This is why we can’t have horrifying things
Some time ago I blogged on the news that the Australian nannies had recognised that the majority of people in Australia are adults and that many of those adults like to play computer games, and finally persuaded the Australian censors that bringing videogame classifications into line with other media was overdue. This was to be achieved with the addition of an R18+ classification by the end of 2011, although to no great surprise (though my general blogging neglect meant I didn’t write about it) it ended up being delayed again. But at the beginning of this year Australia finally allowed adults to buy adult themed computer games, with more than half a dozen games given R18+ ratings in the first two months of 2013.
Great, you might think. Okay, so there’s a few games that have been classified for adults when the content seems pretty much the same level as games that got MA15 ratings in the past, but since one of the objections to the absence of the R18+ category was that some games were being classified too low that’s probably not a real problem. Besides, if parents decide their younger teens are mature enough to play something that involves lots of gore and splatter and/or occasional tits and ass then they can just go buy the game for them and allow them to play under whatever supervision they feel appropriate.
Unfortunately the censor hasn’t been given its marching orders and is still able to refuse classification, and since all media must be classified anything that’s refused has been given a de facto ban. According to Wikipedia…
Content which may be Refused Classification include:
- Detailed instruction or promotion in matters of crime or violence.
- The promotion or provision of instruction in pedophile activity.
- Descriptions or depictions of child sexual abuse or any other exploitative or offensive descriptions or depictions involving a person who is, or appears to be, a child under 18 years.
- Gratuitous, exploitative or offensive depictions of:
- (i) violence with a very high degree of impact or which are excessively frequent, prolonged or detailed;
- (ii) cruelty or real violence which are very detailed or which have an extremely high impact;
- (iii) sexual violence
- Depictions of practices such as bestiality, necrophilia or other practices that are revolting or abhorrent.
- Gratuitous, exploitative or offensive depictions of:
- (i) activity accompanied by fetishes or practices that are offensive or abhorrent;
- (ii) incest fantasies or other fantasies that are offensive or abhorrent
Which is mostly pretty cut and dried, not to mention reasonable, but appears to give them a number of relatively subjective outs. Top of the list there is the term “offensive”, a meaninglessly subjective criterion since what offends me may not offend you and vice versa – I find it offensive that there are still laws being written in any nominally free nation that include concepts as fucking vague as “offensive”. “Gratuitous”, “exploitative” and “abhorrent” aren’t a lot better.
So I’m kicking myself slightly for feeling at all shocked that in the last week – within the same 24 hour period, in fact – two games aimed squarely at adults, Saints Row IV and State of Decay, have been refused classification and thus effectively banned in Australia.
The Saints Row 4 video game has been refused classification by the Australian Classification Board due to the appearance of an anal probe weapon and “alien narcotics” in the game.
“The game includes a weapon referred to by the Applicant as an ‘Alien Anal Probe’. The Applicant states that this weapon can be ‘shoved into enemy’s backsides’,” wrote the Board.
“The lower half of the weapon resembles a sword hilt and the upper part contains prong-like appendages which circle around what appears to be a large dildo which runs down the centre of the weapon.
“When using this weapon the player approaches a (clothed) victim from behind and thrusts the weapon between the victim’s legs and then lifts them off the ground before pulling a trigger which launches the victim into the air.
“After the probe has been implicitly inserted into the victim’s anus the area around their buttocks becomes pixelated highlighting that the aim of the weapon is to penetrate the victim’s anus. The weapon can be used during gameplay on enemy characters or civilians.
“In the Board’s opinion, a weapon designed to penetrate the anus of enemy characters and civilians constitutes a visual depiction of implied sexual violence that is interactive and not justified by context and as such the game should be Refused Classification.”
The Board also took a dim view of the game’s drug use, especially as it gives the player character extra abilities.
Or as the Board itself put it in a PR:
In the Board’s opinion, Saints Row IV, includes interactive, visual depictions of implied sexual violence which are not justified by context. In addition, the game includes elements of illicit or proscribed drug use related to incentives or rewards. Such depictions are prohibited by the computer games guidelines.
Okay, it’s pretty weird even for a computer game weapon and certainly not something suitable for the Candy Crush brigade, but it’s also cartoonish violence, isn’t it? And I can recall at least one alien anal probe based cartoon gag on the small screen.
I’m assuming this episode of South Park wasn’t banned in Oz, and if not I have to wonder how Cartman, with his gratuitous effing and blinding plus the fire farts and alien communications antenna unfolding itself from his arse, got a pass and the equally ridiculous alien anal dildo launcher weapon in Saints Row IV didn’t. Yes, drug use was mentioned, but even without getting into the case for legality there’s been plenty of drug use in movies and TV over the years. The Wire, Trainspotting, Pulp Fiction – did all these and others all not get an Australian classification? Don’t even bother to answer since I have them on DVD.
And then there’s the reasons for State of Decay, which I though sounded like a straightforward zombie shooter but is apparently also a non-stop drug fuelled haze.
The Classification Board’s report, obtained by news.com.au explained that it banned the game because it contains the option of self-administered drugs throughout, in order to restore players’ health or boost their stamina.
“These ‘medications’ include both legal and illicit substances such as methadone, morphine, amphetamines, stimulants, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, codeine, aspirin, ‘trucker pills’, painkillers and tussen,” the report reads.
“Of these, methadone, morphine and amphetamines are proscribed drugs and the term ‘stimulant’ is commonly used to refer to a class of drugs of which several are proscribed.”
/sarc How can I have been so silly? Of course an open world zombie survival game is going to reward players whose characters in game spend their whole time ripped off their tits rather than running from, hiding from and hacking up zombies. And naturally whenever this happens the player themselves feels the effect by the magic of, er, game magic. Come on, we’ve all puked in our own laps after making Shepard get shitfaced to the point of passing out in that bar in Mass Effect 2, haven’t we?
You didn’t? You know what, neither did I.
So we’re back where we were a few years ago: adult gamers in Australia having to wait around for the game to be specially ruined for the Australia market because the censors didn’t like something in it that in terms of the whole game was a really trivial point.
“State of Decay has been refused classification by the Australian Classification Board (ACB). We’ve run afoul of certain prohibitions regarding the depiction of drug use. We’re working with Microsoft to come up with options, including changing names of certain medications in the game to comply with ratings requirements. Whatever our path forward, it’s going to take a bit.”
Or, as several commenters wrote on both of The Age’s articles, people will just buy Refused Classification games abroad or online. And we shouldn’t be surprised if at least a few take the path of least resistance and get a pirated version instead of paying. But if the government and its regulators are going to make doing the decent thing too hard that will be the inevitable result.
All of which makes me think that if the censor refuses, for sometimes quite subjective reasons, to pass games that people want to play but, for obvious practical reasons, can’t stop people getting them elsewhere there isn’t much point in having a censor at all.