WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday struck down on First
Amendment grounds a California law that banned the sale of violent video games
to children. The 7-to-2 decision was the latest in a series of rulings
protecting free speech, joining ones on funeral protests, videos showing cruelty
to animals and political speech by corporations.
In a second decision Monday, the last day of the term, the court also struck
down an Arizona campaign finance law as a violation of the First Amendment.
Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for five justices in the majority in the video
games decision, Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, No. 08-1448, said
video games were subject to full First Amendment protection.
“Like the protected books, plays and movies that preceded them, video games
communicate ideas — and even social messages — through many familiar literary
devices (such as characters, dialogue, plot and music) and through features
distinctive to the medium (such as the player’s interaction with the virtual
world),” Justice Scalia wrote. “That suffices to confer First Amendment
Depictions of violence, Justice Scalia added, have never been subject to
government regulation. “Grimm’s Fairy Tales, for example, are grim indeed,” he
wrote, recounting the gory plots of “Snow White,” “Cinderella” and “Hansel and
Gretel.” High school reading lists and Saturday morning cartoons, too, he said,
are riddled with violence.
The California law would have imposed $1,000 fines on stores that sold violent
video games to anyone under 18.
It defined violent games as those “in which the range of options available to a
player includes killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image
of a human being” in a way that was “patently offensive,” appealed to minors’
“deviant or morbid interests” and lacked “serious literary, artistic, political
or scientific value.”
The definitions tracked language from decisions upholding laws regulating sexual
content. In 1968, in Ginsberg v. New York, the court allowed limits on the
distribution to minors of sexual materials like what it called “girlie
magazines” that fell well short of obscenity, which is unprotected by the First
Justice Scalia rejected the suggestion that depictions of violence are subject
to regulation as obscenity. “Because speech about violence is not obscene,” he
wrote, “it is of no consequence that California’s statute mimics the New York
statute regulating obscenity-for-minors that we upheld in” the Ginsberg
The video game industry, with annual domestic sales of more than $10 billion,
welcomed Monday’s ruling.
“Everybody wins on this decision,” John Riccitiello, chief executive of
Electronic Arts, one of the largest public video game companies, said in a
statement. “The court has affirmed the constitutional rights of game developers,
adults keep the right to decide what’s appropriate in their houses, and store
owners can sell games without fear of criminal prosecution.”
Leland Yee, a California state senator who wrote the law, said in a statement
that “the Supreme Court once again put the interests of corporate America before
the interests of our children,” adding: “It is simply wrong that the video game
industry can be allowed to put their profit margins over the rights of parents
and the well-being of children.”
The industry had viewed the court’s decision to hear the case as worrisome,
given that the lower courts had been in agreement that laws regulating violent
expression were unconstitutional.
The justices had, moreover, agreed to hear the case just after issuing their
8-to-1 decision last year in United States v. Stevens, striking down a federal
law making it a crime to buy and sell depictions of animal cruelty like dog
That also suggested that at least some of the justices had viewed California’s
law as problematic.
But on Monday, the majority said the Stevens decision required the court to
strike down the California law. Only a few kinds of speech, like incitement,
obscenity and fighting words, are beyond the protection of the First Amendment,
Justice Scalia said, adding that the court would not lightly create new excluded
Stevens did not involve speech directed to minors, but the majority said the
California law’s goal of protecting children from seeing violence did not alter
the constitutional analysis.
“No doubt a state possesses legitimate power to protect children from harm,”
Justice Scalia wrote, “but that does not include a free-floating power to
restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed.”
Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena
Kagan joined the majority opinion in the case.
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., in a concurrence joined by Chief Justice John G.
Roberts Jr., voted with the majority but did not adopt its reasoning. Justice
Alito said the California law was too vague. A more carefully worded law, he
wrote, might survive constitutional scrutiny.
Justice Alito said the majority opinion was too quick to dismiss differences
between current video games and other media.
“The objective of one game is to rape a mother and her daughters,” he wrote. In
another, “players attempt to fire a rifle shot into the head of President
Kennedy as his motorcade passes by the Texas School Book Depository.”
Soon, he added, children may play three-dimensional high-definition games
wearing equipment that will allow them to “actually feel the splatting blood
from the blown-off head” of a victim.
Justice Scalia acknowledged that Justice Alito had identified some disturbing
images. “But disgust,” Justice Scalia wrote, “is not a valid basis for
Justices Clarence Thomas and Stephen G. Breyer filed separate dissents. Justice
Thomas said the drafters of the First Amendment did not understand it to protect
minors’ free speech rights.
“ ‘The freedom of speech,’ as originally understood, does not include a right to
speak to minors (or a right of minors to access speech) without going through
the minors’ parents or guardians,” Justice Thomas wrote.
Justice Scalia, who shares with Justice Thomas a commitment to interpreting the
Constitution in accord with its original meaning, parted ways with his usual
ally on this point. “He cites no case, state or federal, supporting this view,
and to our knowledge there is none,” Justice Scalia wrote of Justice Thomas.
Justice Breyer also dissented, saying the statute survived First Amendment
scrutiny. He relied on studies that he said showed violent video games were
positively associated with aggressive behavior.
“Unlike the majority,” Justice Breyer wrote, “I would find sufficient grounds in
these studies and expert opinions for this court to defer to an elected
legislature’s conclusion that the video games in question are particularly
likely to harm children.”
Matt Richtel contributed reporting from San Francisco.
October 31, 2010
Filed at 10:23 a.m. ET
The New York Times
LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Before picking up any Wii games or downloading apps on
her iPhone for her two daughters, Lillian Quintero does her homework. She'll
first read reviews online and in magazines, then try them out for herself. If
she thinks the games are engaging and educational enough, 4-year-old Isabella
and 2-year-old Sophia are free to play.
"I know there's going to be a point where they get these things on their own,"
said the 35-year-old mother from Long Beach, Calif. "We're not going to be there
to monitor everything. That's why the most important thing is communication,
instilling morals and values in them and helping them to understand certain
boundaries. There's only so much you can do."
Quintero and her husband, Jorge, are some of the parents who support a
California law that seeks to ban the sale and rental of violent games to
children. The law, which has bounced around the legal system like a game of
"Pong" since Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger first signed it in 2005, was declared
unconstitutional last year by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday about the federal court's
decision to throw out California's ban on violent games, marking the first time
a case involving the interactive medium itself has gone before the Supreme
Court. It's another sign that the $20 billion-a-year industry, long considered
to be just child's play, is now all grown up.
California's measure would have regulated games more like pornography than
movies, prohibiting the sale or rental of games that give players the option of
"killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human
being" to anyone under the age of 18. Only retailers would be punished with
fines of up to $1,000 for each infraction.
The federal court said the law violated minors' constitutional rights under the
First and Fourteenth amendments and the state lacked enough evidence to prove
violent games cause physical and psychological harm to minors. Courts in six
other states, including Michigan and Illinois, have reached similar conclusions,
striking down parallel violent game bans.
Under California's law, only adults would be able to purchase games like "Postal
2," the first-person shooter by developer Running With Scissors that features
the ability to light unarmed bystanders on fire, and "Grand Theft Auto IV," the
popular third-person shoot-'em-up from Rockstar Games that allows gamers to
portray carjacking, gun-toting gangsters.
The Quinteros, like most supporters, believe the law will protect children from
buying such violent titles, while gamers and free speech advocates think
California's ban could lead to strict federal regulation on the content of games
and other media. All agree, however, that the graphically rich medium has come a
long way from 8-bit tennis matches.
The average age of gamers is 34, according to the Entertainment Software
Association, and many are paying close attention to the Supreme Court case. The
Entertainment Consumers Association, which lobbies on behalf of gamers, is
organizing a rally outside the Supreme Court building Tuesday as "a way of
sending a strong message and uniting gamers."
"It's not so much a video game case as a First Amendment case," said George
Rose, chief public policy officer at Activision Blizzard Inc., the Santa Monica,
Calif.-based publisher of the popular "Call of Duty" and "Guitar Hero" gaming
franchises. The gamemaker filed a friend-of-the-court brief opposing
California's ban, which was never enforced.
Other allies in the fight include Xbox manufacturer Microsoft Corp., "Star Wars"
publisher LucasArts, The Recording Academy, Motion Picture Association of
America, as well as the Entertainment Merchants Association and Entertainment
Software Association, which sued to block California's ban, calling it
"unnecessary, unwarranted and unconstitutional."
Opponents of the ban have called the measure unnecessary because virtually all
major game publishers and retailers employ a universal voluntary rating system,
much like movie studios and theaters, that assigns one of eight age-specific
ratings to games, then blocks the sale of games that are rated M for "mature"
and AO for "adults only" to children.
The gaming industry has actually done a better job of preventing minors from
buying entertainment not intended for their age group than the music and film
industries, according to the Federal Trade Commission. In a report released last
year, the FTC found that 20 percent of minors were able to buy M-rated games,
down from 42 percent three years earlier.
In contrast, 72 percent of minors were able buy music CDs with explicit content
warnings, 50 percent were sold R-rated and unrated DVDs and 28 percent purchased
tickets to R-rated movies. The FTC noted there were gaps in enforcement of
age-based sales restrictions, specifically with the use of gift cards in online
purchases and unrestricted mobile games.
The Parents Television Council, which supports California's ban on violent
games, conducted its own secret shopper campaign this year with children between
the ages of 12 and 16 attempting to buy M-rated games at 109 stores in 14
states. The group found 21 instances of retailers, including Target, Kmart,
Sears and Best Buy, selling M-rated games to minors.
Leland Yee, the Democratic state senator and child psychologist who originally
authored the law, contends the gaming industry's rating system is not effective
because of the sweeping scope of games, which are longer and more intricate than
movies. Yee said he believes violent games are more harmful to children because
of the medium's interactive nature.
"This isn't an attack on the First Amendment," said Yee. "I'm a supporter of the
First Amendment. This is about not making ultra violent video games available to
children. Within the bill, the definition of a violent video game is so narrowly
tailored because of my respect for the First Amendment. This isn't to stop the
creation of violent video games."
Yee's position hasn't stopped the Entertainment Software Association's Video
Game Voters Network from targeting him. The group has asked gamers to write "I
believe in the First Amendment" on old or broken controllers and send them to
Yee. When asked about the joystick campaign, the senator scoffed and said that
any gifts he received would be returned.
The Quinteros, who practice yoga poses in their living room during rounds of
"Wii Fit," won't be sending their Wii Balance Board to Yee. While they believe
it's ultimately up to parents to police what games their children play, Lillian
and Jorge agree that they would feel more comfortable if violent games were
legally off limits from being sold to kids.
"It's one less way for children to have access to it," said Jorge, a 35-year-old
middle school teacher who recently bought an iPad. "It's common sense. You don't
pick a weenie off the grill with your hands because you know your hand will get
burned. We shouldn't let children buy something violent that they don't think
will affect them."
AP Technology Writer Barbara Ortutay in New York contributed to this report.
Federal court rules closure of public display
featuring the videogame, Virtual Jihadi,
Friday 12 June 2009
An Iraqi-American artist has been vindicated after coming under attack for
making a videogame in which players have to assassinate George Bush.
Artist Wafaa Bilal created the game Virtual Jihadi last year, in what he claimed
was an attempt to "bring attention to the vulnerability of Iraqi civilians". But
the game, which involved an attempted strike on the former US president's life,
caused a storm of protest, including accusations that Bilal was encouraging
The controversy reached fever pitch when a public display featuring the game in
New York was closed down by local authorities amid claims that the organisers
had committed a number of infractions.
However, following accusations that the shutdown was an infringement of Bilal's
rights, a federal court has ruled that the closure was unconstitutional.
The court found that the reason for the closure – code violations cited by local
public works commissioner Robert Mirch – were in fact bogus.
"Mr Mirch abused his authority to suppress the free speech rights of people he
disagrees with, an unconstitutional act that must be challenged," said Melanie
Trimble, director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which sued on behalf of
The artist, who fled Iraq in 1992 after the first Gulf war, is an assistant
professor at New York University's Tische School for the Arts and produced
Virtual Jihadi after his brother was killed in an American bombing raid.
He hacked and reworked a game called Quest for Saddam, in which players took the
part of a soldier in the Iraq war, in an attempt to show that the civilians in
the conflict were not merely stereotypes or characters in a virtual shoot-out,
but real people.
According to the game's website, Virtual Jihadi was "meant to bring attention to
the vulnerability of Iraqi civilians to the travesties of the current war and
racist generalisations and stereotypes as exhibited in games such as Quest for
However the game caused outrage, and a show of Bilal's work at the Rensselaer
Polytechnic Institute was suspended shortly after the institution was accused of
becoming a "terrorist safe haven".
Fri Feb 20, 2009
By Gina Keating
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court ruled Friday that a California law
restricting the sales and rental of violent video games to minors and imposing
labeling requirements is too restrictive and violates free speech guarantees.
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the labeling requirement
unfairly forces video games to carry "the state's controversial opinion" about
which games are violent.
The unanimous opinion by a three-judge panel could have a far-reaching impact on
efforts by other states to establish mandatory video game labeling requirements.
The court upheld a lower court finding that California lawmakers failed to
produce evidence that violent video games cause psychological or neurological
harm to children.
"Even if it did, the Act is not narrowly tailored to prevent that harm and there
remain less restrictive means of forwarding the state's purported interests,"
the court wrote.
Those alternative measures include the voluntary ratings system established by
the Entertainment Software Rating Board, educational campaigns and parental
controls, the court said.
State Sen. Leland Yee, the author of the legislation, said he will urge
California Attorney General Jerry Brown to appeal the court's ruling to the U.S.
"I've always contended that the ... law the governor signed was a good one for
protecting children from the harm from playing these ultra-violent video games,"
Yee told Reuters. "I've always felt it would end up in the Supreme Court."
Bo Andersen, president and chief executive of the Entertainment Merchants
Association, said the ruling vindicates his group's position that "ratings
education, retailer ratings enforcement, and control of game play by parents are
the appropriate responses to concerns about video game content."
Andersen and Michael Gallagher, president and CEO of the Entertainment Software
Association, urged the state to abandon any further appeals of the case.
"This is a clear signal that in California and across the country, the reckless
pursuit of anti-video game legislation like this is an exercise in wasting
taxpayer money, government time and state resources," Gallagher said in a
The 2005 law, which requires games described as violent to carry an "18" label,
has been contested by video game publishers, distributors and sellers.
A lower court had barred the law from taking effect in 2006, and later
invalidated it. The state appealed that case, titled Video Software Dealers
Association v. Arnold Schwarzenegger (CV-05-04188), last October.
Entertainment Software Association members include Disney Interactive Studios,
Electronic Arts, Microsoft Corp, THQ Inc, Sony Computer Entertainment America,
and Take-Two Interactive Software.
(Reporting by Gina Keating;
additional reporting by Jim Christie in San Francisco;
In real life, dying is unavoidable and final.
But even though it's accepted that characters
die in videogames, is it really necessary,
wonders Kate Bevan
Thursday July 26, 2007
Dying in real life is - religious beliefs aside - the end, the last event you'll
take part in. Not so in computer games, where it's never worse than briefly
infuriating. In World of Warcraft, the massively multiplayer online roleplaying
game (MMORPG) that 8.5 million people play every day, your death just means you
have to spend several minutes trekking back to the point at which you died. And
your avatar is temporarily weakened. It's an inconvenience.
But why is in-game "dying" necessary at all? Alternatively, why isn't dying in a
game as final as it is in real life? In MMORPGs, the latter is in part at least
simply answered: it's economics. From Blizzard's point of view, if in-game death
were final, people would stop coughing up their monthly subscription. And the
vibrant in-game economy depends to a certain extent on death and regeneration:
when your avatar comes back to life, your weapons are damaged and need repairing
- for which you pay a fee.
In fact many games, both on computers and in real life, require you to leave the
field of play, for structural as much as for narrative reasons. In childrens'
playground games, team members have to be eliminated to determine the winner
before the end of the lunch break. In arcade videogames such as Space Invaders,
your skill determines how long you can play before giving the machine more cash.
Death puts a time limit on those games, just as it does for life. In other
games, "dying" means you have to go back to the beginning of a level and work
your way through it again; so death becomes an indication that you've not
reached a specific skill level.
But where's the fun in endlessly replaying a level? Gamers are unequivocal:
"Dying gives a game meaning", say posters on the PC Advisor forums. Markus
Montola, a researcher at Tampere University in Finland, takes this further: "You
have a motivation - to avoid being annoyed by dying. Motivation is what makes
the game meaningful."
Pete Hines - vice-president at Bethesda, the developer behind the role-playing
game Oblivion and its expansion pack, Shivering Isles - agrees. "Having your
character die or fail is important because your actions have to have some
meaning in the game, and to you."
But is the death of your character the right way to give a game meaning? Peter
Molyneux of Lionhead, the developer of Fable, Black & White and The Movies,
says: "A fight has to cost the player something, or it loses its meaning.
Previously, that cost was time and tedium [in replaying a level]. But is that
the right cost?"
Molyneux argues that designers should look to Hollywood for how to treat the
game's hero - ie you, the player. "Have you ever seen a film where the hero dies
and dies again? The tension in an action film almost always comes from hammering
a hero so hard that he almost dies - and then he leaps back up."
In a film, death is usually the climax, a cathartic event. The battle of
Thermopylae is depicted in the film 300; commentators remarked on how much like
a computer game it is, with its cinematic cutscenes and boss battles. However,
this film ends, as the real events did, with the glorious death of its hero,
Leonidas, king of the Spartans, and his plucky army.
Perhaps the difference between computer games and film or television dramas is
how we consume them. TV and film are genres that we consume passively: we can't
affect the outcome (though the popularity of voting in shows such as Big Brother
and talent contests might indicate that we like to). Roleplaying games, however,
challenge us directly by setting goals, and often one of those goals is to avoid
There are three types of goals in computer games, says Montola. Endogenous goals
originate within the game; exogenous from outside it. "Every game of chess has
identical endogenous goals, but the exogenous ones range from having fun to
humiliating the opponent to winning a tournament. Endogenous goals are always
about getting a checkmate, or at least not being checkmated yourself."
Diegetic goals "come in when you start to role-play," he says. "If you play
World of Warcraft and just grind to get better gear, you never think about this
dwarf hunter you're playing. But once you start with pretend-play, you have to
think 'what would Mr Dwarf Hunter want? What are his goals?' And those goals are
diegetic." Montola points to Eve Online, the space-trading MMORPG. "It is
particularly elegant in regard to diegetic goals. Everyone plays a space trader,
miner or pirate, so it's easy to understand that I'm a trader and I want to
maximise profit and live a peaceful life."
Eve, he adds, "is a game where you can lose months of work by being shot from
the skies. That game is given exogenous meaning by the extremely strong
endogenous and diegetic urge to avoid death."
Death has been part of computer gaming since its earliest days. Montola points
to Arkanoid, a clone of Breakout and a direct descendant of Pong. Dating from
1986, the game involves you moving a bat at the bottom of the screen to try to
prevent the ball falling away from the board. Says Montola: "You probably don't
think you can die in Arkanoid, even if you miss the ball. But your bat is in
fact a spaceship called Vaus, and it gets destroyed when you miss the ball, so
missing the ball means dozens or thousands of deaths ... depending on your
Reaching even further into the dark ages of computing, he says: "If you think
that an abstract bunch of pixels can die, you can trace this back to the
earliest computer games, such as Spacewar! from 1961. Since this predates the
earliest arcade games by a decade, it's fair to say that death has always been
one of the central punishments in digital gaming."
Reflect real life?
But do you need to die at all? Eric Zimmerman, a New York-based game designer
who helps run the studio Gamelab, says: "Dying in games is a strange artifact of
certain kinds of historical forms and content, and there is no good reason for
including it in many cases." Molyneux concurs: "If we were starting from
scratch, we wouldn't come up with this paradigm."
There are bigger questions, of course. In real life, death is more than an
annoyance. So should games reflect real life? Or should we redefine "dying" in
the context of games? Isn't it more like tennis, where you can lose a set but go
on to win the game? Or are there bigger lessons to be learned from games?
Says David Ewen, a 46-year-old gamer: "Kids need to learn that if they're
ambushed by a horde of self-regenerating laser-festooned killer robots on an
asteroid far from the main space trade routes in real life, they're not actually
going to end up getting teleported out to the local Starbucks for a nice
June 23, 2007
Filed at 9:05 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The decision by Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. to suspend distribution of
the violent video game ''Manhunt 2'' could actually end up boosting demand from
curious gamers, industry analysts said Friday.
Analysts do not believe the move will harm the company's long-term bottom line.
And if the game ever sees the light of day, the current controversy could give
the title ''a lot more exposure that would actually benefit game sales in the
long run,'' said Colin Sebastian, senior research analyst at Lazard Capital
''Manhunt 2,'' initially slated for a July release on Nintendo Co.'s Wii and
Sony Corp.'s PlayStation 2, depicts the escape of an amnesiac scientist and a
psychotic killer from an asylum and their subsequent epic killing spree.
Following bans by Britain and Ireland, as well as a ratings flap in the United
States, Take-Two said late Thursday it was reviewing its options.
''We believe in freedom of creative expression, as well as responsible
marketing, both of which are essential to our business of making great
entertainment,'' the company said.
The game received a preliminary ''Adults Only'' rating in the United States from
the industry's self-governed ratings body, the Entertainment Software Rating
Board, restricting sales to customers 18 and older.
More importantly, such titles aren't stocked by large retailers such as Wal-Mart
Stores Inc., and all three console makers -- Microsoft Corp., Nintendo and Sony
-- do not allow ''AO'' games on their systems.
Take-Two still could appeal the rating or craft a toned-down version that meets
the less-stringent ''Mature'' rating for players 17 and older.
It's a move anticipated by analysts, but no indication was given on the fate of
the title as of Friday. Telephone messages left with a Take-Two company
spokesman were not returned, and a spokesman for its Rockstar Games division,
which created ''Manhunt 2,'' declined comment.
''It's free publicity,'' Sebastian said. ''Consumer backlash is a risk but at
the end of the day if it's rated `M' the retailers will take it.''
Added Rick Munarriz, a senior analyst with The Motely Fool: ''If anything, with
this suspension there's going to be a demand for it because of the
Investors also seemed unfazed as Take-Two shares rose 21 cents, or 1 percent, to
$20.82 in trading Friday.
Take-Two and Rockstar still have a marquee franchise on tap for a fall release.
''Grand Theft Auto IV,'' the latest in a series of urban crime games, should
prove to be the real money maker when it is released on the PlayStation 3 and
Microsoft's Xbox 360 in October.
Previous versions have been top-sellers, and Sebastian said any financial hit
from ''Manhunt 2'' would be more than offset by the new ''GTA'' game.
''Relative to Grand Theft Auto it's a lot less significant,'' Sebastian said of
''Manhunt 2.'' ''Grand Theft Auto is the key driver. This is a second-tier
The previous game in the series, ''Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas,'' was at the
center of a ratings controversy two years ago that sparked a Congressional
Rockstar was forced to replace its first edition of ''San Andreas'' after a
hacker discovered a password-protected game inside it that involved a sexual
This year has already been a turbulent one for Take-Two, which recently
underwent a shareholder coup that ousted its chief executive and nearly all of
The company said earlier this month that layoffs were likely as part of a
restructuring effort designed to cut costs by about $25 million a year by 2008.
Specific numbers haven't been released. Take-Two has about 2,100 employees.
It's not clear what effect the ''San Andreas'' controversy had on sales, as the
title had already been available for months by the time the hack was discovered.
In 2004, the year it was released, ''San Andreas'' was the top seller with more
than 5.1 million copies sold in the U.S., according to market analyst NPD Group.
Controversies like ''Manhunt 2'' are to be expected for a company with a
reputation for publishing edgy content, said Munarriz, the analyst.
''You have a company that's always lived in the gray area,'' he said. ''These
games are controversial and that's part of the allure.''
Players of the video game ''Manhunt 2'' would have assumed the
role of a scientist with amnesia who escapes from an asylum and then goes on a
bloody killing spree as he tries to remember his past. But consumers may never
see it on store shelves.
Following bans by Britain and Ireland, as well as a ratings predicament that
would have made it nearly impossible to buy in the United States, publisher
Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. decided that it might already be game over
for ''Manhunt 2.''
In a short statement Thursday evening, the New York-based company said it was
temporarily suspending plans to distribute the game while it reviews its
''We continue to stand behind this extraordinary game. We believe in freedom of
creative expression, as well as responsible marketing, both of which are
essential to our business of making great entertainment,'' the company said.
''Manhunt 2'' had been scheduled for a July 10 release in the United States on
both the Wii by Nintendo Co. and the PlayStation 2 from Sony Corp.
But earlier in the week, Britain banned the game because of the violent content.
Ireland followed suit a day later, and then Italian Communications Minister
Paolo Gentiloni said Thursday that he would seek to have the sale of the game
canceled there as well.
In a statement, Gentiloni called the game ''cruel and sadistic, with a squalid
environment and a continuous, insistent encouragement to violence and murder.''
In the United States, meanwhile, the video game industry's self-regulated
ratings board gave a preliminary version of ''Manhunt 2'' an ''adults only''
rating instead of the more lenient, and far more popular, ''mature'' rating for
ages 17 and up.
Slapping ''Manhunt 2'' with the Entertainment Software Rating Board's most
stringent rating would likely doom sales. Large retailers including Best Buy
Co., Target Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. won't stock AO-rated games.
Rockstar was given 30 days after receiving the ESRB's suggested rating to
present an appeal or make changes to the game.
A spokesman for Rockstar declined to comment on Thursday's suspension, which was
announced hours after Take-Two issued a statement saying it was determined to
bring the title to market regardless of criticism.
Another issue had to do with the console makers: Nintendo and Sony disclosed
they have policies barring any AO-rated content on their systems.
Microsoft Corp. has a similar policy, but ''Manhunt 2'' wasn't planned for its
Xbox 360. There are no such restrictions on games for personal computers.
The suspension was the latest setback for creator Rockstar Games, which has come
under fire for its popular, critically acclaimed ''Grand Theft Auto'' series of
urban crime games. Take-Two is still dealing with the fallout of a shareholder
coup earlier this year that ousted its chief executive and nearly all of its
Rockstar and Take-Two have long been a focal point for debate over the effect of
video-game violence on children.
Two years ago, Rockstar was forced to replace its first edition of ''Grand Theft
Auto: San Andreas'' after a hacker discovered a password-protected game inside
it that involved a sexual encounter.
Tuesday June 19, 2007
James Orr and agencies
A violent video game with "an unrelenting focus on brutal slaying" has become
the first to be banned in Britain for a decade.
Manhunt 2, a sequel to the original and controversial game Manhunt, has been
condemned by authorities for its "casual sadism" and "unremitting bleakness".
The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) rejected the game after finding
it "constantly encourages visceral killing".
The ruling means the game cannot be legally supplied anywhere in the UK.
David Cooke, director of the BBFC, said: "Rejecting a work is a very serious
action and one which we do not take lightly.
"Where possible we try to consider cuts or, in the case of games, modifications
which remove the material which contravenes the board's published guidelines. In
the case of Manhunt 2, this has not been possible."
The original Manhunt game was given an 18 classification in 2003 and was later
blamed for the murder of a 14-year-old boy.
Stefan Pakeerah was stabbed and beaten to death in Leicester in February 2004
and his parents claimed the killer, Warren LeBlanc, 17, was inspired by the
At the time, the BBFC described the game as being "at the very top end of what
the board judged to be acceptable at that category".
Mr Pakeerah's mother, Giselle, said today she was "absolutely elated" that the
game had been banned.
"Manhunt represents a genre of games that are not, in my view and the views of
many other people, fit for public consumption," she said.
"We have been campaigning against these games for a long time and the BBFC made
the right decision. Why don't these companies invest their energies into
creating material that is helpful to society?"
Issuing a certificate to Manhunt 2 would risk the possibility of "unjustifiable
harm" to adults and minors, the BBFC concluded.
"Manhunt 2 is distinguishable from recent high-end video games by its
unremitting bleakness and callousness of tone in an overall game context which
constantly encourages visceral killing with exceptionally little alleviation or
distancing," said Mr Cooke.
"There is sustained and cumulative casual sadism in the way in which these
killings are committed, and encouraged, in the game.
"The game's unrelenting focus on stalking and brutal slaying and the sheer lack
of alternative pleasures on offer to the gamer, together with the different
overall narrative context, contribute towards differentiating this submission
from the original Manhunt game."
Manhunt 2, made by Rockstar Games, is designed for PS2 and Nintendo Wii
consoles. "To issue a certificate to Manhunt 2 on either platform would involve
a range of unjustifiable harm risks within the terms of the Video Recordings
Act," said Mr Cooke.
Paul Jackson, director general of the Entertainment Leisure Software Publishers
Association, which represents the computer and video games industry, said: "A
decision from the BBFC such as this demonstrates that we have a games ratings
system in the UK that is effective."
Leicester MP Keith Vaz, who campaigned with Mrs Pakeerah against the sale of the
game, said: "This is an excellent decision by the BBFC, showing that game
publishers cannot expect to get interactive games where players take the part of
killers engaged in 'casual sadism' and murder."
Last week, Tony Blair spoke out against another violent video game, Resistance:
Fall of Man, which features a shoot-out in Manchester cathedral.
He said of the video game industry: "It's important that people understand there
is a wider social responsibility as well as simply responsibility for profit."
The last game to be refused classification was Carmageddon in 1997 but the
BBFC's decision was later overturned on appeal.
Rockstar Games now has six weeks to submit an appeal.
LONDON (AP) -- The Church of England accused Sony Corp. on
Saturday of using an English cathedral as the backdrop to a violent computer
game and said it should be withdrawn from shop shelves.
The church said Sony did not ask for permission to use Manchester cathedral and
demanded an apology.
The popular new PlayStation 3 game, ''Resistance: Fall of Man,'' shows a virtual
shootout between rival gunmen with hundreds of people killed inside the
cathedral. Church officials described Sony's alleged use of the building as
''sick'' and sacrilegious.
A spokesman for the Church of England said a letter will be sent to Sony on
Monday. If the church's request for an apology and withdrawal of the game is not
met, the church will consider legal action, the spokesman said.
Sony spokeswoman Amy Lake told The Associated Press on Saturday that the
company's PlayStation division was looking into the matter and would release a
But David Wilson, a Sony spokesman, told The London Times: ''It is game-created
footage, it is not video or photography. It is entertainment, like Doctor Who or
any other science fiction. It is not based on reality at all. Throughout the
whole process we have sought permission where necessary.''
The Very Rev. Rogers Govender, the dean of Manchester Cathedral, said: ''This is
an important issue. For many young people these games offer a different sort of
reality and seeing guns in Manchester cathedral is not the sort of connection we
want to make.
''Every year we invite hundreds of teenagers to come and see the cathedral and
it is a shame to have Sony undermining our work.''
The bishop of Manchester, the Rt. Rev. Nigel McCulloch, said: ''It is well known
that Manchester has a gun crime problem. For a global manufacturer to recreate
one of our great cathedrals with photorealistic quality and then encourage
people to have gunbattles in the building is beyond belief and highly
During the game, players are asked to assume the role of an army sergeant and
win a battle in the interior of a cathedral.
THE first thing I do when I arrive in my cabin is search the closets. I take a
hat, a pair of glasses and a straight razor, which I put in my pocket. Then I
walk out into the luxury cruise ship’s corridor, where men and women elegantly
dressed in 1920’s garb walk past Art Deco fixtures, eyeing me suspiciously. I
grab a fire ax off the wall and put it under my jacket.
I receive a message with my quarry’s name and most recent location. She’s one
deck below me in the bar, so I hurry down the stairs, carefully looking at each
passer-by. A woman in a ball gown pulls out a flare gun and is about to fire it
at a man in a top hat when a ship security officer grabs her. The top-hatted
man, realizing the woman knows his face and will be back, takes off his hat and
puts on a new suit and an eye patch.
My quarry has left the bar, but a new message says she’s out on deck. I hurry
outside. Is that her? I move closer. It is her. I walk forward, trying to give
the impression that I’m looking elsewhere so she doesn’t run, but as I’m about
to pull out my ax, a man pulls out a steak knife and, before I can even react,
stabs me to death.
That’s how it goes in Outerlight’s ingenious multiplayer game The Ship, in which
each player is both hunter and hunted.
The Ship is essentially a virtual version of real-life games like Assassin,
popular with college students, in which you have a week to hunt down people and
spray them with water. In The Ship, though, you have only a few minutes to take
down your prey.
Murder is made more difficult by the presence of security cameras, requiring
that your weapons be hidden, and survival is made more difficult by the
necessity to attend to basic bodily needs like sleeping, eating and showering.
At these times you are completely vulnerable, and it is quite disconcerting to
be stabbed to death while sitting on the toilet.
The Ship doesn’t explain why a boatload of fashionable men and women would try
to kill each other, but if you accept that odd premise, the game makes perfect
Human Head Studios’ new first-person shooter, Prey, is another matter; it is a
game almost entirely comprised of unlikely oddities.
As Prey begins, aliens have abducted a hot-headed modern-day Cherokee named
Tommy from a reservation tavern, along with his grandfather and girlfriend.
Escaping his shackles with the help of a mysterious person, Tommy grabs a slimy
alien weapon and heads out to save his loved ones.
The alien ship is a bizarre and entertaining place with mucilaginous corridors
and stinging tentacles growing from the floors and ceilings. Odd crab-like
creatures skittering across the ground can be picked up and used as grenades,
while a missile launcher contains an alien embryo wriggling in the barrel.
The alien technology in the game is remarkable. Crates contain portals to other
locations and gravity walkways let you go up walls. Individual rooms can have
their gravity changed by shooting sensors, allowing Tommy to drop to the
The ship is a deadly place where Tommy must battle aliens, dinosaurlike
creatures and demon ghost children. His only chance to survive is to regain the
spiritual powers of his ancestors. He soon acquires a falcon spirit guide and
learns the ancient Cherokee ability to become a shadow walker who can pass
through force fields and kill foes with arrows made of the spirits of fallen
If you’re wondering whether such a mélange of disparate elements can be tied
into a neat, consistent universe, the answer is, well, not really. There is no
apparent necessity for rooms with changeable gravity, nor is it clear why aliens
need ghost children. While good science fiction creates coherent, convincing
futuristic technology and explores its ramifications, Prey is simply built
around a bunch of neat ideas like wall walking and invisibility. This makes Prey
very bad science fiction, but the game works wonderfully as a surreal nightmare.
Prey doesn’t simply rely on its trippiness to entertain the player; the game’s
fast action and the clever design of the game levels keep things fun even after
the wacky tricks are exhausted. Combat is exciting, as are the occasional
sequences in which you must pilot an alien shuttle craft, although the game does
begin to feel a bit repetitive toward the end.
One of Prey’s most unusual features is that after a certain point it becomes
impossible to die. When Tommy is killed, he is transported to a spirit realm
where he heals himself by shooting magical birds. He is then returned to the
ship, where all the enemies he killed or wounded are in the same state he left
them in. This means it is impossible to get stuck in the game, and you never
have to replay sections. I love this, but those who prefer their games to be
grindingly difficult will be displeased.
In terms of story, Prey follows the same pattern as the Half-Life series, with
mysterious characters just out of reach, brief snippets of story interspersed
throughout the action and moments when you come out of cramped halls into vast,
stunning spaces. The action is broken up by simple puzzles, many involving
changing a room’s gravity to get to an otherwise unreachable location. There are
interesting moments, as when you find alien receivers monitoring a talk show
from Earth or suddenly hear the rock music that had been playing in the bar you
were abducted from.
Unfortunately, mediocre voice acting and a lack of character development work
against the game’s story; one moment that is intended to be wrenchingly tragic
comes across as just sort of sad. And as with everything else in the game,
there’s little attempt to create convincing motivation for the characters,
particular Tommy’s final opponent, whose plan, when revealed, seems as flawed as
the alien ship’s architecture.
Besides the rather short single-player mission, which speedy players report
finishing in seven hours (although it took me twice that), Prey has the
requisite online multiplayer mode. The best multiplayer levels take advantage of
the game’s eccentricities, as in one where each room has a different
gravitational orientation, allowing you to lob grenades at an opponent standing
on what to him is a floor and to you is a ceiling. But for the most part, Prey’s
multiplayer levels play just like those of dozens of similar games.
I’ve spent more than enough time running around alien ships indiscriminately
firing rocket launchers. Now I just want to put on a tuxedo, grab a golf club
and enjoy a civilized, seafaring afternoon of murder in cold blood.