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.

Stay tuned.

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.

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29 Comments on Australia: Treating Gaming Adults Like Children

gasmaskangel

On June 28, 2013 at 8:49 pm

” As a sensible adult, it’s anger inducing. Why does the government feel that they have the right to censor the content I consume? Why do they feel that they know better than I do? What gives them the right to decide what I can have, and what I can’t?”

The answer to this is that government authority has given itself the right to empower nosy busybodies who believe that they and they alone have the right to determine what is “acceptable” for the general public. This is absolutely abhorrent.

Yes, maybe the content of games like Saints Row 4 and movies like Wolf Creek is morally objectionable, but as a moral adult and a student of history I find government censorship of artwork far more disgusting, immoral and viscerally repugnant than a juvenile weapon or simulated drug use.

When these sort of stories come up I like to imagine the supposed impressionable individual these sort of rulings are meant to represent, and in this case the individual is at once an adult fully capable of making his own decisions regarding the depiction of violence, and thus presumably not running around bashing people over the head with a baseball bat at random, and yet impossibly stupid where the subject of drug use is concerned. This imaginary person knows how to distinguish between fantasy violence, but the minute he sees someone using painkillers he’s chugging everything in the bloody medicine cabinet out of belief that he will gain superpowers.

I am tempted to claim that the members of the ACB are both unfamiliar with humans and drugs of all kinds, but frankly this smells more of someone trying to build a political career as a moral guardian to me.

In short, my deepest condolences to the Australian people, whether they are gamers or not, for living in a country where the government gives itself power it does not deserve and I urge all of you to champion free speech regardless of region.

Enigmatic

On June 28, 2013 at 9:02 pm

Essentially what the ACB are saying is that even as adults we are unable to recognise and understand a simple game mechanic like a health bar and that despite them coming to no harm in rating such a game, we will somehow be corrupted by it.

How is such a totalitarian denial of an adults rights to choose their own material, which is not peverse, hateful or bigoted, any different to the complaints we make against countries like china?

Grow up ACB, start using the R18+ rating for what it was created for & stop imposing your own ignorant, narrow minded, and arbitrarily &#$ly retentive bigotry on the people you SERVE.

dracohouston

On June 28, 2013 at 9:49 pm

Our government is saving you all from buying this. They’re heroes!

Stephen Heller

On June 28, 2013 at 10:38 pm

@gasmaskangel

First of all, thank you so much for reading my article. Glad to know some people are finding it interesting. As for your comments, I agree that censorship without input from people who actually consume the content is ridiculous.

The ACB certainly have some explaining to do, especially considering that the R18+ was introduced to combat things like this happening. The old excuse was “we don’t have anything higher than MA15+. Now, I don’t understand what excuse they are hiding behind.

It sucks, but otherwise Australia is a great country to live in. We’re a lot luckier than most.

Tahmina khan

On June 29, 2013 at 4:08 am

This suplliment is very nice.I like this suppliment….

bbo

On June 29, 2013 at 5:02 am

refused classification is not banned

JawaEsteban

On June 29, 2013 at 5:17 am

Great read. Hate hearing about things like this, especially when there’s not even an attempt to conceal the hypocrisy between what gets allowed for movies and television versus video games on the part of those doing the censoring. Although it’s not gotten to the point of actually banning games on a regular basis in the United States, there’s still an almost rage-inducing double standard between Hollywood doing no wrong and video games being routinely demonized for every societal ill under the sun.

That said, I think gasmaskangel hit the nail on the head. Smells like someone (or several someones) positioning themselves for later political gain. Having spent a number of years working with various government agencies, it’s been my experience that they usually have no larger portion of morons on their payroll than any other similarly-sized organization, private or public. It’s certainly possible that the ACB won the ‘shallow end of gene pool’ lottery when personnel assignments were made, but the odds make it highly unlikely that the entire board is as blatantly stupid as they appear to be at face value. Something else is going on.

Aaron

On June 29, 2013 at 5:46 am

OMG .. to state that the 18+ rating keeps it out of the reach of children would have to be by far the most self justifying, naive statement I have heard for a long long time. I game, but I’m aware that won’t I don’t play I don’t miss and if it means that the children of Australia are not exposed to scenes that are clearly psychologically inappropriate then I’m sure life will continue if that don’t get to play a game. It’s disappointing but not surprising that people adopt the “what about me” attitude without a hint of consideration for the greater good.

SilverCare

On June 29, 2013 at 8:45 am

Australia is notoriously backwards so it doesn’t surprise me that this sort of rubbish can take place. This is the same country that has a special credit card for people on welfare and had a whites-only immigration policy until a couple of decades ago (and no, I’m not criticising immigration control – but basing it on skin colour is unacceptable). The country is such a shambles that a woman was able to backstab and betray her way to the position of Prime Minister and sustain it for years despite not having a clue what she was doing, just because she knew she could constantly play the gender inequality card and Australia wouldn’t have an answer.

I feel sorry for Australians who have to put up with this garbage. It’s bad enough as a Brit that Manhunt 2 was banned but this is f’ing ridiculous. Games developers should unite in boycotting Australia completely until they have no choice but to stop treating their citizens like babies.

matthew s

On June 29, 2013 at 11:42 am

It seems ludicrous that they have banned these games. I can just see the helen lovejoy government now “THINK OF THE CHILDREN! . OH WON’T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN!”

As a rightminded adult and a parent I enjoy games that are not suitable for my kids. I decide to play these games because as an adult with at least half a brain I know that they are just a bit of escapist fantasy to help me unwind. Because i cant do the same things in reality because I can tell the difference.

My kids also like to play games so they have their own little collection they can play on their own or with me.
If they ask me for a game that’s mature rated they are told no because they aren’t old enoigh. I do this because its my responsibility to do so. I dont need some pen pusher to tell me I cant play a game be cause I wouldnt be able to handle a dildo weapon without my brain imploding
Whats the point of an adult rating if they wont use it.

The mind boggles.

sep

On June 29, 2013 at 5:42 pm

Video games??! BAN THAT MUTHA……

Repeat rapist??? Parole

rickshaw

On June 29, 2013 at 5:46 pm

The basics of a ban forces people to seek the banned product elsewhere, underground, overground anywhere. A ban is De-censored by the temptation to step over the line, therefore causing a reason to rebel against it. This ban method never works, when you forcefully tell someone they can’t have it, they go to grab it anyway.
Ban = useless. old school methods that do not work.

Stephen Heller

On June 29, 2013 at 7:24 pm

As both a consumer, and someone who works in the industry, I wish that if a game was refused classification that the publishers would refuse to censor it. Once 10 – 20 games a year were being banned, and import of illegal games were skyrocketing, maybe they would finally get the message that if we want a game badly enough, we can get it from other countries.

lol

On June 30, 2013 at 6:15 am

lol. If you’re that desperate to play Saints Row, have it imported or move to another country. Crying over nothing, that’s what gamers today seem to be good at. I guess they have to be good at something since they tend to not be very good at the games themselves lolol.

Stephen Heller

On June 30, 2013 at 4:07 pm

@LOL – crying is a bit of a stretch, and I’m not a gamer crying like an entitled child, I’m genuinely concerned that the government has the power to do this sort of thing in a nation as developed as Australia.

As for moving to another country, I tried to move to the United States a few years ago and found it impossible. Unless I wanted to get married, the longest I could stay in America was three months at a time, with no way to extend that stay.

JawaEsteban

On June 30, 2013 at 9:36 pm

@Stephen
Sir, seeing as you’re relatively new to GF, you may not have had a chance to become aquainted with our resident underbridge dweller. You’re just wasting your valuable time with any reply to ‘lol’, the troll is neither here for nor interested in any sort of intelligent discussion. Best just to ignore it. Everyone else does.

Stephen Heller

On June 30, 2013 at 10:11 pm

@JawaEsteban

Thanks for the advice, I thought that may have been the case!

Glad to see some really insightful comments to this article. It’s important to discuss the issue, rather than jump up and down like spoiled kids, which only fuels the argument that gamers are immature, something that has certainly be claimed in the past here in Australia.

I know Germany has had similar content bans when it comes to video games, but has America ever had any game refused classification?

lol

On July 1, 2013 at 4:37 am

@JawaButthurtfan: so much for ignoring me, troll. Don’t cry just because I’m challenging the author, after all this site was built on calling out every little insignificant detail about games and finding flaws that only about 2% of the audience cares about. This is the site that tried to turn the few Mass Effect 3 ending whiners into a genuine controversy and kicked up a fuss over some free DLC being taken down by the people who own it. It’s a culture of entitlement on here and now you seem to think the authors can be treated differently from the companies they make their names by criticising you hypocrite.

It’s no surprise though that the author has chosen to accept your view over mine, though. After all, it’s much easier to listen to yes men than actual critical opinions. He’ll fit this site like a glove.

So yeah, you don’t own.

JawaEsteban

On July 1, 2013 at 5:10 am

@ Stephen

Nothing that I can think of. ‘The Guy Game’ (PS2, 2005-ish) supposedly got hit with a restraining order due to one of the models being underage (sayeth Wikipedia), but that’s the only instance I’ve ever heard of. There was a lot of screaming about GTA San Andreas a while back, but I forget if it actually was pulled from shelves. Anybody remember specifics on the whole ‘hot coffee’ thing?

On the other hand, the U.S. Congress really likes to blame the videogame industry for everything wrong with society it can think of, especially violent crime. Every once in a while some especially morally righteous twit sponsors some variety of censorship legislation, but it’s never gone anywhere to date (one of the few advantages to divided party control of the legislative branch. Nothing gets done, which is on occasion a good thing).

Sol

On July 1, 2013 at 9:32 am

Wait, seriously? What the hell, i was planning on getting SR4.
Do they realize the game is so incredibly unrealistic that no one could relate it to real life? Unless people get beaten to death with giant purple dildos all the time and i just don’t know about it.
Also whats this about medications and stuff? how many games have random stuff like that be your healing items? Practically all of them! Except games where taking cover makes your limbs regrow.
I’m surprised far cry 3 made it past these idiots. seeing as drugs are all through that damn game, as well as being the primary healing item.
Also how the SR3 make it past them? You dress up as a freaking panda and chainsaw civilians, carry a dozen military grade weapons on your person

this makes me facepalm pretty hard, but i can still get the game. All this really does is make sure that local retailers won’t see any profit.

folklore

On July 1, 2013 at 1:24 pm

@jawa
the hot coffee scandal resulted in GTA being pulled from the shelves so the game could be patched, and was released again fairly quickly again. It wasn’t nearly as bad as people thought it was, as you needed a dedicated hacker to access the mode anyway.

Stephen Heller

On July 1, 2013 at 6:40 pm

@JawaEsteban – I have definitely heard all about the US government blaming video games for violent crimes. Basically every school shooting I’ve heard about over here, video games are somehow brought into the equation.

GTA III was pulled from shelves here to be patched I remember. My mate had a copy (I didn’t have a PS2) before it was pulled, but when the news broke his parents made him return it to K-Mart and get a refund!

@Sol – The ruling would suggest that Deep Silver (or the distributor AIE) didn’t frame the game in such a way that it would be seen as a parody. Still, the people making the ruling should have realised that themselves from the ridiculous nature.

As for your comments about health….all I need to do is quote a line from Left 4 Dead 2 – “Pills here!”

Thanks so much for reading and discussing this issue guys, couldn’t have asked for a warmer welcome to Game Front. Excited to bring you more content from Australia. Feel free to email me any requests for stories you want to know more about, particularly about indie devs. We’ve got a huge community of them down here.

Sol

On July 1, 2013 at 11:28 pm

@Stephen Heller
No problem, this is the first i heard about it.. its still ridiculous. and i think my far cry 3 comparison still stands, i mean you get drugs that somehow make you invincible and one shot people.
Yes, L4D2, quite apt.

gasmaskangel

On July 2, 2013 at 3:37 am

I agree with lol for once, not about leaving the country but about not allowing commenters to criticise writers who themselves are criticising others. You have to be able to accept and handle criticism when writing for a public site like this, although lol’s criticism isn’t valid.

Ron Whitaker

On July 2, 2013 at 6:10 am

@gasmaskangel – We completely agree that our commenters should be able to criticize our work. That’s one of the reasons, despite all the calls from other commenters, lol is still a welcome member of our community. The last thing we need around here is a bunch of sycophants.

Stephen Heller

On July 2, 2013 at 7:04 am

Yeah, I welcome any type of criticism and challenge to anything I write. That’s what discussion is all about :)

Kazoo

On July 2, 2013 at 8:04 am

@Stephen –

To date, have any games/movies received the R18+ rating?

Any comments regarding their choices?

Supremeallah

On July 2, 2013 at 9:28 am

And here I thought the Germans were the only people being over protective of this type of content.

Generally its always the Germans who ban this type of stuff, sad to see it being a huge thing in the land down under as well.

Then again, here in America they were forced to censor that Manhunt game.

BIGaus

On July 2, 2013 at 10:30 am

I am an Australian adult and we have a R18+ Rating now and games are still being banned, ha ha fuk u ACB that wont stop the smart Aussies from playing any banned games. Adults in Aus have a right to play these games hence the introduced R18+ rating u retards.