Examination of Witnesses (Questions 560-576)|
13 MAY 2008
Q560 Adam Price: Do you already have
the elements of a definition through your main activity?
Mr Cooke: Yes, indeed we do. I
imagine there may well be a legislative vehicle resulting from
this whole area of work and if that is the case then that could
Q561 Adam Price: The Committee would
be very interested in seeing that, I am sure. Turning to the Video
Standards Council, what do you say to the argument that is put
to us by some people within the industry that you either have
a domestic UK classification system or you have a global classification
system and the idea of a European regime actually is neither fish
nor fowl and is quite frankly irrelevant?
Mr Darby: I do not accept that
it is irrelevant. The publishers have a job to do which is getting
a product to market, getting that product to the consumer. The
PEGI system is owned by the European arm of the publishers. A
lot of them are US based companies that have a European arm and
so the publishers themselves are global but they are publishing
within a European market. An example of the international aspect
would be a US based company with a European arm with a game that
is going to be played in Europe (it does not matter whether it
is in the UK or anywhere else in Europe) but it is being posted
on a US server. The only way of having any control over that from
Europe is with a self-regulatory system by that publisher being
responsible and saying that to go into Europe I have one system
I can use so I do not mind waiting and then that will apply throughout
the whole of Europe exactly the same way as the ESRB applies throughout
the whole of North America.
Mr Hall: I think the alternative
of doing a BBFC in the 27 other countries in Europe would just
be out of the question.
Mr Darby: Using what I just said
about the US based server, I think that if PEGI was to fail throughout
Europe what I personally think is likely to happen is that the
ESRB ratingwhich will have been obtained in the USwill
be the one that the consumer throughout Europe will actually see
on the product because they will not go through the process of
obtaining 27 different ratings when it is online and they are
not required to do so.
Mr Cooke: I still do not really
see this because in this context the UK is not like Poland, say,
it is like the States or Germany or Japan or Australia, none of
whom are members of PEGI and all of whom have systems which do
factor in national issues and sensitivities.
Q562 Mr Evans: I have to admit that
I do not play these games at all so I am in completely new territory.
In your estimation is it violent people who like to play violent
games? Or can the violent games actually make people violent?
I completely understand the difference between watching a film
for an hour and half or two hours and then playing a violent game
over several days where there is a lot of violence and you are
the one causing a lot of the violence.
Mr Cooke: There is pretty good
analysis of this in the Byron report because she did get a lot
of experts in the field together. The conclusions accord pretty
much with our experience as well. Every time a researcher produces
a claimed effect another researcher jumps on them and pulls it
to pieces. I think what you are left with is some studies that
show some kind of link with aggression rather than necessarily
causing criminal behaviour which I think no study really demonstrates.
The other thing though is a question mark about whether there
are particular games and particular personality types and particular
situations where the combination is bad and you need to take account
of that. I do strongly believe that if you try and base classification
just on the behavioural social science research you will come
unstuck and you have to look wider than that. To use an old-fashioned
word I think you have to look at moral harm as well. You have
to look at possible more insidious effects on attitudes. I think
that is entirely consistent with national and European law and
I do not really know of any classifier in the world who tries
to do it just on the basis of the academic social science research;
I do not think you can.
Mr Hall: I would hasten to add
that the PEGI system was introduced across Europe with the fundamental
objective of protecting children from unsuitable material, almost
irrespective of what the evidence is on whether there is any harm
effect. Whether there is any harm caused by viewing violence on
the screen, we have to go along with the Byron report; there is
no conclusive evidence either way.
Q563 Mr Evans: There is a piece I
have just been reading about which I find incredibly ironic about
when Grand Theft Auto was released in Croydon there was
a queue of people and somebody actually got stabbed randomly.
That is what it says here; I do not know whether that is the case.
Mr Hall: The story is untrue;
the person who got stabbed was not in the queue and was a quarter
of a mile away.
Q564 Mr Evans: So that is completely
Mr Hall: Yes.
Q565 Mr Evans: This is all part of
the aura about these games like Grand Theft Auto. Tell
me, what is Grand Theft Auto like? You have played it for
Mr Cooke: I have played several
Q566 Mr Evans: Did you enjoy it?
Mr Cooke: It is very much an adult
game; it is not suitable for people below 18. It contains material
which some people will find a lot of fun and other people will
find very offensive and tasteless. It is very different from Manhunt
2; there is a lot of humour in it. It may or may not be your
cup of tea but there is irony, there is satire. The difference
between something like GTA4 and Manhunt 2 is that
the latter just has such a single-minded focus on exploring the
kills. Potentially you could have hundreds and hundreds of kills
in the game and there is any number of permutations; you could
do it with any number of a huge range of weapons. There were three
different levels for the killswhite, orange and red or
something like thatso there was a tipping point in the
game where you very quickly got to the point where you were skilful
enough to escape the so-called huntersthese people who
are trying to stop you escapeand any competent gamer would
quickly get to the point where the real significance of the game
was just exploring the kills. GTA4 is not like that at
all, it is more of a kind of "Sopranos" theme except
that I think they are Eastern European gangsters in something
that looks remarkably like New York. Does that give you a flavour
Q567 Mr Evans: Yes. When you work
with the publishers do you say to them, "Listen, we'll give
it a certificate but you have to take this out and that out"?
Mr Cooke: That is the kind of
dialogue that happens a lot with film. We always like to give
people a choice; we do not particularly like saying, "You
must cut this", but what we will say is, "If you are
desperate to get to a 12A rather than a 15 then the only way you
are going to do that is by reducing certain scenes." That
is a bit more difficult with games because of the way in which
they are constructed, but in principle the same kind of conversation
can happen. It did happen, for instance, with a game that masqueraded
for a while under a Latin name of Canis Canem Edit and
then reverted to Bully which it was going to be originally
I think. We did have a dialogue at a very early stage with the
publisher and some changes were made, so it is possible.
Mr Johnson: It is worth saying
as well that we have a reject power, that if we refuse to classify
something it cannot be legally sold in the UK. That does give
us purchase with the distributors. For instance, a couple of games
relating to that, The Punisher for example, had a solarised
effect over the worst of the violence in order to make sure that
they got an 18 certificate and also in relation to an 18 rated
game called Bulletproof: 50 Cent which is based
on the supposed life of the US rapper we were able to persuade
the publisher to conduct a responsible marketing campaign. We
asked to see evidence of that before we classified that work.
The fact that we have that reject power gives us a point of purchase.
Q568 Mr Evans: How often do you reject
Mr Johnson: We have only rejected
two games in ten years.
Q569 Mr Evans: I am just wondering
what it needs to take for a game to be rejected. You have just
explained Manhunt 2 in vivid detail what the game is all
about and if that is not going to be banned what was contained
in the games you banned?
Mr Cooke: Manhunt 2 has
probably taken years off my life. You have to do what you think
is right and as you probably know our decision was twice overturned
by our independent appeals tribunalthe Video Appeals Committeeby
the narrowest of margins, four-three, so they clearly found it
very difficult. I think the one good thing from our point of view
was that we went to the High Court as well as part of this process
and we did clarify the definition of harm which is absolutely
at the core of these decisions. Rejection is obviously a very
strong step and I understand why some people do not like it and
why people in the games industry do not like it. Our view is that
it does have a significance, as Pete says, that goes beyond the
individual titles that you actually reject. The mere fact that
you can do it means that you can have dialogue and influence on
quite a large number of other games as well. The two examples
he gives are very real. I think it is an important power for us
to have. Dr Byron I think concluded that it was important and
it should be retained. I perfectly understand that it would be
a very difficult power for PEGI to equip itself with because there
are going to be Member States who will not be comfortable with
having that kind of power, but in my view it is essential to retain
Q570 Mr Evans: Do you think in your
own mind, after having played some of these violent games, that
people could become violent because of them? In your own mind
that is, never mind the research that has been done, do you think
that if you play that for long enough it could actually turn you?
Mr Cooke: I doubt it. It depends
on the person. I can get a very short term buzz when I play a
particular game but obviously we cannot classify for Broadmoor
patients. I do also think there is a real issue about duration
of play. Addiction is the word that some people use; I think that
is quite a strong word, maybe too strong, but there is evidence
that people are having sessions that may last more than 24 hours
on endquite substantially more in some casesso I
think there is an issue there too. Of course with the online gaming
you are also incentivised to go on playing because you may lose
your position or potency or whatever it is if you do not go on
playing very regularly.
Q571 Alan Keen: You mentioned just
now that you place a barrier and therefore people will discuss
with you because you have the power to reject. First of all, what
was the effect of the High Court ruling on people coming to you
with further games? Did it have an effect? Did it give them an
Mr Cooke: It did, actually. I
think there were one or two titles where I sensed that people
were either pulling back a bit or at least asking a question.
The High Court decision itselfMr Justice Mitting's judgmentwas
very helpful because one of the arguments was that we have to
demonstrate devastating harm, devastating effect and he said he
did not see that this was a reasonable thing to ask a regulator
to be able to demonstrate. How can you show that a game is going
to have a devastating effect on somebody? That was very helpful.
He also said that we needed to look at potential harm and not
just actual harm. Clearly if you have a game like Manhunt 2
which is not actually released then it would be almost impossible
to demonstrate actual harm when nobody has actually played the
thing apart from poor suckers like me. That was a very helpful
clarification of the law.
Mr Hall: I do not think the Manhunt
2 situation and what happened there will have the effect of
encouraging more and more games' publishers to chance their arm,
if that is the right way of putting it. There is no indication
of that. The percentage of games that have had to go to the BBFC
over the last ten years or so because of gross violence has consistently
run at the two and half to three per cent of the total; it has
always been in that region and there are no signs that it will
change. There will always be publishers who are knocking the door
at the front end and always will be, but I do not think it will
Q572 Chairman: You have only ever
banned two games, one of them you lost in the High Court and is
now out on sale.
Mr Cooke: Both. The first one
was a game called Carmageddon and again we lost; this was
10 years ago.
Q573 Chairman: Does it not rather
undermine the credibility of the system if you have only ever
tried to ban two games and on each occasion you have failed?
Mr Cooke: You have a reject power;
you have to use it and you have to accept the result that an independent
judicial tribunal comes up with. I make no secret of the fact
that I regret the decision in the case of Manhunt 2 because
I thought that the arguments that we put forward for rejection
were cogent; I thought there were real concerns that we had addressed.
We had dialogue with the publisher which resulted in modifications
to the game. We said that this is an improvement but they needed
to go further and at that point the publisher exercised their
right not to continue those dialogues so the case went to appeal.
I think the fact that it was 4-3 on both occasions was an indication
of how fine a balance it was. Yes, it is not frequent that we
have used the rejection power but then that is true for DVDs as
well. It will usually only be one or two cases a year. We have
rejected a DVD quite recently called Murder Set Pieces
and it is not something that we like to do because there is a
clear presumption that comes through every time we consult the
publicwe consult on a very large scale, 11,000 the last
time we revised the guidelinesthat at the adult level people
ought to be free to choose their entertainment provided it is
not illegal and provided there is not a clear harm argument. We
thought there was a clear harm argument in the case of Manhunt
2; we did not win in the end but we win some of our appeals,
we lose some of them.
Mr Johnson: It is worth emphasising
that the version of Manhunt 2 that is going to be released
now is significantly less graphic in its violence than the version
that was originally submitted to us and that is because we have
that reject power. We rejected the most violent version of the
game; we then also rejected a less violent version of the game
and the appeal that we lost was only on the less violent version.
The one with the unexpurgated violence remains banned in the UK.
Mr Darby: It is worth pointing
out that what David said is right, that PEGI will not have the
ability to actually ban a game but that does not mean that it
does not accept what Dr Byron has said, that within the UK that
remains a necessity. PEGI itself cannot carry out the banning
because of the question of censorship around Europe; some countries
sit uncomfortably with any outside body having any form of censorship
on any material going into their country. The way PEGI can deal
with this is by doing very much as we do now. Any material that
we see at that upper level that we think ought to be considered
we could either refer to the BBFC or perhaps some independent
body who could actually look at the sensitivities within the UK
and then make a decision on whether that product was going to
be allowed to be released in the UK regardless of whether it had
a PEGI rating for the rest of Europe. PEGI cannot carry it out
itself because it is made up of so many European bodies.
Mr Cooke: I like to think we are
an independent body.
Q574 Alan Keen: I am trying to imagine
if games could be made even worse. Has anybody attempted to enable
the players to upload photographs of well-known people or next
door neighbours so they could then pursue or something? I would
regard that as absolutely unacceptable, that people playing these
violent games would be enabled to produce the characters of people
they actually identify.
Mr Cooke: I think the scope is
Q575 Alan Keen: Yes, it is; I am
really asking what is coming next? What do we need to watch out
Mr Cooke: Something that would
bother me a lot would be sexual violence of a kind that might
encourage emulation because there is more of a research base for
thinking that possibly people might copy that. That would be a
worrying development and something that we would scrutinise very
closely and we would not hesitate to require cuts or indeed to
reject a work. The DVD I mentioned earlier, the Murder Set
Pieces, was rejected largely on the grounds of sexual violence
so if there were to be a kind of game version of that then it
would not have an easy ride from us.
Q576 Adam Price: Currys have recently
said that they are going to have their own classification for
games. Before long there will be no room left on the box there
will be so many different ratings on it. What do you think of
Mr Cooke: My understanding is
that retailers would prefer to operate with BBFC symbols, a single
system. I am not sure if they have said this to you in evidence
or not, but I have certainly seen press releases that indicate
that that is the position of the ERA for instance.
Mr Hall: Retailers do want one
system; they would prefer one system and they would prefer it
to be mandatory, they would also prefer it to be pan-European.
Mr Cooke: I am not quite sure
that that is what the ERA have said.
Chairman: We have had a submission from
the ERA. I think that is all; thank you very much.