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London authorities ban poster for Burnout (Updated: ASA responds to Destructoid)

5:46 AM on 06.27.2007 // Jim Sterling

First Manhunt 2, then Dark Sector, now a brand new title can call itself a victim of the crusade against videogames and artistic expression. After receiving a MASSIVE thirty seven complaints from easily offended busybodies possessing little else to do with their time than get upset at a few words, the Advertising Standards Authority has decreed that all posters for the upcoming Burnout Dominator will be removed from London Tube stations. The poster had an image of a wrecked car with the slogan "Inner peace through outer violence," and was said by publisher EA to be very clearly a videogame promotion and not whatever an overwhelming 37 people seem to think it was. Seriously, what kind of simple minded cretin takes time out of their day to bitch about something like this?

Unsurprisingly, the ASA has submitted that this poster was 'irresponsible' and a promotion of anti-social behaviour, violence, dangerous driving and/or vandalism. Basically, they've covered their bases as to the sheer plethora of inherent social wrongs that one simple poster can exude like some sort of noxious gas. So what, pray, was the ASA doing before they got the complaints? Or is this a case of "everything's fine until one estrogen-riddled housewife screams blue murder," as seems to be the case more and more these days?

I'm pretty sure that loyal Destructoid readers know what's coming next. That's right, Sterling & Houghton of Gamers For Gaming will take on this case, as we've taken on the Manhunt 2 and the Dark Sector cases. It seems every day that fresh justification for our cause arises, something I can only be grateful to our opponents for. The more they keep this up, the more we can promote GFG and remain fresh in the public eye. Dance puppets, your reactionary prejudice is only fuelling the fires of the engines that will march upon your doors. 

[Update: The ASA got back to me regarding this issue and was very forthcoming in their explanation of the banning. For the details, as well as the ASA's ruling in full, hit the jump]

[Thanks to TehuberOne & Double2's blog]

A short while ago, I spoke on the telephone with Donna Mitchell from the ASA's Communications Team to discuss why the poster for Burnout Domination was pulled and to clarify certain statements that had been attributed to the organization. She was incredibly frank and honest in her explanation and, most unlike other organizations we've been dealing with such as the BBFC and ESRB, didn't dodge issues and actually had good answers for what was asked.

There's no doubt that this was an issue of taste, but should offensive materials be classified as worthy of a ban? Donna told me that it's the job of the ASA to weigh up both sides of the issue and come to a decision as to whether or not the poster's continuation was capable of causing "serious and widespread offense." She assured me that the ability to offend just the 37 people who complained wasn't the motivation for having the advertisments removed. "It's not a numbers game," Mitchell stated. "Yes, people will be offended by adverts. There will be agreements and disagreements, everyone's different. We have to decide if it's the right side of acceptable."

A major issue of the ASA's is the medium more than the advertisment. Donna informed me that the problem with posters is that they're not targetted to a specific demographic and are viewable by the public at large. As for the content itself, the fact it seemed to "condone a violent lifestyle" was the overriding problem in having such an easily viewable image.

I had Donna assure myself and the Destructoid readers that this had nothing to do with the type of media being promoted. There have been complaints against EA that the ASA has not sided with, while posters for albums and movies have faced the banhammer in their time.

What do we learn from this? Ultimately, that the ASA has to deal with a sensitive culture. Imagine, 37 people took time out of their day to go home after seeing one poster and contact the ASA over this. When you're dealing with a public that insane, I guess I can see why the ASA came to the decision it came to. Looking at the official ruling, it does seem that EA was given full advice as well and chose to believe their poster was okay. I wouldn't call EA "irresponsible" for its decision to run the posters, just sadly optimistic.

The majority of us in the gaming community are not offended by the poster, EA knows that. Sadly, however, we have idiots for a population in Britain and it seems EA did not know that. After speaking with Donna Mitchell, I'm satisfied that the ASA did the right thing in the current social climate we have. I'm just not satisfied that the current social climate we have is the right one. I still disagree with the banning based on the fact that I don't think the poster's really that bad, but given the intellectual capacity for the vast majority of people out there, it's certainly not the ASA's fault that they have to pander to idiots.

Now, in the interests of the 'dual sided' debate we at GFG wish to promote, here's the ASA's ruling in full:  

Number of complaints:      37


A poster on the London Underground, for the computer game 'Burnout Dominator', showed a wrecked sports car that had crashed into a wall, with glass fragments scattered on the floor.  A detached tyre was burning in the foreground.  The headline stated "INNER PEACE THROUGH OUTER VIOLENCE."  


The complainants objected that:

1. the reference to and the depiction of violence in the poster was offensive and

2. the poster condoned and was likely to encourage violence, dangerous driving and anti-social behaviour, such as vandalism. 
CAP Code:     10.1, 11.1, 5.1, 2.2


Electronic Arts said the intention of the campaign was to reflect the consumer experience within the game environment, addressing in particular the idea that playing the game might help relieve the stress and tension of the real world.  They also said they had obtained Copy Advice from CAP about the ad and that CAP had expressed concern that it would be seen to condone violence and antisocial behaviour.  Electronic Arts said they believed it was obvious that the ad was for a video game and, as such, would not be seen to support real-life violence or anti-social behaviour.  They added that the ad intentionally featured no people and thus focused directly on the destruction seen in the game rather than on violence against people in real life.  

Electronic Arts said because of CAP's advice, separate artwork had been developed for any media targeted at younger people.  That work used the same visual with a revised softer line: "Destroy your way to inner peace".  They explained that, given the target audience, they believed the London Underground ads did not require the alternative line.  They said they did not intend to run the ad again and would discuss any further campaigns with CAP, to minimise the risk of any future offence.    


1. Upheld

The ASA noted the poster appeared in an untargeted medium.  We considered that the vivid depiction of the crashed car and burning tyre, combined with the slogan's implication that people could achieve inner peace through acts of violence, was likely to cause serious or widespread offence.

On this point, the ad breached CAP Code clause 5.1 (Decency).

2. Upheld

We noted Electronic Arts' argument that the ad's message was that playing the Burnout Dominator game might relieve stress and tension in real life.  We also noted, although they had been advised otherwise by CAP, Electronic Arts considered that the ad was suitable for display on the London Underground.    We considered, however, that the ad's placement on the London Underground meant that it would be viewed by many, including young people.  We considered that the images of a car that seemed to have crashed at high speed and a burning tyre, together with a reference to violence, could be seen to condone a violent lifestyle, anti-social behaviour or dangerous driving.  We concluded that the ad was irresponsible.

On this point, the ad breached CAP Code clauses 2.2 (Social Responsibility), 10.1 (Safety) and 11.1 (Violence and anti-social behaviour). 


The ad must not reappear in its current form.  We welcomed Electronic Arts' assurance that they would seek advice from CAP on future campaigns. 

Jim Sterling, Former Reviews Editor
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