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The banning of Manhunt

A classification of "objectionable" means that the game is banned in New Zealand because the Office determined that its availability was "likely to be injurious to the public good."

Every classification is tailored to remedy the injury that could be caused if a publication were to be made available to the public. The injury that the Office found Manhunt likely to cause could not be remedied by anything short of a ban. The legal consequences that flow from a ban reflect the gravity of the harm likely to be caused by the game's availability.

In this case, the Office decided that

the freedom of expression is outweighed by likelihood of injury to the public good that could result from this game's availability. The length of time it takes to complete the game, and the necessity to repeat the killings in ever more gory fashion on each level if one does not complete that level at first attempt, increases exposure to material that initially disturbs, but which must be accommodated, to complete the game. A player's power both to initiate violence and to control the level of violence is part of the process by which this accommodation is made. To succeed in this game, a player, regardless of age or maturity, must learn over an extended period of time to acquiesce in, tolerate, or even enjoy, the violence he or she inflicts.

One of the consequences of the ban is that it is now illegal to possess Manhunt in New Zealand. Anyone who possesses this game is liable to a fine of $2,000 (s131). Anyone who possesses Manhunt and exhibits or displays it to someone under the age of 18 is liable to imprisonment for one year or a fine of $20,000 (s127).

Anyone who supplies, distributes, exhibits, displays, supplies, possesses for the purpose of supply or advertises Manhunt, knowing that it is objectionable, could be imprisoned for up to a year or fined $20,000. Incorporated distributors and retailers could face a fine of $50,000 (s124).

A game classified as "objectionable" cannot be legally imported either. Objectionable publications, including Manhunt, are "prohibited imports" under the Customs and Excise Act 1996. The Customs Service has the power to seize all prohibited imports, regardless of how they arrive at the border. A person who buys Manhunt on an overseas trip and tries to bring it into New Zealand, and anyone who has ordered it from a website, risks not only having the game seized, but also 6 months in jail or a fine of $10,000 (s209 of the Customs and Excise Act).

Bans are not lightly entertained. When they are imposed, it is because the Office can see no other way of mitigating the risk of injury to the public good. In this case, the need to protect the greater public good from injury required the sacrifice of the right of individuals to entertain themselves with Manhunt's gameplay of sadistic and gory killings.


Updated 17.12.03