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.

Reviewman Face Off 1 – Playstation 4 vs Xbox One

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On 27 August 1896, the British Empire took on the Zanzibar Sultanate in what would go down in history as the shortest war of all time – 40 minutes.  The Brit army had one wounded soldier, while the poor old Zanzis lost three boats, a shore battery and ended up with around 500 killed or wounded soldiers.

In 2013, Sony were similarly merciless and nearly as swift in their 107 minute E3 press conference, brushing aside Microsoft’s limp attempt at a conference earlier in the expo.  Yep, it appears that Playstation 4 has won the Cold War before any live ammunition has even been loaded for the real war when consoles starts launching come November.  So let’s take a look at how they did it based on what we know.

Design

Back in the early 90s I used to love popping a video packed with Transformers re-runs or episodes of Pingu into the VCR.  The Xbox One looks suspiciously similar to that very same VCR, with a few helpings of gloss to try and change it into something that doesn’t look out of place in 2013 and 14.  But as they say, you can’t polish pooh, even by literally applying polish, and this design is a little bit shit.

The Playstation 4 is a bit better.  It’s a got a parallelogram vibe to it.  It looks sharp in more ways than one, simultaneously more aggressive and more cutting-edge than the Xbox One.  In fact, it looks aggressive to the extent that I’m not sure that I’m in love with it…

So it comes down to whether you want a VCR or a super high-tech parallelogram.  For me, nostalgia is nice, but it has no place in the latest console generation.  Playstation 4 takes the chocolates.

Internals

Eight core processors?  Check.  8 gigs of RAM? Check.  500 gig hard drives?  Check.  AMD Radeon graphics?  Check.  Blu Ray drives?  Check.  I’m not sure if the development teams went to the same cafe to discuss plans after work every day, but this is just about a dead heat.  Dig a little deeper though, and you’ll notice that Playstation 4 can commit more RAM to its games (7GB vs 5GB) while boasting faster graphics capabilities (1.84 TFLOPS vs 1.23 TFLOPS).  Playstation 4 wins.

Controllers

I’ve always been a fan of Sony’s controllers, and I’m glad they’ve taken the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” approach.  That’s not to say things haven’t changed at all.  Along with the same directional and action buttons, two shoulders, two triggers and dual depressible sticks, we have the SHARE button, which I’ll get to later.  Another addition is a capacitive touchpad and a light bar for notifications.

Microsoft have changed precious little, which isn’t a bad thing – I like the heft of the controllers and the chunky, rounded face buttons.  The D-Pad has changed to a four-way design rather than the cumbersome circular abomination of the 360.  The big change is in the triggers, which feature independent rumble motors that can be customised.

I’m giving this one to the Playstation 4.  I don’t know about you, but I’d take a potentially game-changing touchpad over vibrating triggers every day of the week.

It should be noted that the potential of Xbox SmartGlass could eventually offset Sony’s advantage here.  The touchscreen-based application, which you can download now on all good tablets or smartphones, will only get better, but as it stands it’s only useful for displaying things like stats, and is of little use when playing games unless you’re an octopus, squid, or other creature capable of manipulating two devices and watching a TV at the same time.  Oh, and Microsoft still think it’s cool to NOT have rechargeable batteries in controllers.  Sony’s are, once again, rechargeable straight out of the box.

Kinect and Move

Here’s where things get interesting.  Much to the dismay of core gamers like myself, Xbox have stuck with the whole Kinect thing in a big way.  It’s now essential that Kinect be… well, Kinected in order for Xbox One to function.  This opens the door for a whole universe of shit games with titles like: Family Fun Park 7, Kinect Star Wars 2, Wave Your Arms Like a Dickhead 9 and more dance games than you can awkwardly shake your booty at.  And it’s not just the flood of awful titles that scares me.

It’s the sinister powers of Kinect.  It can measure your heartbeat, see in the dark, read facial expressions, and has a microphone that is on whenever the mains are so you can activate the unit using voice and avoid having to undergo the arduous task of walking to the machine, pressing the button, and sitting back down, you lazy bastard.  I can’t see how any of these things will make games more enjoyable.  Will it encourage me to go outdoors if it detects that I’m fatter than I was a month ago?  Bugger off, Nintendo tried that and it didn’t work.  Will it make my game easier if I look sad?  That’s why they let you choose difficulty settings.  On a more sci-fi  level: call me paranoid, but I have this underlying fear that the more machines know, the closer we get to this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a1wVR6Qab70.

Playstation 4 will support existing Move controllers.  That’s all we know, and I think avoiding reliance on a failed gimmick, especially one which can now monitor you, your family and your home AT ALL TIMES, is a wise Sony move that Microsoft and Nintendo for that matter, can learn from.  This round goes to Sony.

TV

Xbox One can be used as a set top box.  So if you’ve already got one of those or Foxtel or some other form of TV watching device, well I’m sad to say but you’ll be paying for something you don’t really need, along with vibrating triggers.  More compelling is the ability to show off your gaming prowess by recording clips of your e-feats.  To put together a clip, you use the Upload Studio app or integrate with the live streaming Twitch app.

As far as I know, the Playstation 4 can’t be used as a set top box.  Sharing is simply a matter of pressing the SHARE button on your Dual Shock 4.  You can then select a segment of gameplay from within the last 15 minutes of your session, and upload that clip to the social media site of your choice.

Playstation sneaks home with this one, purely because I don’t want a set top box.

Games

The most important factor.

Big guns like Destiny, Batman: Arkham Origins, Assassins Creed IV, Watch Dogs, Metal Gear Solid V, Call Of Duty Ghosts, Battlefield 4 and any sports game with a 2014 on the end will be available on both consoles.  Assassins Creed IV and Watch Dogs will have content exclusive to PS4, while Call Of Duty Ghosts and Battlefield 4 will offer the same for Xbox One.  Scores level so far.

As for exclusives: in Xbox One’s corner we have a Halo game, Forza 5, Project Spark and Kinect Sports Rivals and Ryse: Son Of Rome.  In Playstation 4’s corner, we have Final Fantasy XV, Kingdom Hearts III, The Order 1866 and a plethora of awesome indie games.  You can just about lock away Kingdom Hearts III and Halo as A-Grade titles.  Final Fantasy XV is likely to be along the same lines, though XIII was a disappointment.  We don’t know enough about the others to make a call.  You know my thoughts on Kinect games already, so you know that I’m writing off Kinect Sports Rivals. As for Forza?  Driving simulators are a taste I am yet to acquire.  If I wanted realistic driving I’d get in my car and drive.  I’d probably drive to IGA, buy a pack of Arnott’s Premier Choc Chip Cookies, and settle down to play something better.  Scores still level.

Sony gets the edge through its commitment to indie games.  This doesn’t just open up the platform to a host of talented, under-recognised developers and potentially incredible gaming experiences.  It shows that Sony knows where core gamers want to go.  Indie gaming has taken off, and based on these early impressions, Sony is tuned into this rich vein of software to a much greater extent than Microsoft.

Online, the big advantage PSN had over Xbox Live, free online gaming, has gone.  Subscriptions are now required for both services.

The much-maligned used game restrictions present on Xbox One will be notably absent from Playstation 4.  Xbox One’s exact policies are still a bit murky.  There’s talk of paid activation codes, developers being the ones to blame, having to log in once a day…  I think it’s safe to say that if you want to be able to play used games without a kerfuffle, Playstation 4 is the way.  Sony wins again.

Online

Playstation 4, sadly, will now require a paid subscription for online gaming, which brings it in line with Xbox Live.  Though PSN will be a little cheaper, the Xbox Live network is more fully featured than PSN.  That’s not to say PSN won’t catch up.  For the moment though, I’m calling this a draw.

Price

Using the discipline of mathematics, let me illustrate perhaps the largest, sharpest, most deeply penetrating nail in the Xbox One’s coffin.  Xbox One: $499 US.  PS4: $399 US.  $499 – $399 = $100.  To summarise, the Playstation 4 is $100 cheaper than the Xbox One.  That is a telling blow.  Say what you want about mark ups in different countries – I can guarantee you there will still be a significant gap whatever country you do your shopping in.

 

A Note On Wii U

By this point some of you might be thinking to yourselves: “hang on, what about Nintendo?”  Yes, technically the Wii U is Nintendo’s entrant in the upcoming console war.  However, it has about as much chance of winning as actual wee, as in urine.  It’s based around a still underused gimmick that can only be used by one person per console.  If it goes the same was the first Wii did, it will reach a point where if a game doesn’t have Zelda, Mario or Smash in the title, it’ll be rubbish.  Gimmicks lead to gimmicky games.

Alternatively, it could go the way of the Gamecube.  Underwhelming sales have have put off developers, as has the divisive new control method.  Wii U may not even have enough games on shelves to even begin to compete.

So I’m calling it.  RIP Wii U, it’s been a mediocre few months.

The Wrap Up

I’m a proud non-discriminatory gamer.  I’m proud to have Xbox 360, Wii, and Playstation 3 sharing my TV at this very moment.  But at this exact same moment, the facts indicate that Playstation 4 is the console to beat.  It’s quite simply better in every possible way, except its online feature set, which is pretty much on par with what Microsoft brings to the table.