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 http://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 claiming that theads glamourised and condoned violence, particularly towards women, through the themes of graphic violence and the sexually provocative clothing worn by the female characters.
- Both complainants challenged whether ad (a) was offensive;
- one complainant challenged whether ad (a) was distressing; and
- one complainant challenged whether ad (b) was offensive,
- 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.
Square Enix (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.
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.
ASA Assessment: Complaints not upheld
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 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 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 rule 1.3 (Social responsibility), but did not find it in breach.