Censorship in videogames: the Manhunt 2 case


Once there was a little videogame by Rockstar called Manhunt 2, which entered its development stage in 2004. In 2007 this game was submitted to two of the most important rating boards for games, the ESRB (USA) and the BBFC (UK), and both of them refused to give them a certain rating which is the maximum rating allowed for a game to be released in a home console. In the case of the ESRB, the rating given was an Adults Only (AO). In order to release the game on the Wii or the PSP they would have needed up to a Mature rating (M). So Rockstar was forced to modify the game to submit it again. In the USA was accepted after this, in the UK it was a bit more difficult, as the modified version was rejected again. Finally, it was released with a delay of nearly a year because of this issue and the version you can find all over Europe is imported from the UK. I haven't found information about what happened about the submission to PEGI and I bet Rockstar didn't even want to try with the Australian ratings board! But anyway, this is enough background information.

I was in Norway when I bought the imported version of Manhunt 2 and my impression was "interesting", it was a stunning, shocking videogame. I'm sure all the controversies, scandals and the ratings issues just raised the hype and the game didn't let me down in this respect. You just escape an asylum (just like Arkham) not knowing who you are and just wonder around finding clues, moving slowly by the shadows and executing people with a wide variety of weapons and environmental kills. Of course I wondered how would it look uncensored. The funny thing is that it is a disappointing game in other aspects. Graphics, depth, simple but very hard gameplay. Although the story and atmosphere are very good. However, I don't want to talk about the quality of the game itself either.

The way Rockstar censored the game was around the executions, they put a lot of noise effects and video filters over the action so you can't see quite right what's going on.

All these are old news, my point is that I just played an uncensored version of Manhunt 2 (without any video filters), and I can tell you that the censored version is WAY more creepy, violent, explicit and disturbing! I think this sensation is caused exactly by the way it was censored, it leaves more to the imagination, and the imagination is just being unleashed by the outstanding atmosphere of the game. Your imagination fills in the gaps of the filters, and the filters themselves make everything more creepy.  You might ask: So the game is not violent/creepy without the censorship? Yes, of course it is. However, the gore is minimum and sometimes the camera just goes away. I suppose both these elements are related to the limited power of the Wii or the PSP. We have seen more gore elsewhere anyway.

I think if the objective of the rating boards was to make sure the softest version possible of the game would be released, they failed, miserably. It is interesting to take this point and make a generalization that sometimes do happen: when attempting to censor or criticize something and make a scandal out of it, the outcomes are the totally opposite than the ones conservative people want to make. Sometimes they give more force to what they want to hide.