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.