When you’re growing up there’s always rumours of banned TV adverts and programmes. Kids on the playground start discussing the mystery surrounding such things and instantly they become the stuff of legends. I fondly remember the times of the banned Skittles advert in which a married couple have sex and release a stream of skittles (don’t google that) or the Xbox commercial where a woman gives birth to an Xbox, it’s a crazy world full of awful decisions and hilarious boundary-pushing marketing. But the thing about anything that’s taboo is that you can’t help but be intrigued by it. It doesn’t matter how much you’re told not to do something you’re immediately going to do it. Take my previous bracket as an example, if you’ve not seen that Skittles advert before it’s likely you’ve already got another tab open and you’ve just watched it (I tried to warn you). But it’s that intrigue which makes you watch it and it’s that intrigue of something being taboo that led me to play Rockstar’s Manhunt 2. See, in my School, one of the biggest talking points of them all was Manhunt being banned from the U.K. So, despite the world telling me not to, I decided to take a look. It was one of the games that was so taboo to play that you couldn’t help but love it and I think now’s a more relevant time than ever to take a look back at one of the most controversial series in gaming history.
Manhunt is a 3rd person action game in which you play as disgraced death-row inmate Cash who is saved by a mysterious figure known as the “Director”. This Director, as payment, forces Cash to commit horrific crimes and perform brutal executions under his guidance so he can film it and create the ultimate snuff film. So essentially from the get-go this is the video game representation of a snuff film, the most disregarded genre of film due to its severity and usually disgraceful content. If that’s not already spelling controversy let me just give you some examples of the gameplay. You can sneak around suffocating people with plastic bags, shoot them with nail guns and basically mutilate anyone with any remotely sharp object. Manhunt makes a point of being overly violent like the films it’s paying homage too. The majority of the gameplay is sneaking around, trying to hunt people and dispatching them before they dispatch you, and that gameplay works perfectly. It blends tense stealth with satisfying glory kills which fulfil the darkest of your gaming desires. It’s not difficult to see why this game is so frowned upon though because it is SO graphic. The game puts an emphasis on telling you the best ways to kill a person and makes the kills easily imitable, but that’s what made it stand out. Manhunt goes where no game has ever gone before and it does it with style. Upon release, Manhunt was drowned in complaints regarding the ethics of the game and comments of how a game that glorifies killing so much shouldn’t be on the market. While that’s usually the case when Rockstar releases a new game, this one, unfortunately, led to a more dramatic climax.
Stefan Pakeerah was a 14-year-old boy from Leicestershire, England who was murdered by his 17-year-old friend who was supposedly ‘obsessed with playing Manhunt’. The police seized a copy of the game from the killer’s room and multiple sources, including the child’s parents, stated that him playing the game may have caused a distortion between reality and the game. While I won’t go into the horrific nature of the crime here its thought that the point-based system, which rewarded players for getting more violent kills, is what inspired the brutality of Stefan’s death. This is one of the darkest moments in gaming history and obviously sparked a lot of problems. UK retailers GAME and Dixon’s both withdrew copies from the shelf in response to the allegations and the UK media was a whirlwind of chaos surrounding the ethics of such a game. Rockstar responded to these claims with 2 points. The first was a media statement saying “we have always appreciated Dixons as a retail partner, and we fully respect their actions. We are naturally very surprised and disappointed that any retailer would choose to pull any game … We reject any suggestion or association between the tragic events and the sale of Manhunt.” they denied these claims and any court case surrounding the game was eventually dropped. Their second point was releasing a sequel.
Rockstar has always been a campaigner for the fact that video games aren’t the causes of violence in real life and despite the humongous amount of problems the first game caused they decided to release a sequel. I think Rockstar set out to make the most controversial game of all time and holy shit did they succeed. Manhunt 2 turns everything up to 10. You play as a mental patient with amnesia trying to figure out your past and what you did to end up in an asylum. The gameplay remains practically the same but now you can commit more brutal crimes with a wider variety of ways to do so. There’s a three tier execution system that gets more violent as you go through tiers and you often switch perspectives to play as the villain you are fighting, offering up a new style of play. Instead of changing the things that people complained about in the first game Rockstar just made them more obvious.
Before Manhunt 2 even reached the shelves the censorship came thick and fast. Jack Thompson (infamous video game hater) attempted to sue Take-Two and any company affiliated with the game, even going as far to send a letter to Wendy’s as they were selling toys related to games that were on the same console as Manhunt. Not only this but the BBFC refused to classify the game upon initial inspection forcing Rockstar to remove certain elements like the scoring system. Other countries had similar issues with censorship and it took a long while for the game to reach an acceptable agreement and finally get released on consoles. It was as if Rockstar learnt nothing from the first game and instead, like I said, set out to make something as problematic as they could
I think this starts an interesting argument and raises the question of ‘do violent video games make us violent’, and developers Rockstar are right at the centre of this. Rockstar Games are not ones to shy away from the press, the GTA series in particular, is a franchise that, with each instalment, gains a higher disapproval rating (mostly due to the fact that it’s influencing a younger audience to do the things they see on screen). The logic being if a child sees something violent that they deem to be fun in the game, they will imitate it in real life. For example, a teenager that likes mowing people down in the streets of Los Santos will want to do it in the streets of New York. But this is a message I strongly disagree with. If someone’s psyche is already damaged enough to be able to commit a violent act the games they are playing will not affect that. By the logic of the people who stand against games like Manhunt and GTA 5, everyone who ever sits down to play these games will be influenced to commit a crime. But obviously, that’s not true, my parents have completed GTA 5 three times now and as far I’m aware never have they decided to rob a bank (although that would explain the £3.5 million in notes I discovered under the floorboards). Censoring someone who might commit a crime from playing Manhunt isn’t going to stop them from committing a crime, it’s a poor excuse and an easy way out for people to blame video games. The logic behind banning a game like Manhunt is unbelievably flawed. Games like this are made so people can experience something they would never experience in day to day life, not as a tutorial on how to execute people. Not only this these games aren’t targeted at children, they receive a certificate which states they are to be played by someone over the age of 18. With 18 being the age you are legally classed as an adult you should be old enough to distinguish between reality and virtual reality, if you can’t do that then there is already something wrong with you,m something that playing a violent game won’t make a difference to. Blaming games for crimes and other violent acts is a scapegoat and one that’s used too often, when games like GTA and COD sell as many copies as they do surely millions upon millions of people would be affected by these games and as far as I’m aware they aren’t.
The controversy Manhunt received means the chances of us ever seeing another game are slim. But its impact will not be forgotten anytime soon. It performed relatively well on nearly every console it appeared on, receiving above-average reviews and being praised for its creativity but even so I cant see it making a comeback. Rumours of a potential third instalment arose not long after the sequel, but Take-Two denied any involvement with such a project. Rockstar still fights complaints for any number of their games and I imagine will continue to long into the future. Who knows what dark things will hide in Red Dead Redemption 2 and what that will be the next problem. However as far as Manhunt goes, with it now being 11 years since we saw the last game I doubt Manhunt 3 will ever arrive.
Where do you stand on the gaming violence debate? Did you ever play Manhunt? Let us know in the comments below!