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