So the furore around Detroit: Become Human gathers apace.
With numerous British charities and (admittedly hypocritical) celebrities like Esther Rantzen all making moves to condemn the game for at least so far two depictions of child neglect and abuse (and murder) to date, word is that the Video Standards Council is under pressure by the BBFC to refuse classification. To refuse classification is to effectively ban it from sale in the UK.
We’re not exactly strangers to this situation – Manhunt had a similar thing in the 00’s and in the 90’s, the original Parasite Eve was denied classification for its opening act. That’s not to mention Mortal Kombat’s dalliances on the edge here. It’s not common – it’s not like the BBFC just keeps doing this on a whim, one or two games a decade is still frankly a drop in the ocean compared to the amount of movies that are refused classification – ten in the last decade, compared to the one game – namely, Manhunt – getting that treatment in kind. Part of this has to do with the shift to letting the Video Standards Council take the weight – in essence, the BBFC tackles theatrical releases that trickle down to the home movie scene, but the VSC employs both the BBFC and PEGI systems to classify video games as they aren’t considered as theatrical releases.
And yes, that is a simplification. I’ll leave that for another day.
However, the key point here is that the Video Standards Council does not have absolute carte-blanche here. The BBFC retains the right to intervene or refuse classification on its own terms in a limited capacity. This isn’t simply because the BBFC was there first, though – the age rating warnings in the UK are technically the “property” of the BBFC. You can’t plaster one on without the BBFC’s understanding and whilst the BBFC has been remarkably hands off in the last five years, since it let the VSC take over this area, it still holds the right to make its opinion known in certain cases, and it seems Detroit: Become Human is – or at least, is becoming – one of those “certain cases”.
Let me make this perfectly clear; I don’t know the narrative context as of this post. It could be understandable in the wider scope of the game. It could be cheap exploitation fodder. It could be a number of things – but for now, let’s continue under the tentative assumption that such scenes of abuse, neglect and violence have the nuance and deftness of touch to pull it off. Benefit of the doubt and all that. It’s hard to really know until we get our hands on it.
One thing I am sure of, however, is regardless of Detroit: Become Human’s actual narrative merits; denying it classification would be unquestionably the best thing for the game. Now stop, pause, don’t shriek in horror. Seriously – ask yourself this question for the games which have had run-ins or like Manhunt, were unclassified before cuts. Did, at any point, this hurt actual sales of the game or its popularity?
Did Mortal Kombat fade from our sight? Nope – it’s still here, though even I’ll admit that the super-realism now actually renders it kinda boring and tame, I preferred the slapstick comic-book violence of old. Did it hurt Parasite Eve? Nope – the sequel got through and it was quite the hit in the UK, as I recall selling equatable numbers with Resident Evil 3. We didn’t get the original – but we HAD to see the sequel. Naked shower scene and all. Did it hurt Grand Theft Auto? Oh wait, Grand Theft Auto is the biggest video game franchise in the world now. Manhunt – the same story. It’s dead now, but truth is that the furore only exacerbated interest in what was otherwise a pretty droll and by-the-numbers video game. It was free and effective marketing and it worked really well for them.
The point is – this isn’t the end of the world. In fact, this is the sort of thing which actually enhances interest in a project. Curiosity is a funny thing. “Wow, was it really that bad? Damn, wonder what got people riled up, I gotta see this.” – it’s actually really solid marketing and I think in some capacity, David Cage doth protest too much. The man may be an emotional android, but he’s not stupid and he must know at this point that being in the cross-hairs of the VSC and BBFC is no bad thing right now. It doesn’t happen often, it doesn’t mean you are 100% banned – you can resubmit after cuts or editing – and it also gets you plastered across the news AND the tabloids for the grand price of nothing at all, nothing at all… NOTHING AT ALL! Ahem.
It’s not like loot crates, which are just poison at this point and a different issue entirely. Being edgy has never been a terrible thing (must… resist… edge… puns….). As I said, look over at Grand Theft Auto. Seems fine to me right now.
I also have to point out that taking a look at what gets movies banned these days – well, denied classification – tells you that the threshold for reaching that is pretty damn high at this point and you do have to go way out of your way to start pissing in their cornflakes over at the BBFC. And the BBFC has been, aside a couple of points, pretty good at treating video games the same as movies over the years. Yes, people like me do mock Parasite Eve for being banned for a fiery Opera House inferno when even at the time, gamers were wailing over the death of Aeris in Final Fantasy 7 – no, I’m not spoiler-tagging that because if you don’t know that by now then hello and welcome to 2017, happy to see you and how were those two decades under that rock exactly?
For all the gamer angst at this; look at what has gotten through in recent years;
Doom – lets you quite graphically disembowel, mutilate and otherwise gib demons in a bloody shower of blood and guts.
Far Cry: Primal – not just gory but also has an achievement for you to club your own pet wolf to death.
Dead Island – Plenty of guts and gore right from the off, plus crude weapons of violent zombie death.
Hatred – Yeah, this crap got through. Meditate on that.
I could go on but the fact is… you’d be surprised at how bloody lax the VSC and BBFC actually are on the whole. Hell, Grand Theft Auto 5 was hardly a bed of roses and that barely rustled a feather over at the BBFC. So if Detroit: Become Human is refused classification, for whatever reason – and such reasons will be detailed because they are at least open enough to make that information public – then you have to concede it’s not because they are “always targeting video games”. It’s the first game to even broach this since Manhunt back in 2007. Keep that hyperbole in your pants, please.
No, if this happens – it’s probably going to be for reasons as to why movies get banned. Being a video game is not some kind of special case situation – the games industry still has to comply with the ratings system and it knows at this point what goes and what doesn’t – hell, as I’ve said here a couple of times, the BBFC actually tells people why certain movies are refused classification. So this isn’t because it’s an archaic system – if it was, how the hell did Hatred get past them? Or Doom? Or Mortal Kombat X? Seriously, think about this because I think there is a distinct overreaction happening here. Many movies are refused classification on the grounds of senseless violence and murder scenes – I think we can say 80% of the video games out there right now fit into that territory. One or two cases a DECADE isn’t cause for alarm; it’s often good to remind ourselves where the line is and whether or not the line has, in fact, moved in the intervening years.
But it hasn’t hurt Mortal Kombat. Or Grand Theft Auto. Human Centipede 2 was denied classification, and weirdly it made people want to go and watch it even more (my advice? Don’t. It’s actually a pretty terrible movie beyond the shock-horror). In fact, they often become kind of defining points and lasting legacies in their own right – rightly or wrongly. If anything, it actively gives Detroit: Become Human the honour of being “that special case”; making it an example of how video games can, will and should be judged going forward. And we don’t even know if it’s even worth that distinction yet.
The long and the short of this is thusly; it’s good promotion, it will pique interest, a bunch of people willing to stick it to “the man” (whatever that means) will buy it in their droves and if it does get initially refused classification – they can resubmit after edits and shrug and people will lap it up regardless. It’d be the first game IN A DECADE to be refused classification! It must be good, right? Right?
Yeah. Jaded as I may be, this is just a bit too obvious. But I guess it’s sort of nice to be reminded Esther Rantzen is still alive, at least.
Though quite how I’m yet to figure out.