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Break out the heavy weapons, it’s the Dean & Chapter of Manchester Cathedral

Image of the Cathedral from the PS3 game

It’s a rare day when my faith and my interest in gaming coincide, particularly since most so-called ‘Christian’ games that have been produced are the worst kind of cringe-inducing rubbish. I’m not even going to link to them to give you an example, they’re that bad.

Anyway, on Friday, Ruth Gledhill broke the story about the PlayStation 3 game called ‘Resistance: Fall of Man‘ which includes a gunfight situated in Manchester Cathedral. If you read Ruth’s original article, you can also check out an incredibly poor quality video clip from YouTube of the offending sequence. Suffice to say that the Dean & Chapter of Manchester Cathedral have got wind of it and are not best pleased. Ruth has reproduced the text of their letter to Sony in another of her blog posts. Interestingly, the Manchester Cathedral website doesn’t even mention the whole thing (even on their news page which I find incredulous incredible but never mind, move along, move along).

The Dean & Chapter have asked Sony for an apology, the withdrawal of the game and a donation to their education department to assist in their work with young people and dealing with gun crime… an issue that the Cathedral has worked hard to address in the city.

Sony initially said they sought all the necessary permissions, but it does appear that legally nobody really knows what the necessary permissions would be. There’s a good exploration of the legal issues on the Wardman Wire website, and when you add all the usual issues as to what copyright can exist in a building with the intricacies of ecclesiastical law, you are looking at severe brainache and (probably) an enormous legal bill to try and untangle the mess. I am told (and I don’t know how reliable this is) that once the architect of a building dies, a helluva lot of legal rights die with them and let’s face it the architects of Manchester Cathedral are long gone.

I haven’t said anything about it before now, because I am still trying to work out what I think. But Wardman Wire’s comment ‘whither the Christian bloggers?’ has stirred me to put fingers to keyboard.

Certainly, this would not be my first experience of either Sony being rubbish (I was a big fan of Star Wars Galaxies until they wrecked it though that was Sony Online Entertainment, a different division) or of a major software company ignoring the concerns of the Church of England.

On balance, I think once the Dean & Chapter had decided to do something about it, they were probably right to try and have a go at this through the press. While I am sure they are considering legal action, the Church generally just doesn’t have the kind of money to try and take Sony to court. Sony’s pockets will be very, very deep in comparison to the Cathedral’s funds, which won’t be in anything like the same league (and the Church of England as a whole is not structured in such a way that they would either be able to fund or choose to wade in on Manchester Cathedral’s behalf).

The best they can hope for is that the press coverage and bad publicity forces action from Sony. That force would certainly be helped if the Christian world united and collectively gave Sony grief. It would be great to hear this rumble up the line to Lambeth Palace and the Archbishop, and for the Vatican and the Pope to weigh in too even if it’s not his problem directly and be able to threaten the collective ire of the Catholic world. In the Far East, the church is very strong in South Korea so a bit of trouble in Sony’s asian backyard might not hurt either.

But I wouldn’t rely on it either – let’s face it, the core market for this kind of a game is not going to be worried about church sensibilities and may quite enjoy the thought of letting off a few rounds in a place of worship, especially if they know that by doing so they’re winding up the old grey haired stuffy powers-that-be at Manchester Cathedral. For example, the poll on this issue over at gamepolitics.com has 92.5% of voters saying they’re “okay” with Sony’s use of the cathedral as a backdrop to the gunfight… hardly a clamour from gamers to pay attention to the Cathedral’s concerns is it?

From Sony’s perspective, I would imagine their marketing department are not sure whether to run for cover or rub their hands with glee. The game was one of the flagship titles for the launch of the PS3 and just when things were quietening down a little bit, the Church comes along and gives the news cycle another rattle and even gets the title into primetime news coverage both here in the UK and around the world. Is there really no such thing as bad publicity?

The question for me is should the Dean & Chapter have decided to do something about it or should they have let it ride?

Permissions wise, Sony obviously haven’t played this well. Movie makers regularly use English cathedrals as locations (Harry Potter and the Da Vinci Code to give just two recent examples) and it’s become an interesting way of helping to keep these incredibly expensive buildings financed. At the very least, Manchester both for themselves and for all the cathedrals don’t want to set precedents that don’t take their concerns into account and also don’t generate income because games designers never seek permission.

It’s all made to look far worse for Sony by the fact it’s Manchester Cathedral (as opposed to one of the other cathedrals) when Manchester have made a point of being involved in tackling gun crime in their city. Nottingham, Manchester and Birmingham (outside of London) are the biggest problem spots for gun crime in the UK so it’s an issue about which they are going to be particularly sensitive.

However, I am still left with this thought rattling around that makes me hesitate about the Dean & Chapter’s actions…

The Church of England has certainly not been averse to being a bit too precious at times and I do question whether we have any right to start critiquing Sony for ‘virtually desecrating’ one of our cathedrals when we haven’t said two words about violent videogames in any other context. (I may be wrong about that in which case I’d value correction but I’m not aware of anything). It gives the message that we don’t give a toss if people want to commit ‘virtual murder’ in video games or generally go around in shoot-em-ups causing carnage, but come into one of our holy places and commit ‘virtual desecration’ and have a go and oh boy, will you feel our wrath. Not great really is it?

I seem to remember Jesus being quite stringent on murder and hate and even pointing out that those who think the thoughts are as guilty as those who commit the act. Might have interesting application in this context of the ‘virtual’. I seem also to remember that Jesus created a fair bit of carnage in the temple himself when he turned over the tables of money lenders.

What am I saying? I guess I’m saying that as both a Christian and as a gamer, I wish that the Church of England had been a bit more consistent in its message on violence in videogames… maybe then their message would sound a little more consistent and authentic than it does to me right now.

That said, I think Sony have made a huge mistake here and they need to do something about it. Using a historic and ancient cathedral that is a place of worship and prayer to host a gun battle is reprehensible. To use the cathedral as a backdrop without the Dean & Chapter’s permission is doubly reprehensible. To particularly select a Cathedral in a city where gun crime has been a problem and the Cathedral has been active in trying to tackle that gun crime is triply reprehensible.

I can’t imagine they are going to withdraw it from sale but an apology and a donation to assist in the fight against gun crime would be very wise moves, in my humble opinion.

Comments

Matt Wardman
Reply

Thanks for the post – will link to it.

I think that Manchester Cathedral website probably doesn’t do weekends, and may be on a slower update cycle. Such is life .

To add to my articles, I would say that the church is doing a lot on the ground – e.g., black lead churches in London working on gang culture. So I think the comments being thrown at Manchester Cathedral are really based on ignorance.

The bigger frustration for me is the withdrawal of Christian bloggers from the public square at a time of quite nasty attacks, and a lot of stuff that is simploy inaccurate. I see the old “Church of Englands Billions should be spent on x” when most of it is a Vicaer’s pension fund. Grrr.

Anyway – cheers for taking up your pen.

btw I have a category where I blog about ethics / religion.

Matt

jody
Reply

Hi David

I don’t know what the church corporate has pronounced regarding video games, but I know that our youth club, run by my husband, would not have violent video games on their PS2. I remember playing a 007 game once, a while ago, and being horrified by the four of us sat next to each other and killing each other on screen.

there seem to be so many lifelike war and killing type games being advertised, I can’t help but think that it has an effect on a person’s psyche with regards to violence, especially when played over and over again into the night.

drmoose
Reply

Good post. I have to admit to not having pondered the point very much. I just wonder what the reaction would ahve been were the secen to be the inside of a prominent mosque, temple, synagaogue or gudwara…..

David
Reply

Thanks all – I do know that there is a precedent. A game was recalled and changed a while back when there was a scene set in the temple in Amritsar (can’t remember which game)… and certainly if any game had an Islamic venue as a backdrop, oh boy oh boy… you can just imagine.

I’m not quite sure I followed your point Matt but believe me, there ain’t that much in the pension coffers of vicars. A cursory look at General Synod debates on pensions and the rumblings back stage as to what they do given Gordon Brown’s nationwide rifling of pension plans has left them in trouble. I’m getting off subject though, so something for another day perhaps.

enigma_foundry
Reply

Now this is rather interesting, because the plans for Manchester Cathedral, having originated in about 1215, (and even though construction continued into the early 1800’s) have long since entered the public domain. So I am unsure of exactly what law the Church of England plans to use. Is there such a thing a virtual trespass? Or is some other principle at work here?

It’s even conceivable that the Church of England would use the law against blasphemy or desecration, which is, in fact still illegal in the U.K. The fact that apparently someone from Sony visited the Cathedral and took pictures while there recently may be important especially if a written picture (or photography) permit was required what the terms of that permit were.

However, it is very doubtful that the Church of England will, in fact, have to resort to legal filings to stop this game from using the depiction of Manchester Cathedral in the battle sequence. Simply put, there is a cultural dimension to any work of art/architecture, whose role extends beyond the legal constraints of copyrights and trademarks etc.

http://enigmafoundry.wordpress.com/2007/06/11/forgive-us-our-virtual-trespasses/

David
Reply

Enigma – thanks for joining the discussion.

One point of clarification – the ‘Church of England’ won’t be doing anything here. It’s the Dean & Chapter of Manchester Cathedral who may be planning legal action and have been applying pressure via the media… not the ‘Church’ per se.

Tiffer
Reply

I don’t know – I can see why the Dean and Chapter are making a stand but at the end of the day the worlds are so far apart – I’m surprised the D&C even found out about it. I can understand that it is a sensitive issue in Manchester, but I don’t think that many relatives and friends of gun crime victims will be playing the game, and if it’s the violence and carnage we don’t like then why stop on this one?

Matt Wardman
Reply

Matt
>There are also precedents for games I see the old “Church of Englands Billions should be spent on x” when most of it is a Vicar’s pension fund. Grrr.

David
>I’m not quite sure I followed your point Matt but believe me, there ain’t that much in the pension coffers of vicars. A cursory look at General Synod debates on pensions and the rumblings back stage as to what they do given Gordon Brown’s nationwide rifling of pension plans has left them in trouble.

Agree with you on this one. I believe about 65% of the investment income goes on pensions. I occasionally take up the cudgels with people saying “£5bn in assets, but they still ask for more – greedy Christians”. It is a Standard canard used by some atheists on the net. I point out that the £5bn are mainly a pension fund, and suggest that they should therefore campaign for the Post Office pension fund to be spent keeping rural POs open.

This is one of the two first insults that I am seeing being thrown at “The Church” in gamer forums (the other concerns procurement of choirboys) before people get onto the real questions. To be fair, there is a (small) minority pointing out the prejudice.

David
Reply

Just wanted to point out I’ve done a further post with some interesting links as things have developed in the last day or so.

Felicita H.
Reply

“One point of clarification – the ‘Church of England’ won’t be doing anything here. It’s the Dean & Chapter of Manchester Cathedral who may be planning legal action and have been applying pressure via the media… not the ‘Church’ per se.”

This is a very interesting read, any chance you have a follow up of what developed as the final outcome? (In terms of action taken by the Dean & Chapter of Manchester Cathedral)

Great read, thanks again!

David
Reply

Felicita

Sony issued an unreserved apology to the city of Manchester and the Anglican Cathedral. In a full-page advert in the Manchester Evening News, they said:

“It is clear to us that the connection between the congregation and the cathedral is a deeply personal and spiritual one. As a result, it is also clear that we have offended some of the congregation by using the cathedral in our science fiction game. It was never our intention to offend anyone in the making of this game, and we would like to apologise unreservedly for causing that offence, and to all parts of the community whom we might also have offended.” Dr David A Reeves, president of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe.

See http://www.v3.co.uk/v3-uk/news/2004996/sony-apologises-manchester-cathedral

For their part, the Dean & Chapter ‘forgave’ Sony even though they were seeking compensation. They also issued a set of guidelines for game-makers who wish to use sacred spaces as backdrops for video games.

Final thing to note is that the Cathedral allegedly saw an increase in visits from young people in the wake of the game’s release.

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