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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Altar the Legalities

Does Manchester's gun crime problem bare any relation to Insomniac Games' Resistance: Fall of Man? The answer is clearly not a simple one to reach in consensus, so I'll leave you to your own opinion. The purpose of this post is to question the various rationales of thought which have culminated in the Church of England Vs. Sony fracas.

I have identified three major groups: Sony, The Church of England, and British Labour MPs. The issue is in fact far more complicated because in some respects it is legal (thus, bound by precedent) and in other ways it is a matter of public opinion (dictated by perspective and personal sympathies). We'll stick to the three groups because each of their stances on the matter have now been firmly stated. I hope that, in writing this article, I'll be able to demonstrate that each groups' actions and reactions have been governed by nothing but self-interest, rather than care for the people of Manchester.

Resistance: Fall of Man is set in 1950's England during an alien invasion.

Let's begin with Sony, who, prior to the launch of PS3, commissioned Insomniac Games to produce a game that would demonstrate the technical capabilities of their new console. I sincerely doubt that any part of Sony's instructions to Insomniac involved suggesting that the game should outrage the Church of England or incite the people of Manchester to violence. Sony's interest, as with most businesses, lies in profit. As such, Sony gauged Resistance: Fall of Man's value in terms of units sold and this factor's potential impact of the PS3's competitiveness against market-share rivals.

So, when the Church of England expressed offence, Sony's sentiment could be measured in the words of their own representative:

"We do not accept that there is any connection between contemporary issues of 21st century Manchester and a work of science fiction in which a fictitious 1950’s Britain is under attack by aliens…"
- David Reeves (SCEE President) addressing the C of E

The Church of England's concerns have been vocalised by The Very Reverend Rogers Govender (Dean of Manchester Cathederal). Church is still seen by many as an important adhesive in social cohesion, a symbol of ethical community spirit, and a respectable voice on worldly matters. The Church of England's motivation could thus be accurately simplified to be the continuation of the Church's status within England, achieved through the defence of values that are synonymous with the community and their particular denomination of Christianity.

Considering the clearly unethical actions of Sony should they be found guilty of abetting violence, the Church of England's tablet of persecutions remains oddly specific to copyright issues regarding Manchester Cathedral itself. The Church of England wish for Sony to comply with:

  1. The removal of Resistance: Fall of Man from retail shelves, or, the modification of the Manchester stage to revoke access to the cathedral's interior.
  2. An apology from Sony because of their use of realistic imagery of the cathedral without prior permission.
  3. A 'donation' from Sony which would be used in Church youth projects.
Copyright: Church of England - phew!

A selection of British politicians have made their views public - among them, Keith Vaz (Labour MP and long-time anti-game advocate), Jack Straw (leader of the House of Commons) and Tony Blair (British Prime Minister - resigning in ten days). Each have issued statements in support of the Church of England:
"It [Sony] has a moral duty to withdraw the game and make reparation to a Church charity, but it ought also to have some enlightened self-interest about the damage that it is doing to what was a reputable brand."
- Jack Straw

Now, I'll give this issue some analysis and, besides questioning whether Sony or The Church of England was the brand to which Jack referred, I'll try to keep biased criticism to a minimum.

As mentioned earlier, I think the crux of this issue is whether or not all these legal wranglings will actually result in a better situation for the people of Manchester. Surely the copyright issue bares no relation to any question of ethics; it is a means of gaining the Church an advantage in the courts that, I'm sure, will eventually become the issue - the question perverted from, 'Can computer games harm communities?' until it becomes the irrelevant,
'Is a church a public place?'

I find the suggestion that Sony should make a 'donation' wholly problematic. The Church of England has claimed that their institution is seen as a soft target: open to criticism and abuse in a far greater degree than other religions. Yet, if any institution other than a religion were to demand the exchange of money under duress, even for educational purposes, then they'd be susceptible to similes with the mafia. Perhaps this metaphor doesn't quite ring true, (I'm not aware of any mafia youth programmes), yet the Church of Scientology certainly invests in their own educational schemes and I doubt that politicians would be so keen to defend L. Ron Hubbard's followers if Resistance: Fall of Man had sparked an identical furore with the Scientologists.

I'm deeply intrigued as to why British politicians have been so directly opinionated on this issue when they're usually prone to ambiguity. Could this be because many British voters attend Church of England services, thus supporting the Church has become an issue that effects the next election's results? Surely not, because the number of games players in England must exceed that of church-goers? Having said that, games players don't have a unified ritual of indoctrination or regular sermons made to them. I think it's irresponsible and damaging to debate if politicians were to make public statements without knowing the matter of contention in intimate detail, yet I fear much of what has been said is based on succinct briefings, researched on the basis of demographics rather than experience. The UN have proven the value of governance in the mediation of disputes, so why is the British government so keen to align with the Church of England and assign blame to Sony?

The case of Church of England Vs. Sony is an apt demonstration of our culture's unwillingness to communicate and preference for legal actions over compromise. This article's length can be seen as proportional to the distance my jaw dropped when I realised the stubbornness of these institutions (each with vast resources at their disposal) to come to an agreement that would benefit the people of Manchester, the people whom each group claim to care about.

I'll conclude with a few ideas:

  • At the upcoming meeting, bring a PS3 and a copy of Resistance: Fall of Man. Let the cathedral officials and members of the youth project play the game. Sony representatives should encourage and listen to criticism and all participants approach the get-together with a constructive attitude and open mind.
  • Youth associations in Manchester could be provided with PS3s upon the release of Home and LittleBigPlanet- because of their constructive and non-violent nature.
  • Sony could apologise, and the Church of England could pay heed to various sources that display the lack of causation between games playing and violent acts.

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