Review 9 – The R Classification for Videogames

When the majority of the population of the United States voted Barack Obama in as their president, they wanted change.  Similarly, when a plethora of major videogame releases were barred from the Australian market, the people wanted change in the form of an R Classification, much like the one that exists for movies.  It’s a tenuous segue, but then so were the grounds on which games were banned back in the dark ages.  So, has the country’s R Classification for Videogames changed anything?

Gamers cried tears of joy when the R Classification for Videogames went live.  And it wasn’t only because they could tear mythical beasts apart in God of War: Ascension, crush infected heads with bricks in The Last of Us, uppercut heads off bodies in Mortal Kombat and blow away radioactive creatures and militants in polygon-perfect detail in Metro: Last Light.  It was a move that was supposed to elevate videogames onto the same artistic plain as cinema, which in my view is where this form of entertainment belongs.  It meant that adults who wanted to play adult videogames could do so.

It was supposed to be the start of a new age for gaming in Australia… a more mature age where games appeal to a more diverse demographic.  To an extent, that age has begun.  But June 25 and 26 2013 developments have shown that there’s still a way to go.

On June 25 2013, Saints Row IV was refused classification.  Less than 24 hours later, State Of Decay met the same fate.  To be refused classification, a title must “offend against the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults to the extent that it should not be classified.”

Saints Row IV was found to contain:

A) “a visual depiction of implied sexual violence that is interactive and not justified by context”

B) “insufficient delineation between the “alien narcotic” available in the game and real-world proscribed drugs.”

State Of Decay was banned on similar grounds: “drug use related to incentives or rewards.”

Let’s take a look at the reasoning used to restrict these titles from sale.

 

Saints Row IV A: “a visual depiction of implied sexual violence that is interactive and not justified by context”

The player can use an Alien Anal Probe to attack NPCs (non-player characters).  This so-called probe is some kind of outlandish fusion of sword, dildo and random appendages, which can be inserted between the legs of NPCs in order to launch them into the air.  Here’s a quote from the report: “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.”

Let me say that I’m not an advocate for the insertion of alien devices into anuses or sexual violence.  But let me also say that the Classification Board is taking things extremely seriously here.

The pixelation of the action means that this so-called sexual violence is implied, not graphic.  This is even stated in the report.  It’s like fining someone because it kind of looked like they were going over the speed limit.  This is not a compelling enough reason to label the content as offensive against accepted standards of morality, decency and propriety.

I’m not saying that forcefully inserting an object into some poor soul’s through the pants, anus or otherwise, before launching them into the air is in line with standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults.  That’s because it doesn’t  happen.  Ever.  In carrying out thorough web research on sexual toys, I have not once come across something that resembles what the report states, though devices of this nature are becoming increasingly inventive: “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.”  Furthermore, there are very few people in the world who could penetrate even a delicate pair of pants with a blunt object, unless said object were a sexual toy that was, literally, out of this world.  And then the victim is launched into the air?  Like they’re a small pack of crisps, rather than a 45 to 100 kilo human?  Bullshit.

What I’m getting at here is that this whole scenario is an impossibility.  It is so blatantly impossible that it can’t be against any sort of accepted standards, as standards that govern the use of an alien device on humans do not exist. The Board is drawing a non-existent line that likens something that is conspicuously fictional and outlandish with a horrible real-world issue, and it’s a tenuous line at best… certainly not grounds for banning a game.

Oh, and another thing. In Saints Row III, which you can go out and purchase right now, you can do this:

That’s beating law enforcement officers to death en masse, with a real world dildo.  Go figure.

 

 

Saints Row IV B “insufficient delineation between the “alien narcotic” available in the game and real-world proscribed drugs.”

This is a naming issue.  “The Board notes that the label “narcotics” is commonly used to describe a class of real-world drugs that include such proscribed substances as cocaine and heroin.”  In other words, players are taking alien cocaine, when the Board would prefer that they be taking alien white powder that is definitely not ingested via the nasal region resulting in sensations of well-being and heightened alertness.  It’s stupid reasoning, but it’s fairly clear, and can easily be avoided.

But it was years ago when Fallout 3 was refused classification on the exact same grounds.  Furthermore, it’s worth noting that there are countless films and TV programs which depict the use, distribution and even manufacture of real Planet Earth narcotics.  Sure, the element of audience interactivity is absent, but real actors and settings add to the realism.  If the point of introducing an R Rating was to bring the credibility, respect and artistic merit of other media to videogames, then the rating has failed.

 

State Of Decay “drug use related to incentives or rewards.”

The developers of this game clearly thought that Australia was ready for games to ascend to a film-like level of acceptance in society – they didn’t even bother renaming their drugs.  Methadone, morphine, and amphetamines can all be found lying around the environment like change under a vending machine (serious, check when you’re next near one, you might score yourself a Snickers).  Much like Saints Row IV, they sprung the old “no drugs in games” trap.

There is an added issue though.  Here’s a report extract, “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.”

In Breaking Bad, Walter White resorts to drugs to make a large amount of money so that his family can live comfortably after he’s lost the unwinnable fight against terminal cancer.  Almost three million people watched the latest episode live, with countless others catching up on downloads.  It features an array of benefits and detriments of drug use and manufacture.  Oh, and it manages to breeze onto Australian shelves with an MA rating.  That means if 11-year-old Junior wants to watch crackies purchase and use super hard drugs, he can get his clueless mother to buy it for him.

A horrible fact of the videogame industry is that a disturbingly high number of quality, top-selling titles feature extreme violence as central gameplay elements.  Indeed, mass slaughter of innocents and enemies is not just encouraged; it’s essential to progress.  So sure, State of Decay features drug use related to incentives or rewards, along with the killing of mindless zombies, but there are countless games which feature murder related to incentives or rewards, games which are available to anyone over 15.  Game violence is a whole different topic, but there’s clearly something wrong with Australia’s classification criteria if it dictates that mass killing is wholly acceptable in R, MA, M and even some PG and G games (you can’t fool me Nintendo, I know those Pokémon aren’t “fainting”), as opposed to drugs which are an absolute no no.

This is OK:

But calling drugs by their real names and using them?  In a videogame?  Get the hell out of my country.

 

So what has actually changed?

Major titles that have hit shelves with an R Rating include God of War: Ascension, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, The Last Of Us, Metro: Last Light and Mortal Kombat.  Mortal Kombat was originally refused classification, but is now available.  It’s a solid, critically acclaimed fighting game, and its availability is a credit to the board.

The Last Of Us is regarded as one of the best games ever made, and bears striking similarities to Left 4 Dead 2, which was refused classification due to the graphic violence that can be inflicted upon infected humans.  The Last Of Us allows players to do this, in much greater detail than Left 4 Dead 2, and with far greater emotional impact. It’s therefore easy to see this game being banned in an R Rating free society.  Another win.

The other three games are sequels or add-ons, and from all accounts they’re no more or less violent than their MA predecessors.  Ascension and Last Light deal with the same subject matter in the same game universe, while Blood Dragon takes the realistic present day island setting of Far Cry 3 and throws it out the window, putting an alternate reality 80s action movie-style acid-trip in its place.  While it’s impossible to tell what their rating would have been in years gone by, I dare say they would have managed to scrape through with the same MA rating as their prequels.  A neutral result.

Overall then, things have improved.  If The Last Of Us and Mortal Kombat had been restricted from sale in Australia, I would have imported them, then got my pitchfork and torch from out the back and marched on the Board.  But I can buy them.  I’m enjoying The Last Of Us right now.  So, while I’m grateful that these titles are available, it’s a shame to see that there’s still a definite distinction between videogames and other media.  What’s worse is that bans are being imposed thanks to flawed classification guidelines and the misinterpretation of content.

Overall, I’m giving the R Classification for Videogames a 4/10.

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