The media classification office in New Zealand has banned Rockstar's ultra-violent PS2 title Manhunt, stating that the availability of the "gruesome" game was likely to be "injurious to the public good."
This is the first time that the Office of Film and Literature Classification has banned a videogame product in New Zealand, and according to chief censor Bill Hastings, the decision was taken because despite the "edgy" nature of many recent games, Manhunt went further than any other game previously released.
"It's a game where the only thing you do is kill everybody you see," he commented. "The only way you can accommodate the game's images is by an attitudinal shiftâ¦ You have to at least acquiesce in these murders and possibly tolerate, or even move towards enjoying them, which is injurious to the public good."
What's particularly interesting about this case is that Hastings, despite his title, doesn't appear to be particularly censorious in his views on games in general, acknowledging the element of humour in the Grand Theft Auto series, another game which has been targeted by some opponents of videogame violence.
However, he seemed shocked by the portrayal of deaths in Manhunt, mentioning specifically some of the "hot" kills in the game. "When you go for the `hot' kill you actually see the snuff film," he explained. "You see the person being killed in close-up. With the plastic bag, for example, you see the victim's mouth gasping for air inside the bag."
The banning of the title in New Zealand is the latest blow to Rockstar Games, the division of Take Two Interactive which publishes both Manhunt and the Grand Theft Auto series. In the past few weeks, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City has been under fire from the US Haitian community over dialogue taken out of context from the game by the American media. Earlier this week, following threats of legal action from New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, Take Two agreed to remove the phrases from future copies of the game - a symbolic gesture described as "too little, too late" by some members of the Haitian community, who are continuing their protest against the title.
Take Two also faces a forthcoming civil action in the USA over the killing of a man by two boys earlier this year in a murder which was allegedly "inspired" by Grand Theft Auto.