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Last Updated: Sunday, 10 June 2007, 10:00 GMT 11:00 UK
Fantasy meets reality in Church row
By Mark Simpson
BBC News, Manchester

Manchester Cathedral
Manchester Cathedral is at the centre of the row

The real-life battle between the Church of England and Sony over a violent computer game proves the theory that reality is often stranger than fantasy.

Will the corporate giant be forced into a grovelling apology for using Manchester Cathedral as the setting for the computerised gun game?

Will the Church end up with a multi-million pound windfall in compensation?

Or will clergy at the cathedral be forced into an embarrassing climbdown?

The answer should become clearer after the two sides talk for the first time later this week. To work out the likely winner of this unusual duel, the competing arguments need to be explored in detail.

'Sick' game

The Church says to base the Sony PlayStation 3 game Resistance: Fall of Man in a virtual cathedral - identical to Manchester Cathedral - is grossly insensitive.

It is not just the use of holy ground for the bloodthirsty game which has upset the clergy; it is the fact that Manchester has been so scarred by gun violence in recent years.

In fact, the cathedral has hosted memorial services for some of the victims. This is why the computer game has been branded "sick" by the Church.

Sony are insisting they have done nothing wrong, and in a statement said: "We have sought and received all permissions necessary for the creation of the game."

Sony PlayStation scene of the interior of Manchester Cathedral
The Church says using the cathedral is "irresponsible"

Church officials claim no permission was sought from them, never mind granted. The obvious conclusion, therefore, is that Sony did not believe it needed any specific approval to re-create a similar computerised cathedral.

So how did it manage to produce such a close replica?

One theory is that the company simply accessed the "virtual tour" of Manchester Cathedral which is freely available to anyone on the internet.

At this stage, Sony have yet to explain how the striking similarities between their game and the Manchester place of worship came about.

What they have said is that the gun-toting game is not based on reality, and in any case, the targets are alien invaders not humans.

Emotive issue

Within the Church of England there is public anger - and private disappointment.

In some quarters, there is a feeling that more people in authority should have rallied to their support by now, rather than leaving them to fight a lone battle against the might of one of the world's commercial giants.

One Church source told me: "If this computer game had been set in a mosque, you can be sure there would have been more of a public outcry.

Sony game from You Tube/Sony PlayStation 3
The game shows a virtual shoot-out inside the cathedral

"Somehow the Christian church is seen as a 'soft touch'. Almost as if we're fair game. But we are determined to stand our ground on this."

In the end, this row could end up being settled by lawyers. However, given that the guns issue is such an emotive one, it may be in the best interests of both sides to find a quick and honourable solution.

Indeed, it could be argued that this messy confrontation will result in a "win-win" for both sides.

Whatever happens, Sony has just gained nationwide publicity for its PlayStation 3, at a time when it is trying to boost sales.

As for the Church, it has defied the critics who say it is spineless and irrelevant. At the same time, it has managed to highlight concerns over violent computer imagery.

This episode has not just confirmed the theory that truth is stranger than fiction; it may also prove that all the best dramas need a happy ending.

Clips from the controversial video game

Talks over cathedral gun game row
10 Jun 07 |  Manchester

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