? Where should the public go for unbiased news?

*An interesting fact is that while it is now illegal to buy Manhunt in the UK, there is nothing illegal about possessing it.

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Kieran

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4 thoughts on “Video games: the new media boogeyman?”

  1. Good post, quite interesting and you seem to echo my points on the matter.

    Today I was awoken by 2 Jehovah’s Witnesses which didn’t bother me, infact I have never met a bad mannered or inconsiderate one yet. I did open the door wearing nothing more than Khaki pants (which were pulled on whilst bouncing down the stairs on one foot, which gave them a shock.

    They began asking what I did for a living, which I told them was based around video games design, needless to say we came on to the topic of Videogames.

    They brought up the matters of both Resistance and Manhunt 2, to which I said both were nothing more than fairytales made up by media running amok. It seems true that the media are very negative, very rarely are they ever positive about something, not just video games. We’ve had Mobile Phones giving you tumours. Freerunning a disrespect to the environment. Downloading services resulting in porn for kids (think PSP). Movies creating unstable people and obviously video games turning people into maniacal murderers.

    Needless to say it’s the media making a mountain from a molehill, using buzzwords and none-factual ‘evidence’ to stake a claim that ‘x’ is bad for you. I remember the media, as you pointed out, claiming false evidence for the murder of Stefan Pakeerah over the killer being motivated by Manhunt, when it was infact Stefan Pakeerah who owned the game and not the murderer. We have also had the washington snipers trained by Halo and America’s Army being used to de-sensitize soldiers before going into war.

    As I pointed out to the Witnesses, video games are a mode of escapism, they do not turn average people into killers, anybody who is willing to kill needlessly already has something wrong with them, it’s just an ideal excuse for the media to blame *something* for the murders to the uneducated, uninformed public out there who don’t know any better than to believe every single word a negative and bias media tells them.

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