Yesterday I posted about Saints Row IV being refused classification, and since then there have been additional updates from the classification board, both about the Saints Row IV decision and now the announcement that State of Decay has also been refused classification. That’s two games in two days! Let’s take a closer look at why.
Whereas the initial report from the Classification Board made a vague reference to non-contextualized, interactive sexual violence, this new information has provided some insight into what their exact problem with the game is:
“The game includes a weapon referred to by the Applicant as an ‘Alien Anal Probe’, the board said. 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.”
Personally, I started giggling at the imagery described about halfway through the above paragraph which would at least indicate that I am among the target audience for this title. It would also indicate that I can appreciate the humor in this game that the Classification Board cannot; For anyone who isn’t familiar with the Saints Row series, it is often non-sequitur in nature and the lack of context lends itself to this comedic style. This kind of toilet humor is also prevalent in many high rating television shows, which are also quite popular in Australia and thus subject to the same review processes, such as “Family Guy”, in which rape jokes have been used more than a few times, and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”, which has also lampooned the topic.
Taboo topics make for great entertainment and rape, being very much taboo, isn’t above that, so why would it’s presence in a video game be any different? Because the interactive nature of the act, i.e. the player having to initiate the action in order for it to happen, makes it more… and this is where I cannot follow the Classification Board on their justification. Were this a video game designed for children, whose minds were still quite impressionable during their formative years, then I could agree with them that the content is not appropriate and thus must be edited out. But the game is aiming for an R18+ rating, meaning it is intended for adults, which assumes that the people playing it will already understand the simple concept of “Rape is wrong”, making them less likely to be persuaded to emulate the events of the game in real life. Unfortunately, the Classification Board does not agree.
There is also some mention in both released statements of the proscribed drug use during the game, and a link to reward for those actions, with the latter of the two statements stating that the “reward” is the super powers that the main protagonist receives as a result of taking the drug. Gamers who have been following the development of Saints Row IV will recognise this as being both a core mechanic of the gameplay, as well as a pivotal moment in the story arc. It’s frustrating that this would be focused on as it seems that altering this content will affect the story and gameplay; However, the provided explanation is so brief it implies that, with the removal of the implied sexual content, this might be allowed to slide, right? …Wrong.
Drug use, or at the very least its link to a “reward”, is something that the Classification Board is extremely opposed to, though the use of the term “reward” is perhaps a bit of a stretch:
“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… 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.”
Someone needs to contact the local hospitals and ask any patients being administered pain killers what kind of “reward” it is that they’ve received. It would be my understanding that during a post-apocalyptic scenario one would need to consume or use anything at their disposal to survive a hostile situation, especially when fictitious zombies are screaming down your neck while your insides feel as though they’re made of shattered glass; The Classification Board once again disagrees on this point, informing us that simply relieving pain is now considered a reward in itself. They also mention the fact that the protagonist can be visually seen taking the drugs in response to input from the player, bringing the argument back to one of “interactivity” while still missing the point that this is a fictitious game for adults. Much like rape jokes have been used in television shows, drug use has most definitely been seen in popular television shows and movies for decades, with AMC’s Breaking Bad being the most prominent in recent times, and it again raises the question that if this is acceptable in television then why not in video games?
Because the dominant perception is still that video games are for children, despite the evidence to the contrary. What other reason could they possibly have for denying adults the same content in video games, which we have seen, enjoyed, and not attempted to replicate in the real world, that is available through other forms of media? As children, we wait for so long to be able to make decisions for ourselves, being told that we simply aren’t old enough to have the experience necessary to determine what is and isn’t appropriate, that when we reach adulthood, having that freedom is incredibly satisfying. Just as it is equally frustrating to be told that we cannot view something, simply because we couldn’t possibly be mature enough to handle the themes of the content. What is appropriate for me may not necessarily be appropriate for you, and to have a group of people who have historically demonstrated to hold grudges against, or simply not even understand, the gaming industry tell us that we cannot play something because it isn’t “appropriate” is laughable. This is a freedom that we should expect to have by default, not something that we should be forced to fight for every time the question is raised.
As mentioned, re-classification is not the same as being banned, which means that, once the Classification Board has approved a censored version which they deem fit enough to suit our apparently delicate sensibilities, the flood-gates will be open for importing from overseas and this is something that I highly recommend that you do. Australian retail prices are ridiculously high already, which just makes importing the cheaper option. I have no intention of supporting a system that promised me one thing, by living up to the standards the R18+ rating assured us of, before delivering something else entirely, and neither should you.
Dungeon Crawl, an Australian games retailer, have just posted an update on their Facebook page stating that they will no longer be importing the international version of Saints Row IV, and instead will be only supplying the edited Australian copy (at the inflated Australian prices, as well). While this isn’t because of an official statement from Australian authorities saying that imported copies will be stopped from entering the country, they have said as such for other titles in the past. Importing is an option, but it looks like it could be at your own risk.