[iDC] game culture (?) (!) (%#@) - Manhunt 2 and Resistance

matteo bittanti mbittanti at gmail.com
Sun Jun 24 15:16:16 EDT 2007


Great points indeed.

RE: "the latest debate about the classification of 'Manhunt
2' in the UK and its use of a cathedral for a FPS gorefest."

I wrote a few comments here <http://www.videoludica.com/news.php?news=653>and
here <http://www.videoludica.com/news.php?news=639>.

*Manhunt 2*
Following a de facto ban in the United Kingdom and in the United States and
Ireland, Italy has officially vetoed the release of *Manhunt 2*. The game
release was originally scheduled for July 13 2007.

Italy's Minister of Communications, Paolo
has personally intervened to stop the release of *Manhunt 2*. "The game -
Gentiloni said - is not simply violent, but also cruel and sadistic, set in
a squalid environment and, thus, it is a incessant, unrelenting incitement
to violence and murder".

Incidentally, his words echo the evaluation made by David Cooke, director of
the BBFC. On June 19 2007, Cooke said: "*Manhunt 2* is distinguishable from
recent high-end video games by its unremitting bleakness and callousness of
tone. There is sustained and cumulative casual sadism in the way in which
these killings are committed, and encouraged, in the game." (Source: BBC
News <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/leicestershire/6767623.stm>

The original *Manhunt* was introduced in Italy in 2003 with a 18+ PEGI
rating. "The original, however - stated Gentiloni - did not have the same
alarming features of the second episode". The minister decided to ban the
game after being informed about the decision taken by the UK and Ireland. "I
have personally asked Take Two Italy to cancel the release of the game.
Moreover, I have asked ISFE - the Interactive Software Federation of
Europe<http://www.isfe-eu.org/>- to discuss this issue at a
continental level. ISFE's president - added
Gentiloni - has promptly responded that *Manhunt 2* is top priority on the
next meeting agenda, scheduled for June 26 2007 in Bruxells. Among the
participants is Viviane Reding, EC commissioner for the information society
and media. Although the average age of gamers in Italy is 28, we cannot
forget that videogames are very popular among the youngsters. And if
publishers are developing games for older and more mature generations, it is
necessary to protect the innocents".

Gentiloni's statement is highly contradictory. On one hand, he acknowledges
that today's gamers are mature and older than they used to be - thus, they
should be free to buy the games that they wish to play. On the other hand,
the Minister argues that the innocents, i..e. kids and teenagers, should be
protected. This is a *non sequitur*, obviously. The two statements are not
mutually exclusive. Instead of enforcing retailers to sell M-rated games to
mature gamers, Gentiloni - along with the UK and Ireland - has decided to
ban the game altogether.

Moreover, the thesis that *Manhunt* instigates players to commit acts of
violence and murder is ludicrous. This erroneous understanding of the
videogame medium as a "murder simulator" is extremely common, especially
among politicians, but has no scientific basis and the statistics on youth
crime bluntly contradict such claim. The game is being banned not on the
basis of its content but on the basis of its alleged consequences. As for
the content, it is questionable like any other controversial work of art -
yes, art. Thus, when Take Two chairman Strauss Zelnick states that "*Manhunt
2* is an entertainment experience for fans of psychological thrillers and
horror. The subject matter of this game is in line with other mainstream
entertainment choices for adult consumers," (from BBC
he is absolutely correct.Bret Easton Ellis' American
Psycho<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Psycho>can be bought in
any bookstore by anybody, even by a teenager. The same goes
for Dennis Cooper's graphic, sadistic and cruel
Books do not even have a rating system. And yet, when a game tackles a
controversial theme, the public opinion is shocked and disgusted.

I have not played the game, thus I cannot comment on Gentiloni's claim that
the sequel has more "alarming features" than the original. We did express
some serious concerns about *Manhunt* in our collective book of game
criticism Understanding Videogames
but we also felt - and feel - that censorship is wrong. *Gamespot*'s
contributors Ricardo Torres, Guy Cocker did see the game. This is what they

"Based on what we played, *Manhunt 2* is shaping up to be a solid,
intriguing follow-up to the original. The game's violence and gore, which
have become the mother of all lightning rods for the title, are in full
effect. But, while they've been ramped up from the original game, they're
not exactly going to wreck Western civilization any more than, say, the *Saw
* and *Hostel* movies--or just about any other of the slasher flicks that
come in and out of vogue. What we saw was graphic for sure, and given a
slightly unsettling twist by the interactivity offered by the Wii game, but
ultimately it's nothing we haven't seen before in other games, movies, or
even some television." (Ricardo Torres, Guy
*GameSpot*, Jun 21, 2007).

While Gentiloni's argument is both contradictory and unfounded, Sony and
Nintendo's positions about the nature of the medium are very clear. As we
all know, *Manhunt 2* will not be distributed in the US. This is indeed bad
news. Both game companies have stated that they do not approve, sell or
licenses games that carry the ESRB rating 'AO' (Adults Only)." Specifically,
Nintendo has reportedly said: "Please note that Nintendo does not sell or
license games that carry the ESRB rating 'AO' (Adults Only)." Meanwhile,
Sony US spokesman Dave Karraker has being quoted saying: "Currently it's
SCE's policy not to allow the playback of AO rated content on our systems."
(Source: CVG <http://www.computerandvideogames.com/article.php?id=166333>).

This basically means: *Videogames are not equal to literature, film, and
other visual media*. Videogames are an inferior form of expression that
should not deal with controversial content. We - Nintendo and Sony - do not
support the production, promotion, or sale of games for adults, because
videogames are just for kids. If you are seeking for adult content, watch a
movie, read a novel, or go to see a play. Digital games are just a
sophisticated pastime.

The very fact that the major players in the industry are devaluating the
game medium is disparaging, although hardly surprising. While I do not find
*Manhunt* particularly interesting per se, I do admire Rockstar willingness
to push the boundaries and explore the "possibility space" offered by games
to an extreme. They embody the very notion of transgressive game design.

The role of the critic is to evaluate, analyze, and discuss cultural
artifacts, even - *especially* - those that are controversial, extreme, and
problematic. Rockstar Games issued a press release stating: "The stories in
modern videogames are as diverse as the stories in books, film and
television. The adult consumers who would play this game fully understand
that it is fictional interactive entertainment and nothing more." It is hard
to disagree. By denying the public the access to *Manhunt 2*, game companies
and governments are acting in an extremely childish and immature way.

Question: will France act differently than the rest of Europe? In November
2006, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres - the self-appointed French "minister of
video games" - stated that "People have looked down on video games for far
too long, overlooking <http://www.videoludica.com/news.php?news=432> their
great creativity and cultural value."

Q: Does this apply to *Manhunt 2* as well?

RE: *Manchester Cathedral vs Sony*

As I write this, the Manchester Cathedral is reportedly considering suing
Sony for copyright infringement and blasphemy regarding the use of the
Cathedral as a battlefield for *Resistance: Fall of Man*. This is not the
first time that Sony and the Church have collided.

In September 2005, a PlayStation2 campaign titled "The Passion of the Gamer"
ignited a major controversy in Italy. Following a unilateral condemnation by
the Vatican and by most, if not all, political parties, Sony Computer
Entertainment of Italy harshly removed all the printed ads and issued a
public apology <http://mbf.blogs.com/mbf/2005/09/the_last_passio.html>

In this case, however, the *querelle* concerns the very materiality of the
virtual worlds, rather than their promotional strategies. According to BBC
News <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/manchester/6736809.stm>,
The Bishop of Manchester, Right Rev Nigel McCullough, described the decision
to feature the city's cathedral as a backdrop as "highly irresponsible" -
especially in the light of Manchester's history of gun crime. "It is well
known that Manchester has a gun crime problem," he told the BBC. "For a
global manufacturer to re-create one of our great cathedrals with
photo-realistic quality and then encourage people to have guns battles in
the building is beyond belief and highly irresponsible".

Right Rev McCulloch's statements are deeply flawed as they implicitly
suggest a direct link between simulated, fictional violence in videogames
and real violence in the city of Manchester. Such view, however, is not
surprising considering the Church's official stand on digital games. Last
January, as part of the annual papal message for World Communications Day,
titled "Children and the Media: A Challenge for Education," Pope Benedict
XVI discussed the media's effect on children, condemning the influence of
violence games and films on the

"Any trend to produce programs and products--including animated films and
video games--which in the name of entertainment exalt violence and portray
antisocial behavior or the trivialization of human sexuality is a
perversion, all the more repulsive when these programs are directed at
children and adolescents" (Benedict XVI)

[The Pope's statement, by the way, was clearly motivated by the Rule
of Rose<http://www.videoludica.com/search.php?str=%A0rule+of+rose>scandal
that 'shocked' Italy just a month before - in other words, we are
witnessing a war of words - and worlds - between the Church and Sony,
between the real, the virtual, and the supernatural).

Meanwhile, Reverend McCulloch has demanded Sony's official excuses and the
removal of *Resistance: Fall of Man from the shelves*. The BBC also reports
that The Very Reverend Rogers Govender, the Dean of Manchester Cathedral,
said that the first-person shooter game is "undermining" the work of the

"We are shocked to see a place of learning, prayer and heritage being
presented to the youth market as a location where guns can be fired. 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 Very Reverend Rogers Govender)

This issue is indeed crucial. The collusion between virtual worlds and
simulated architecture is not new, but such incidents are bound to grow
exponentially. Sony's response to the accusations is that "*Resistance: Fall
of Man* is a fantasy science fiction game and is not based on reality",
which does not change the fact that without a permission, they could not
have used the monument in the game. Usually, both film and game companies
seek a "location release" in advance for using places to be filmed or
reproduced, thus Sony's comment ("We thought we obtainted the permission")
is rather ambiguous.

Even more interestingly, David Wilson, a Sony spokesman, told *The
Times*newspaper described the virtual cathedral as "game-created
footage [...] not
video or photography", which raises even more questions regarding law,
videogames, and tangible vs. simulated architecture.

This issue is extremely complex as it involves legal, technical, and even
ethical factors. Rather than trying to provide some answers, I would like to
add my own set of queries:

1) *Can a videogame be more sacrilegious or blasphemous* than a H&M
billboard featuring Madonna on another famous cathedral, the Duomo of

2) *Is Resistance: Fall of Man really "undermining" the Cathedral's
significance as The Very Reverend Rogers Govender argues*, or is it rather
increasing its visibility on the cultural map? *The Da Vinci Code* - another
Sony's owned property condemned by the Vatican as "offensive"- has had the
effect of raising awareness around Leonardo Da Vinci's "The Last Supper" and
the annexed Church, Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, by a factor of

3) *How do we make sense of the notion of "sacred" in simulated spaces*? Can
a Church in a videogame environment be as "holy" as its tangible
counterpart? Ernest Adams - and many others - would probably say no. In a
very influential piece written in 2002, he argued

"The primary function of architecture in games is to support the gameplay.
Buildings in games are not analogous to buildings in the real world, because
most of the time their real-world functions are either irrelevant -- the
real-world activity that the building serves isn't meaningful in the game --
or purely metaphorical. Rather, buildings in games are analogous to movie
sets: incomplete, false fronts whose function is to support the narrative of
the movie" (Ernest Adams, *Gamasutra*, 2002).

If a tangible Church is, by definition, "authentic" and therefore "sacred",
a game space - which lacks "authenticity"- cannot be "sacred". Thus, all
religious representations in games are just "interactive movie sets". But is
the distinction really that transparent? What does praying in Second Life
mean, then?<http://www.usatoday.com/tech/gaming/2007-04-01-second-life-religion_N.htm>

4) *In many Call of Duty maps the players can engage in furious battles in
small villages' churches (consider, for instance, the Church Tower
CoD3). Would the Church label such simulated warfare "blasphemous"?* Is *Call
of Duty* desecrating religion? Or is killing Nazis "always legitimate" and
"historically accurate" in a first-person shooter?

5) The clash between the cult of the PlayStation and organized religion is
not limited to Cristianity. As Ben Kuchera

"In 2002 the Sikh Coalition began a petition against the Eidos title *Hitman
2* based on the use of holy temples in the game. The petition lays out their
feelings clearly, "The Harmander Sahib is a holy Sikh place of worship that
serves as a religious and a political center for the Sikhs worldwide. The
Harmander Sahib is held in reverence, just as the Vatican by Catholics...
such a graphical portrayal of violence within the sacred grounds of any
religious place-whether a Gurdwara, a Temple, a Church or a Mosque, is
completely unacceptable." (Ben Kuchera, *Ars Technica*

So, the question is: *Are videogames intrinsically trivializing religious
architecture? And, as a corollary, are videogames secular by default?* Will
"sacred" spaces become "taboo" material in violent games after the latest
Sony's *faux pas*? Does that mean that we will not be able to play Mega
Church Networked Special Edition <http://echurch.cf.huffingtonpost.com/>?

*Update* On June 11, 2007, Sony issued an official

"Sony Computer Entertainment Europe is aware of the concerns expressed by
the Bishop of Manchester and the Cathedral authorities about the use of
Manchester Cathedral in the game *Resistance: Fall of Man*, and we naturally
take their concerns very seriously. *Resistance: Fall of Man* is a fantasy
science fiction game and is not based on reality.

The game is set in an alternate and mythical version of Europe in the 1950s,
in which the enemy are strange looking alien invaders seeking to destroy
humanity. Whilst we believe that we have sought and received all permissions
necessary for the creation of the game, we will be contacting the Cathedral
authorities in order to better understand their concerns in more detail."

Meanwhile, CNN reports that the Church of England is now asking to
"apologize and contribute a large donation from the game's profits as it did
not pay a commercial fee to use the cathedral as a
Other request - such as - the withdrawal of the game altogether, and the
other to modify the section of the cathedral's interior - are still
considered. The BBC also reports that another demand is that "Sony to
support other groups in Manchester fighting against gun

*Some thoughts from game scholars*

Dan Pinchbeck <http://www.videoludica.com/www.danpinchbeck.co.uk>, a
researcher at University of Portsmouth shared a series of interesting
comments on this issue: Two things that are interesting that are coming out
of this: firstly, the CofE has never taken such a strong line before, and
its curious that they have more of a problem with the fact that its one of
their buildings being used than the large numbers of historical (as opposed
to fantastical) shooters that are out there. In other words, there's an
undercurrent of a head-to-head conflict over branding and IP sitting just
below the moral argument. This has been conflated with misreports of the
game: two of the national broadsheets carried the story yesterday, both of
which made errors about the content of the game.

*The Independent* on Sunday described the Cathedral sequences as involving
'hundreds of casualties' whilst the Times reported it was about 'a shoot-out
between rival gunmen' (apologies if that's the wrong way around!). The
reality is that this very short sequence actually involves a swarm of
scorpion like aliens and a few 8 foot, multiple-eyed goons.

Not that its suprising the papers are not actually looking at the media
artifacts, but given the potential seriousness of the CofE's stance, no-one
is bothering to check their facts.

So - historical shooters that re-write chunks of history and reduce German,
Japanese or Korean soldiers to mindless evil cannon-fodder are
fine; bugs in a church, apparently not so fine. A case of 'not in my
backyard/not on my IP' or a specific instance of serious (i.e. legal)
retaliation from a real-world organisation - given the rise in games cited
in the real world, a potentially interesting one to follow?

Its also interesting in the context that Fall of Man generally feels like it
could have been put together in a McCarthyite, 'reds-under-the-bed', 1950s
B-movie script meeting - it's a wonderfully visible metaphor of the current
political climate. And no-one is criticising the game on the basis that it's
appallingly derivative and rather dull..." (*Dan Pinchbeck, June 10 2007*)

Dr. Jason Rutter<http://www.videoludica.com/www.cric.ac.uk/cric/staff/Jason_Rutter/>(The
University of Manchester) also shared some poignant thoughts: "I find
this story interesting not just because of the usual representations of
violence in the media trope (or that I live in Manchester) but the almost
hidden claim that 'permission' was not granted for use of the cathedral's
interior in the games.

I think this is a great example of the manner in which 1) Places we might
regard as public are privately owned, 2) organisations are increasingly
active in managing behaviour in these places and 3) Use copyright of a way
of managing access.

For example staff at the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence are very quick
to stop victors taking pictures of Michelangelo's David -whether or not they
use flash and the case of professional photographers being stopped from
taking pictures of Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate in the Millennium Park are well

Now, I don't know how Insomniac Games generated the interior of the
cathedral but if, as has been suggested, they used the virtual tour
available of the Manchester Cathedral
website<http://www.mindwave.co.uk/manchestercathedral/>- then that
does open up a whole can of copyright worms.

Reports in some reports that 'Sony added that it believed it had "sought and
received all permissions necessary for the creation of the game"' and Sony's
that the sequence in question 'is game-created footage, it is not video or
photography' might suggest that any legal action around copyright is more
worrying that publicity created about a violent video game" (*Dr. Jason
Rutter, June 10 2007*)

"Some other 3D videogame cathedrals that might be worth considering:

1. *TimeSplitters 2* uses Notre Dame set in 1895.
2. *Eternal Darkness* uses a fictional French Cathedral, to very powerful

*Tomb Raider* must use a lot of non-Christian religious sites, but I think
they were largely fictional.

This is only tangentially related, but if I was the Christian Church, I
think I'd be more offended by the fact that so many videogames set the
church as a front for the villains/zealots/monsters. The examples are almost
too many to list:

1. *Diablo* (the church is corrupted by Satan)
2. *Eternal Darkness* (the cathedral and the holy relic is a trap set by an
otherworldly evil)
3. *Chrono Trigger* (the cathedral in 600 AD is a front for Yakra and the
monster army)
4. *Syndicate Wars* (the church is a front for a powerful mega-corporation)
5. *Final Fantasy 6* (Kefka becomes God himself... or at least the imagery
suggests so). Also, it strikes me how often RPGs present a kind of pagan
mysticism as "the truth"... *Valkyrie Profile, Final Fantasy 7*, and *Chrono
Cross* come to mind most immediately, but there are a lot of other examples"
(*Douglas Wilson, June 12 2007*)

"The inside of the cathedral is fairly generic - without the more or less
exact mix of the exterior, I doubt anyone would have noticed. If,
however, the copyright is extended to the contribution of a building's
architecture to the skyline, that would seem to create a very different
set of rules for IP. Misrepresentation is already established, but as
you say, if a portion of a public space can be claimed (i.e. one
building in a city skyline) then this would seem to have ramifications
beyond the obvious impact upon designers using real spaces in game

Whilst I agree with both Jason and Matteo that, in a sense, the usual
moral bulldozing and misrepresentation is nothing particularly new, the
notion of using it to fairly transparently wrap around a copyright
issuesis extremely interesting. Leaves one wondering if Cheddar Gorge
will be the next to object to adding alien warfare to its list of kid's
activities... (Dan Pinchbeck, June 12, 2007)"

*Feedback, Revisions & Comments*

"Your article is a really excellent review of a lot of issues. I disagree
with a few of your interpretations and statements, but you have you covered
all the questions and raised some interesting new ones. You have made one
wrong assumption, however: Manchester Cathedral is not a Roman Catholic
Cathedral; it is Anglican. The material you quote from the Vatican is
interesting background material that will have informed the Cathedral's
Actions, but provides no precedents or instructions for an Anglican
Cathedral. In short the "Catholic Church" (I assume you mean the Roman
Catholic Church) is not involved in this at all - unless it chooses to
express an opinion as a third party. Another point: the wider Church of
England is not directly involved. It is strictly between Manchester
Cathedral (which is a "legal person") and Sony. Also - a detail point, the
Bishop should be "Right Rev Nigel McCullough"." The Dean should be "The Very
Reverend Rogers Govender" I hope that is useful feedback. I'd ask you to
make modification to correct these points - but it is still an excellent
review. I will be linking to your article in my next post. Regards" (Matt
Wardman <http://www.mattwardman.com/>, June 13, 2007).

*Hi Matt, thank you very much for your message. I find your comments on the
case extremely interesting. Also, you are absolutely correct - the Chuch is
Anglican, not Roman Catholic. Being originally from Italy, I have the
tendency to see everything through Catholic-tinted glass - the pervasiveness
of Catholicism in every single aspect of Italian life is unsettling. This,
perhaps, explains (although does not justify), my embarassing mistake. Your
feedback is very much appreciated - I have revised my article. I also
encourage the readers to check out your observations on the matter - your
analysis is accurate, illuminating, and objective (Matteo Bittanti, June 13

*Link*: The Wardman Wire's analysis: the Legal

*Link*: Update 4: Resolution Not

*Link*: Update 3: Fisking Speedy

*Link*: Update 2<http://www.mattwardman.com/blog/2007/06/12/manchester-cathedral-vs-sony-battle-update-2/>

*Link*: Update 1<http://www.mattwardman.com/blog/2007/06/11/video-game-battle-between-sony-and-manchester-cathedral-update/>

On 6/23/07, Andreas Schiffler <aschiffler at ferzkopp.net> wrote:

> > Reality is a convention. And games are simply another form of reality,
> > thus, another convention.
> >
> Sure, but when there are multiple parallel conventions of reality and we
> should be worried about the development of a issues when game-realities
> become so pervasive: the creation of monocultures around certain
> conventions, the inability of the players to make judgements about
> realities, the poor quality of 'mashups' in VR.
> Take for example the latest debate about the classification of 'Manhunt
> 2' in the UK and its use of a cathedral for a FPS gorefest.
> http://technology.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/tech_and_web/gadgets_and_gaming/article1929425.ece
> Here the Christian establishment has evaluated the 'reality' offered by
> the game from their point of view. This can certainly be done from other
> points of view and the focus of my analysis is simply on scientific
> accuracy rather than social convention as above or aesthetic value as
> many do.
> > . I have learnt a lot about space by playing /Super Mario /and/
> > Zelda/. Doug Wilson has more coherent and useful thoughts on the
> > matter
> > <http://www.stanford.edu/%7Edewilson/papers/Thesis_Douglas_Wilson.pdf>
> > (PDF link)
> Doug's theses has indeed some interesting insights (albeit a few
> mistakes are present as well), but the analysis centers around a
> particular viewpoint which is spelled out right in the first quote.
> "Critics of virtual reality warn that technology-based 'psychedelics'
> will produce a
> disembodied race, a culture that ceases to value the body, nature, or
> physical reality in
> general because the alternative will be so persuasive. I believe that
> the reverse is true."
> – Brenda Laurel, Computers as Theatre
> Call me a VR critic in these terms, because I see the disembodiement
> happening to some degree with sciences in general and game physics in
> particular.
> > And according to James Paul Gee
> > <http://www.amazon.com/Video-Games-Teach-Learning-Literacy/dp/1403961697
> >,
> > games are really teaching devices, tools that teach us how to think.
> I totally 'dig' Gee's analysis. But there is an inherent danger in a
> game's ability to act as teaching devices. What if they teach us
> "intelligent design"? Or movie physics? Or that gravity should feel
> 'linear'?
> --AS
> _______________________________________________
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Matteo Bittanti


Eadem mutata resurgo
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