Has the whole Manhunt 2 experience changed the way the BBFC works – in terms of culture or processes?
Not fundamentally. The reason for that is obviously we thought it was the right decision, or we won’t have reached it. Fundamentally, we reach decisions on merit – not political consideration. And that absolutely wasn’t the case here. I know a lot of people are going to say ‘well that’s exactly what you did’, but we really didn’t, actually.
It hasn’t affected the fact that we still base our decisions on thorough gameplay. In the case of Manhunt 2, by the end of it all, we probably spent over 100 examiner hours on the game – including more than a few hours of mine. Although we use all the help we can get in submissions, we believe it’s vital to play the game – not just go by walkthroughs or surrogate material.
We actually got a fairly substantial benefit from the Manhunt episode. We went to the High Court, and it clarified the harm test – actually a benefit that flies across a whole range of games and film. It all gets quite technical, but for instance, it said it was not necessary for us to show devastating effect, which was what the arguments had said previously. So we’ve ended up with a clearer legal definition of that test than we had before the case started.
Are you still disappointed with the decision?
We absolutely accept that if you have an independent judicial tribunal, like we do with the Video Appeals Committee, you have to abide by its findings and there’s no point showing sour grapes.
On the other hand, at the end of the day, the fact it took the VAC a second hearing with a very sight majority of 4:3 to get the game passed shows what a difficult issue something like this is always going to be, when you’re very exceptionally rejecting work.
I guess we’re still disappointed because we put quantifiably more examining hours into getting familiar with the game than the VAC was able to do, so in effect, they were substituting their judgement for ours on the basis of familiarity of the game.
But Tanya Byron made it very clear that the evidence to her showed that there ought to be a reject power. If you’ve got one, there’s no point in never ever using it – we’ve used it as sparingly as we possibly could over the years. But the fact people know you can do it means that you can have discussions with publishers about the way game is marketed – you can even have discussions about modification in rarer occasions – so I don’t regret that we took the decision because we thought it was the right one.
Maybe the fact that you allowed the VAC to overrule you on this occasion show that you CAN regulate yourself well – not the other way round as some have suggested?
I think that’s right. We wouldn’t like – and I’m sure no-one in the games industry would like – for the Government to get involved. Maybe what happened to us in the case of Manhunt 2 is the price you have to pay for having a system which is demonstrably independent and demonstrably judicially fair.
It takes up a huge amount of work, because although it’s only a tribunal, you’re employing leading counsel on both sides and you’ve got folders and folders worth of evidence – it’s massive stuff. If you’re potentially going to appear as a witness like I was then you’re going to have to do a lot of preparation. But it does mean there’s something robust that works for the UK when you’ve got a system like that.