Australia: Treating Gaming Adults Like Children
Wasn’t The R 18+ Rating Supposed to Fix This?
Australia: the land down under. The home of kangaroos, Steve Irwin and censorship towards video games. The Australian Classification Board has a long history of banning games from the sandy shores of the island I call home, whether it be for violence (Syndicate), drug use (Blitz: The League) or the glorification of graffiti (Mark Ecko’s Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure).
While it is true that many games never see a release in Australia, more often than not we receive a censored version. Sometimes that is as minimal as the name of certain drugs to be changed, while in the case of Left 4 Dead 2, we received a version that included no blood and disappearing bodies. When you’re trying to survive the zombie apocalypse, the lack of zombie brains certainly breaks the immersion.
But earlier this year, we were lead to believe that all of this was about to change. After countless years of opposition, the Australian government finally passed an adults only rating for video games. It was a glorious time. Gone were the days of horribly censored versions of our favourite games. No more titles would be banned from our shores. Children wouldn’t be able to get their hands on offensive titles, while the adults would be treated like the responsible lot we are.
Or so we thought.
Saints Row IV, State of Decay Banned
This week the Australian Classification Board refused classification of two major titles back to back, Saints Row IV and State of Decay, despite the inclusion of an R18+ rating.
According to an official media release from the ACB, Saints Row IV was banned due to “interactive, visual depictions of implied sexual violence which are not justified by context.” The release then goes on to mention that the game also includes “elements of illicit or proscribed drug use related to incentives or rewards.”
So what was in Saints Row IV that was so offensive that the general public of Australia could never see it? According to the full ACB report obtained by Polygon, alien anal probes and alien narcotics are to blame.
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”. 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 ACB then goes into detail about the drug use mentioned in their official media alert.
The game contains an optional mission which involves the player obtaining and smoking drugs referred to as “alien narcotics”. Smoking the “alien narcotics” equips the player with “superpowers” which increase their in-game abilities allowing them to progress through the mission more easily.
Soon after the announcement Deep Silver, publisher of Saints Row IV, confirmed that Australia, and only Australia, would be receiving a censored version of the game.
Less than 24 hours after making an official statement about why Saints Row IV was banned, we learned that State of Decay, the fastest selling original title in Xbox Live history, had also been refused classification by the ACB.
The news was broken by executive producer Jeff Strain on the State of Decay forums.
Hola Australian State of Decay fans,
I have bad news to share: 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. I know this is frustrating — believe me, we’re frustrated too — but each country has the right to set its own rules about content, and it’s our responsibility to comply with them. Rest assured we’ll do everything we can to find a way to get the game into your hands.
Since then, the ACB has provided IGN Australia with an official comment as to why the game was refused entry into Australia.
The game contains the option of self-administering a variety of “medications” throughout gameplay which act to restore a player’s 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 tussin. 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.
Players obtain drugs by scavenging for them in the environment or by manufacturing them in a “Medical Lab”. When players find drugs in the environment the name of the drug appears onscreen and the drug is also represented by a visual icon such as a pill bottle or syringe. Within the “Medical Lab” players are prompted to make substances such as “Potent Stims”, “Mild Stims” and “Painkillers”. The laboratory includes a “research library” and “chemical dictionary”.
When administering drugs, the player is briefly depicted moving a pill bottle toward their mouth. The sound of pills rattling in the bottle accompanies the depiction. The name of the drug appears onscreen along with its representative icon. Consumption of the drug instantly increases a player’s in-game abilities allowing them to progress through gameplay more easily. The Applicant has stated that a “player can choose not to make any drugs or scavenge for them, but it would be very difficult to complete the game without some form of medication”.
In the Board’s opinion, the game enables the player’s character to self-administer proscribed drugs which aid in gameplay progression. This game therefore contains drug use related to incentives or rewards and should be Refused Classification.