Games are often the subject of sensationalist media coverage. This is often picked up by opportunistic politicians.
In the late-2000s, titles subjected to this treatment include MANHUNT 2 (2007), V-TECH RAMPAGE (2007) and CALL OF DUTY: MODERN WARFARE 2 (2009).
Publisher Rockstar Games / 2007 / MobyGames
In 2004, the original MANHUNT (2003) had its MA15+ rating increased to RC by the Classification Review Board.
By the time MANHUNT 2 arrived in 2007, no distributor was prepared to submit it for an Australian classification.
No Australian release
The following letter was posted online in January 2008. It confirms that the MANHUNT 2 was never submitted to the Classification Board.
December 21, 2007
I refer to your enquiry of 13 December 2007 regarding the computer game Manhunt 2.
The Classification Board classifies films (including videos and DVDs), computer games and certain publications using the tools of the National Classification Scheme, a cooperative scheme involving the Australian Government and State and Territory Governments.
When making decisions, the Board applies criteria in the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995, the National Classification Code and the classification guidelines. Australian Government and State and Territory Government Ministers with censorship responsibilities agree to the Code and the classification guidelines. The Guidelines for the Classification of Films and Computer Games are available at www.classification.gov.au.
I can confirm that the computer game MANHUNT 2 has not been submitted to the Board for classification. It is not possible to speculate on what the Board will classify this game once it is submitted for classification.
You may wish to contact Rockstar Games directly regarding the likely release date of this game in Australia.
I hope this information assists you.– Kathryn Reidy, Manager, Education and Communications
– Classification Operations Branch
– via rockstarwatch.net
No R18+ for games
In July 2008, the MANHUNT series was discussed in the Parliament of South Australia.
July 22, 2008
The Hon. A. BRESSINGTON (17:15): I am talking about games with names such as MANHUNT and WOLF CREEK, and I will go into further detail on these later. However I make the point now that central to my position on this matter is this: just because modern technology can produce games such as this, does it mean that we should accept them? For example, MANHUNT 2 is a controversial game that has been banned in several countries, including Australia, for being too violent.
In this game, players perform remarkably realistic executions, via the new technology of the Wii remote, which is basically a form of virtual reality. The game is highly immersive; for example, in order to stab someone in the game, the player must flick the Wii remote forward in much the same way as one would when actually stabbing with a knife. In its review, one magazine wrote:
It is even more terrifying for seeming like the most real thing in a game this year.
In January this year, the game’s manufacturer, Rockstar Games, announced that it would not be submitting it to the Office of Film and Literature Classification. Could it be that if we did have an R-rated-plus classification this violent, highly realistic game could have been made available for sale in South Australian stores? While we have been spared games such as this, what about the controversial games that currently are permitted in this country?
Research shows that playing extremely violent games changes people’s attitudes and behaviours as well as displaying a link between such games and those convicted of violent and dangerous crimes. The most famous example is in the United States where Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the infamous boys who in 1999 shot dead 13 fellow students and wounded 21 at Columbine High School before turning their guns on themselves, were found to be avid players of the infamous realistic first person shooting game called DOOM—the initial ‘mass murder simulator’ that paved the way for even more gruesome and realistic follow-ups like Manhunt. While planning for the massacre, Harris allegedly said that the killing would be ‘like f-ing DOOM’ and that his shotgun was ‘straight out of’ the game.
Of course, not every player of a game such as this is going to murder someone in real life, but research indicates at least that caution is warranted, with indications that playing changes violent game players’ behaviours and attitudes. This all spells trouble to a troubled or angry young person. Furthermore, neurobiological research may indicate that such game-playing over the longer term may alter brain structure and lead to the establishment of maladaptive neural pathways and behaviour patterns.
Columbine was not an isolated incident. Critics point to numerous cases of such games. For example, in the UK in February 2004, 17 year old Warren Leblanc lured a 14 year old boy into a park and murdered him by stabbing him repeatedly with a knife and a claw hammer. The police investigation that followed revealed that Leblanc was reportedly obsessed with the original game MANHUNT.
As stated, games with high levels of strategy, rendering, imagination and realism are all available under the current classification rules. If the R rating is introduced, the only thing that will change is that games such as MANHUNT 2, which go past being extremely violent to just downright sick, will be added to the mix. Do we really want that? I, personally, do not think so.
A problem that has been raised is that, if someone wants a game and they cannot buy it, they will download it, thereby encouraging video game piracy. I note that, in September 2007, an uncensored version of MANHUNT 2 was leaked onto the internet by an employee of Sony who was later fired. Piracy is an issue that the music and movie industries in particular continue to find difficult to address. However, such acts, whilst difficult to prosecute, will remain criminal activity, with those found guilty facing the consequences.– Ann Bressington (Independent), SA Legislative Council
Her claim that MANHUNT 2 had been banned in Australia was incorrect as was her description of WOLF CREEK (2005) as a game.
The MANHUNT series was also problematic in other countries.
GnC Films produced this YouTube clip that looks at the controversy in the US and UK.
Developed by Ryan Lambourn / 2007 / MobyGames
V-TECH RAMPAGE was a flash game based on the April 2007 Virginia Tech Massacre.
It created controversy in Australia when it was found to have been developed by a 21-year old Sydney man.
May 16, 2007
A Sydney youth who created an uproar with an online game based on the Virginia Tech massacre, says he will remove the game if he receives $US2000 in “donations”.
Add another $US1000 and he promises to apologise.
V-TECH RAMPAGE is the work of 21-year-old Ryan Lambourn from Western Sydney who goes by the screen name, Master PiGPEN.
“I’ve done offensive things before but they’re not usually this popular,” Lamourn said, adding that he made the game “because it’s funny”.
Lambourn, who grew up in the US, said his friends suggested putting up the ransom demand which he thought was “a hilarious idea”.
He posted the demand on his website saying: “Attention angry people: I will take this game down from newgrounds [the games website] if the donation amount reaches $1000 US. I’ll take it down from here [his website] if it reaches $2000 US, and i will apologise if it reaches $3000 US.”
He described the exercise as “a joke”. “They were so adamant about me taking my game down … I gave them a way,” he said.
“The donation thing was just to pull a few more strings and make more people angry. It’s worked.”
Lambourn said that while he felt remorse for those who had lost friends and relatives in the massacre, he also had sympathy for the gunman.
“No one listens to you unless you’ve got something sensational to do.” he said. “And that’s why I feel sympathy for Cho Seung-hui. He had to go that far.”– Outrage over Virginia Tech game
– article @ smh.com.au
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) submitted a copy of the V-TECH RAMPAGE to the OFLC. They awarded it an MA15+ rating.
Items submitted by the ACMA are listed only as a number, and never by their actual title. This prevents members of the public from being able to identify the item online.
The time and rating of the ACMA submission indicates that V-TECH RAMPAGE was the following entry in the National Classification Database.
May 25, 2007– Classification Board
ACMA_Item_2_250 ACMA (CD Rom / online)
Not suitable for people under 15. Under 15s must be accompanied by a parent or adult guardian
Classification: MA 15+
Category: ACMA – Film (Sale/Hire)
Date of Classification: 25/05/2007
Author: NOT SHOWN
Publisher: NOT SHOWN
Production Company: NOT SHOWN
Country of Origin: NOT SHOWN
Applicant: AUSTRALIAN COMMUNICATIONS AND MEDIA AUTHORITY
File Number: T07/2385
Classification Number: 5372051F
June 3, 2007
Australian authorities are powerless to ban a computer game inspired by the Virginia Tech massacre.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) investigated the game, V-TECH RAMPAGE, after receiving a complaint about it last month.
The ACMA referred the game to the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC), which gave it an MA 15 + rating, the highest classification for a computer game.
“After reviewing it, the OFLC decided that the game could not be prohibited,” an ACMA spokesman said. “On the basis of their decision, we are taking no further action.”– No ban on Virginia Tech game
– article @ smh.com.au
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Publisher Activision / 2009 / MobyGames
In September 2009, CALL OF DUTY: MODERN WARFARE 2 was passed with an MA15+ (Strong violence) rating.
It was submitted under the title BLOODHUNT to disguise it from fans and the media.
September 14, 2009– Classification Board report
The game contains violence that is strong in impact and justified by the context.
… a player goes undercover with the terrorist Makarov and may (but is not required to) assist in the massacre of Russian civilians at an airport. During this mission, several civilians are shot with blood-burst bullet wounds; civilian corpses are strewn across the airport floor, often in stylised pools of blood; injured civilians crawl away with lengthy blood trails behind them; however, corpses disappear at random and no postmortem damage can be inflicted. The impact of this depiction of violence does not exceed strong, and in all other levels, the killing of a civilian will result in immediate mission failure.
– via @ gamespot.com
On 15 October, a ‘modified version’, now correctly titled CALL OF DUTY: MODERN WARFARE 2, was again passed with an MA15+ (Strong violence) rating.
On 28 October, leaked footage claiming to be from the game began to appear online. It included a mission where players could join a group of terrorists and shoot civilians in an airport.
This became know as the ‘No Russian’ mission.
Fearing that this could damage the title, Activision soon released a statement.
October 29, 2009
“The leaked footage was taken from a copy of game that was obtained illegally and is not representative of the overall gameplay experience in MODERN WARFARE 2.”
“Infinity Ward’s MODERN WARFARE 2 features a deep and gripping storyline in which players face off against a terrorist threat dedicated to bringing the world to the brink of collapse,”
“The game includes a plot involving a mission carried out by a Russian villain who wants to trigger a global war. In order to defeat him, the player infiltrates his inner circle. The scene is designed to evoke the atrocities of terrorism.”
“At the beginning of the game, players encounter a mandatory ‘checkpoint’ in which they are warned that an upcoming segment may contain disturbing elements, and they can choose not to engage in the gameplay that involves this scene.”– Modern Warfare 2 massacre ‘not representative of overall experience’ – Activision
– article @ gamespot.com
Protecting the children
In Australia, the usual suspects were soon calling for the MA15+ rating to be reviewed. This really meant, due to their opposition to an R18+ clasification, that they were calling for a ban.
October 29, 2009
Jane Roberts, president of the Australian Council on Children and the Media, called on the Classification Board to review its rating decision.
She said even if the game maintained an MA15+ rating it would still be easily accessible by people under 15.
“The consequences of terrorism are just abhorrent in our community and yet here we are with a product that’s meant to be passed off as a leisure time activity, actually promoting what most world leaders speak out publicly against,” said Roberts, who is also the principal policy officer in Western Australia’s Department of Premier and Cabinet.
“We understand that it’s a game but … we’re not far off when you look at the images that you could actually put it on a Channel Nine news report and you’d think maybe that is real.
“If that material was on the internet about how to become a terrorist, how to join a group and how to wipe out people – that would be removed because it would not be acceptable.”
South Australian Attorney-General Michael Atkinson, said: “Expecting game designers to be responsible by not glorifying terrorism will always lead to disappointment.”– Outrage as terrorist game lets players massacre civilians
– article @ smh.com.au
No Review Board appeal
Michael Atkinson (Labor), the South Australian Attorney-General, was soon calling for a review.
November 20, 2009
The decision on this game [CALL OF DUTY: MODERN WARFARE 2] to give it an MA15+ classification and in that sort of Commonwealth Classification Board I’ll be appealing against that classification.
I think it’s wrong, it doesn’t surprise me because the Classification Board in Australia does everything to try to get games in under the radar and film generally, but just because the system’s not being applied properly, does not mean that the principals in the system are wrong.– Does Australia need an R18+ rating for computer games?
– article @ abc.net.au
In January 2010, Atkinson revealed he had not actually gone through with his threat.
January 19, 2010
“[Federal Minister for Home Affairs] Brendan O’Connor was planning to appeal the same game I was, and I understood that he went ahead with this appeal so there was no reason for me to do the same,”
“I don’t know what the result of this appeal was.”
According to the Classification Board of Australia, the Classification Review Board has not received an appeal on any video game classification decision from O’Connor in 2009 or 2010. The board also told GameSpot AU in November last year that no appeal from Atkinson had been received, which indicates that neither minister followed up his intentions to appeal MODERN WARFARE 2.– Atkinson “won’t surrender” anti-R18+ fight
– article @ gamespot.com
September 7, 2010– Classification Board, Annual Report 2009-2010
Nine correspondents complained that the MA 15+ classification for CALL OF DUTY: MODERN WARFARE 2 was too low, with many citing the violence and terrorism themes.
Australian attitudes to violence in video games
In October and November 2011, the Australian Law Reform Commission conducted a study to gauge community attitudes to ‘high-level material’. It was carried out as part of their research for the ‘Classification: Content Regulation and Convergent Media Final Report’ that was released in March 2012.
The study, which includes an explanation of the methodology and the final report, can be found at the Australian Law Reform Commission’s site. One of the topics examined was violence in video games. The group were show the airport scene from CALL OF DUTY: MODERN WARFARE 2 (2009), the lift scene from F.E.A.R. 2: PROJECT ORIGIN (2008), and a fighting scene from MORTAL KOMBAT (2011).
December 7, 2011
CG = Community Groups
RG = Reference Groups
Violence in Computer Games
Brief footage was shown from three computer games:
Each participant’s immediate personal response was indicated by raising one of three cards immediately after the viewing of the footage and then recording this response in the questionnaire. Based on the metaphor of the traffic light, a red card implies ‘yes, this content is offensive to me’, a yellow card implies ‘I’m unsure whether the content is offensive or not to me’ and a green card implies ‘no, the content is not offensive to me’.
CALL OF DUTY: MODERN WARFARE: in this game you are an undercover operative with a terrorist group. The activity occurs in an airport lounge. Passengers in the lounge are fired upon with machine gun fire.
15: Yes, offensive
13: No, not offensive
16: Yes, offensive
5: No, not offensive
MORTAL KOMBAT: the aim of the game is to beat an opponent using a variety of violent moves, sometimes with weapons, including slicing bodies with chainsaws.
8: Yes, offensive
16: No, not offensive
3: Yes, offensive
22: No, not offensive
F.E.A.R. 2: PROJECT ORIGIN: the aim of the game is to engage in war moves to combat an enemy. Harm is caused by using a variety of weapons including guns, rocket launchers, hand grenades and nail guns.
Lift Well Scene
5: Yes, offensive
16: No, not offensive
4: Yes, offensive
21: No, not offensive
Violence In Computer Games – Detailed Analysis
Was the material offensive?
CG participants were generally unsure or not offended by the material, with comments such as ‘one expects a level of blood and gore’, ‘it’s all fantastical’, and ‘it’s comic book material’.
A minority found the footage offensive and noted that ‘it was unacceptable that it’s becoming acceptable’ and that ‘internet gaming assists in making violence so acceptable’. One commented that the more she was thinking about it, the more offended she was getting: ‘If it had been real people (e.g. in a movie) I would have been instantly offended’.
The airport content in CALL OF DUTY was identified as the most offensive, generally noted as being due to it portraying violence directed at innocent people, e.g. ‘it’s too close to reality’. One participant noted the potentially negative effect of such violence particularly on refugee children.
RG participants often questioned the validity of the term “offensive” to describe their reactions to the video game material.
RG respondents who were clearly offended by the material pointed to issues such as the fact that the player is actually carrying out the actions, which possibly made it more disturbing than an acted out scene in a film.
Was the material impactful?
CG and RG participants generally found the airport scene in Call of Duty to be more impactful than the others, due to the random nature of the shooting of innocent people.
There was recognition from some participants that computer games may have a more serious impact than what people generally think or give them credit for, and that ‘it can be the tipping point (i.e. inciting violence) for some people’.
Should the material be banned or restricted?
CG and RG participants would generally not ban the material, although some felt that “killing people” in games should be banned.
Participants would age restrict it – suggested age ranges from 15 to 18 – but at the same time there was acceptance by some participants that ‘the more you restrict things the more people watch it’.
There was a view that the most vulnerable to such material may be children aged between 10 and 13, and as such a restriction 15+ was probably appropriate.
The content regarded by most participants as being unsuitable for games included content that has a superfluous role in the story, sexual violence, and graphic scenes of torture.
CG participants with a gaming background introduced into the discussion the point that ‘artists search for the craziest way to finish off someone’, and that it’s the creativity of the designer that gamers focus on, not necessarily the violence being portrayed. They also noted that gamers are able to „skip‟ certain footage of the game, but that ‘gamers often don’t choose this option because then they miss out on the artistry’. The dexterity required of players to perform certain of the actions was also highlighted. It should also be noted that numbers of participants indicated that they had never played computer games before. There was also an admission by many CG participants who were parents that more often than not, very little attention was given the supervision of the computer games their children played.
Several participants from particularly the RG groups made the point that they were viewing the content solely from an adult perspective, and that this was a separate issue from their equally important view that the content was not suitable for children. CG participants also struggled to separate their own opinions from their concerns about children – as one noted, ‘I’ve got 8 and 11 year old grandchildren so I find it difficult to separate my views from what would be suitable for them’.
There was strong debate amongst some RG participants on the importance of the context of the games (including what the purpose was, the understanding of the characters, and the overall objective for the player), ranging from the view that the context of the game makes the violence more acceptable (e.g. ‘context is critical to determine if violence is gratuitous or not’) to the sense of offence actually increasing due to the context the player was placed in (e.g. ‘needing to shoot innocent people at the airport’) to the view that they had only been asked to rate their responses to the extracts of content, not to consider contextual issues. Some RG participants (who were not gamers) indicated that they felt they could change their attitudes toward the material on the basis of arguments made about the context, i.e. that the context could be critical in determining whether the violence was gratuitous or not, but this sentiment was by no means uniform.
Degree To Which Opinions Changed After Open Discussion
There was some evidence of opinions changing after the open discussion but only in half a dozen or so instances. These mainly applied to participants who felt that some content should be made illegal to purchase in the shops and/or blocked on the internet.
There was also some evidence, although to a lesser extent, of a change in some participants‟ viewpoints in relation to computer games with contrasting views between the sale of the content and access to it on the internet. For three of the materials shown – MORTAL KOMBAT, CALL OF DUTY and F.E.A.R.2 – viewpoints changed to make this content legal for sale in shops. For this same content opinions were divided about whether it should be blocked on the internet with as many agreeing it should with those who felt unsure. This represented a line of thought amongst participants that the material is easier to control at the point of sale than it is on the internet.– Community attitudes to higher level media content: Final report
– Community and Reference Group Forums
– Conducted for the Australian Law Reform Commission