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Tuesday, November 4, 1997 Published at 02:03 GMT


Carmageddon smashes British censor ban

Makers of the controversial computer game Carmageddon have won their appeal against a ban by the British Board of Film Censors.

The move could lead to changes in the system for regulating computer and video games which has been heavily criticised by games manufacturers.

The racing game Carmageddon was submitted to the BBFC in April, but was refused a certificate in July. The game, highly criticised in the press, contains sequences in which pedestrians are run over by the player.

It was subsequently revised by the manufacturer SCI, but with the pedestrians emitting a gory green substance when run down, rather then red blood. More than 50,000 copies were sold in the UK alone.

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But SCI persued the matter, convinced that the BBFC decision to ban the original version was wrong. There was an appeal last week and the result it expected to be officially announced imminently.

The BBC's technology correspondent, Christine McGourtey has learned that the appeal has been upheld - sending a signal to the BBFC that it may have to revised its procedures on regulating computer games.

Its thought to be the first time an appeal has been upheld. Jane Cavanagh, managing director of SCI, said that in future the BBFC may have to prove that there is a strong likelihood a game will have a devastating effect on children before banning a game.

She also accused the BBFC of having an "arrogant and secretive" approach to regulating the games industry and said the decision to ban the game was "completely ludicrous".

"They were hugely swayed by sensational tabloid reports written by people who had never even played the game. The BBFC was wrong and the whole thing has been extremely time-consuming, stressful and expensive, " she said.

Roger Bennett, director of the Electronic Leisure Software Publishers Association, which represents games manufacturers, said responsibility for certifying games should be switched from the BBFC to the Video Standards Council, which already administers the industry's voluntary rating scheme.

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He described the BBFC decision-making process as appalling. "They don't seem to be able to make a decision on anything that may be controversial."

It was the delays, not the decisions themselves, that he criticised. "Some companies have to wait three months. It's totally unaccepable. It damages companies' profits and can put jobs at risk," he said.

By contrast, the Video Standards Council is held in high esteem in the games industry. Iain Muir, the VSC operations manager, says the average turnaround time for viewing and rating a game was one day.

It has rated more than 3,000 games since the voluntary system was put in place in 1994. The voluntary systems runs in parallel to the BBFC certification scheme.

It was designed to give extra advice to parents on buying games that did not by law require a BBFC certificate. For example, computers games that include human sexual activity or gross violence towards humans or animals require a BBFC certificate.

But there's a large grey area between those games that do and those that don't require a certificate by law because of advances in technology that make the computer characters in games far more "human" than previously possible.

The decision on Carmageddon may have implications for other controversial games including Postal, produced by Take 2 Interactive. It too has been the subject of much media debate, with a number of national newspapers criticising the game for its violent content.

The version submitted to the BBFC is a revised version with many of the features most criticised - the ability of the player to shoot his own head off, for example - being removed. The game was due to go on sale last month but is still with the BBFC awaiting a decision. As is another game Grand Theft Auto.

New technology can help computer games companies beat the system though. The irony with Carmageddon was that any player with Internet access could use software available there to turn the toned-down British version back into the original. Which means that despite the success of its appeal, SCI has no need to release the original here, and Jane Cavanagh said it has no plans to do so.

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