ASA Adjudication on Square Enix Ltd
Square Enix Ltd
Wimbledon Bridge House
1 Hartfield Road
26 September 2012
Internet (social networking), Internet (OM 3rd party)
Number of complaints:
Summary of Council decision:
Four issues were investigated, all were Not upheld.
An ad for the computer game Hitman: Absolution, viewed on the YouTube channel and Facebook pages for the Hitman game series:
a. The ad on YouTube was titled "Hitman Absolution - Attack of the Saints Trailer [North America]". Text at the beginning of the ad stated "MAY CONTAIN CONTENT INAPPROPRIATE FOR CHILDREN Visit www.esrb.org for rating information". The CGI animated ad began in a motel room, where a man was seen removing his shirt, washing blood from his hands, cleaning a wound on his shoulder and getting dressed again. That was intercut with scenes of a group of nuns walking, a close-up of their high-heeled boots, and footage of them producing weapons. They removed their robes to reveal they were wearing skin-tight PVC outfits. Some were wearing stockings and suspenders or ripped tights. The man was seen looking towards the spy-hole on the motel room door. The women stopped in front of the motel and one of them fired a missile at the building. That was followed by several seconds of close-ups of firearms, intercut with the women pointing their weapons in different directions. The man appeared behind two of the women in succession and attacked them, garrotting one and punching the other in the head whilst holding his other hand over her mouth. This was followed by close-ups of him grabbing a third woman over her mouth and nose, and pointing a gun out towards the viewer. He then shot two women in the chest; blood was shown flying from their wounds. Another woman engaged him in a fistfight and knocked him to the ground. A shot, from the man's perspective, showed a woman standing over him pointing a machine gun at him. He knocked her over and punched her in the head. A woman appeared behind him and attempted to garrotte him with her rosary beads. He headbutted her in the nose, breaking it, and they continued to fight. He then grabbed the woman with the broken nose and used her as a shield as one of the other women, who was lying on the ground, shot at the man. He picked up a gun from the floor and fired twice. A close-up of the woman's face showed she was lying on the ground; she appeared to be dead. The man knelt down and closed her eyes. He stood up, against the background of the motel on fire. Text appeared which stated "HITMAN ABSOLUTION", followed by a shot of the man putting weapons in the boot of a car and driving away. Further text stated "THE ORIGINAL ASSASSIN PREORDER NOW AND PLAY THE "SNIPER CHALLENGE TODAY ...".
b. The same ad was posted on the Hitman Facebook page, titled "Attack Of The Saints Trailer The Saints have arrived! Watch the Hitman: Absolution trailer now!".
The ASA received two complaints:
1. Both complainants challenged whether ad (a) was offensive;
2. one complainant challenged whether ad (a) was distressing; and
3. one complainant challenged whether ad (b) was offensive,
because they believed the ads glamourised and condoned violence, particularly towards women, through the themes of graphic violence and the sexually provocative clothing worn by the female characters.
4. One complainant also challenged whether ad (a) was socially irresponsible, because it glamourised and condoned violence, particularly towards women, when it was for a product which would appeal to teenage boys.
CAP Code (Edition 12)
1., 2., 3. & 4. Square Enix Ltd (SE) explained that the male protagonist, Agent 47, was an assassin, and the group of women, the 'Saints', were his former co-workers, sent to kill him. SE emphasised that the trailer did not show an attack on a random group of women; the Saints were professional assassins who clearly had been sent to attack Agent 47 and his response was an act of self-defence in which he took no obvious pleasure. They said they deliberately included the scene of Agent 47 closing the eyes of the final Saint as a mark of respect to emphasise the storyline of the game, which was that Agent 47 was forced to defend himself against armed assassins in order to survive. They explained that a further video on YouTube, which gave background information about the Saints characters, provided context to the trailer and was a direct attempt on their part to take responsibility for the content of the trailer and to ensure their intentions and message in releasing the trailer were not misunderstood. They did not condone mindless violence towards anyone – men or women – in their games.
SE said the trailer was intended to be a homage to the B-movie 'Tarantino-esque' genre of comic book filmmaking. The characters were exaggerated and firmly based in a fantasy setting and therefore could not be confused with people in the 'real' world. The women in the trailer were clearly not nuns but were dressed in disguise, wearing clothing which was intended to be a distraction to their intended targets. SE considered the women's attire was not offensive and felt it fitted with the overall look and feel of the characters within the context of the game, which was played by both men and women.
SE said there was also a European version of the trailer, which was the same except that it gave the PEGI rating of the game at the start rather than the North American ESRB rating. The game was rated 18 in both jurisdictions, and both trailers included those ratings prominently at the start. They said the trailers reflected the content of the game, which would have been banned or cut if it had any content which was considered offensive or harmful. They said the trailer was only intended to be viewed by adults of 18 or over; it was not aimed or targeted at teenage boys. They said they had taken steps to ensure that it would not be viewed by those under 18.
SE said the trailer was released on their YouTube channel, which had an 18-rated age gate. Users could therefore only access the trailer by creating an account with YouTube and inputting their date of birth and other personal details. They said that Google (owners of YouTube) had not complained to them about either the European or North American trailer, and YouTube's review panel had previewed and pre-approved a shorter version of the trailer. SE said that promotion of the European trailer was aimed only at people who had registered on YouTube as 18 or over and who had previously watched a Hitman trailer. With regard to the ad appearing on Facebook, SE said that, on the release date of the European trailer, it had only been accessible to Facebook users who followed links to YouTube, and therefore the YouTube age gate applied. They had subsequently discovered, however, that the North American trailer had then been posted on their Facebook page without an age restriction on users in Europe. They explained that was a technical error which had now been rectified; the trailer on Facebook could now only be accessed by adults who were 18 or over.
Google, responding in relation to ad (a), said that because the video was uploaded by a user it had to comply with YouTube's usual service terms and conditions which applied to uploaded content, meaning that it must, for example, comply with YouTube Community Guidelines. They highlighted that Square Enix had placed the video behind an age gate and had therefore made efforts to ensure that the video could only be seen by logged-in users who were 18 or older. They said the video had been flagged by the YouTube community and as a result had been brought to their internal review process and, although it was initially approved, on a further review it was decided that certain graphic violent scenes in the video would be appropriate – under applicable YouTube policies – for an age restriction. They had therefore imposed their own age restriction on the video, which could not be removed by the uploader.
Facebook, responding in relation to ad (b), said the video was not a paid Facebook ad, so it was content which was governed by their Community Standards (to which they provided a link); they said it did not violate those standards. They added that, as per their Terms of Service, users were responsible for adhering to local law in the jurisdictions in which they posted content.
1., 2. & 3. Not upheld
The ASA acknowledged the ad included scenes of graphic violence in which a man fought a group of women wearing sexually provocative clothing. We acknowledged some viewers might find the women's clothing gratuitous and offensive, and the idea of a man fighting women distressing and offensive. However, we noted the ad was age-restricted, and accessed via a Facebook page and YouTube channel which were specifically about the Hitman game. We considered it was likely that internet users who viewed the ads would therefore have specifically sought out material relating to the game and would be familiar with its premise and the types of characters and imagery which featured in the ad. We also considered that, in addition to the age-restrictions, the 18 rating at the beginning of the ad clearly signposted to viewers that the content would be of a particular type. Furthermore, we considered that, because the 'Saints' were armed and initiated the violence, it was clear, even to viewers unfamiliar with the game, that they were professional assassins who had been sent to kill Agent 47, and that the violence on his part was neither random nor sexually motivated. We also noted that the act of closing the eyes of one of the dead women would generally be viewed as a respectful gesture. Whilst we acknowledged that some viewers might find the ad distressing and offensive, we concluded that, because it was age-restricted and unlikely to be viewed by those unfamiliar with the game, it was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence or distress to viewers of the Hitman Facebook page and YouTube channel. We also considered the ad did not glamorise violence generally, or violence towards women in particular, and we concluded it was not likely to condone or encourage violence or anti-social behaviour.
On points (1) and (2), we investigated ad (a) under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 4.1, 4.2 and 4.4 (Harm and offence), but did not find it in breach.
On point (3), we investigated ad (b) under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 4.1 and 4.4 (Harm and offence), but did not find it in breach.
4. Not upheld
We agreed with the complainant that the product was likely to appeal to teenage boys under 18 years of age. However, we noted the ad was accessed via the advertiser's YouTube channel and Facebook page, and that both avenues of access were age-restricted to website users who were 18 or over. We were concerned that a technical error had meant that European Facebook users had, for a time, been able to access the ad without an age-restriction, but we noted the advertiser had taken swift action to correct the error when they became aware of it and they had not targeted the ad at those under 18 at any time. We concluded that, because we considered the ad did not glamorise or condone violence, and the advertiser had taken steps to prevent those who were under 18 from viewing it, it was not socially irresponsible.
On point (4), we investigated ad (a) under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 1.3 (Social responsibility), but did not find it in breach.
No further action necessary.