The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), an independent agency which regulates advertising across all media in the United Kingdom, recently addressed complaints from television viewers over four advertisements for the game Heavy Rain. The initial ad showed one of the game’s characters, private detective Scott Shelby, in a situation where he must decide whether to intervene, attack, or negotiate with an armed robber threatening a shopkeeper. The remaining three advertisements showed the results of each action. All but the “Attack” ad were restricted from airing before 7:30 p.m. local time and the “Attack” ad could not be shown prior to 9:00 p.m.
Nonetheless, the commercials created a minor outcry as 38 complaints were filed with the ASA. Specifically, offended viewers believed one or more of the following allegations:
1) all four ads were inappropriate for scheduling at times when they could be seen by children;
2) that the depiction of violence in all four ads was offensive;
3) all four ads were harmful because they glamorized violence;
4) the ads were offensive, because they were broadcast at the time of the death of a shopkeeper in Huddersfield, UK, in an armed robbery.
After reviewing the advertisements, the ASA did not find evidence to substantiate any of these claims. The ads were time-restricted in order to prevent children from seeing them, and even if they had, children would understand that the animated characters were not real. Additionally, the ASA did not believe the commercials would encourage or glamorize violence since Detective Shelby was a “bystander and was not shown actively seeking to perpetrate violent or threatening” behavior. Lastly, while the subject matter resembled an unfortunate real-life incident, the advertising was not meant to be a direct reference to that event and the similarities were clearly coincidental. The ASA believed that most viewers would understand that the commercials were merely depicting a scene from the game and would therefore not offend them.
The U.K. has a reputation for heavy-handed censorship at times, so the ASA should be commended for not taking a knee-jerk stance regarding these ads. The commercials merely showed a scene from the game that could have been portrayed in a broadcast television show or movie advertisement. However, because video games are still often thought of as entertainment for children, the pressure to tightly regulate their content will continue to be strong.