Is The Australian Video Game Classification System Still Broken?

Last night, the Australian Classification Board gave the video game Saints Row IV an RC rating, which means it cannot be legally sold in this country. This is despite the fact that video games now have an R18+ classification in Australia. So is Saints Row IV — a tongue-in-cheek action game — really worse than “torture porn” movies like Hostel and Saw? Or is the Classification Board still backwards when it comes to classifying games?

It has been less than six months since Australia received an R rating for video games and already a game has been effectively banned in this country. Under Australia’s new video games classification guidelines, a game can still be refused classification if it contains “high impact” content, just like a film or magazine. The Board classifies six separate elements for games: themes, violence, sex, language, drug use and nudity.

    Here are the factors that the Board takes into account when judging video games for classification:
  • the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted by reasonable adults
  • the literary, artistic or educational merit (if any) of the computer game
  • the general character of the computer game, including whether it is of a medical, legal or scientific character
  • the persons or class of persons to or amongst whom it is published or is intended or likely to be published.
  • [clear] [clear]
    In the case of Saints Row IV, the game was refused classification due to a range of material deemed unsuitable for adults, including drug-based rewards and sexual violence.

    “In the Board’s opinion, Saints Row IV includes interactive, visual depictions of implied sexual violence which are not justified by context,” the Classification Board stated. “In addition, the game includes elements of illicit or proscribed drug use related to incentives or rewards. Such depictions are prohibited by the computer games guidelines.”

    The Board took particular offence to an alien anal probe weapon which could be used to violate the backsides of enemies and civilians. As the Board explained in its report:

    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…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 decision to refuse Saints Row IV a classification rating has caused plenty of shock in the gaming community. After finally receiving an 18+ classification many thought the days of banned games were done and dusted. As Kotaku editor Mark Serrels said: “To be perfectly honest, I didn’t think we would ever be in this position again.”

    While we don’t claim the above content has any artistic merit, it’s worth noting that the Saints Row series are slapstick comedy games with consciously cartoony graphics. To suggest this game is unsuitable for adult gamers due to a novelty dildo weapon is frankly ridiculous. It’s basically in the same ballpark as the buggery gags in South Park and Family Guy (indeed, the weapon’s attack animation is completely pixelated from view.) Again, the issue here isn’t whether the game is suitable for minors, but for gamers over the age of 18.

    Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised. The Classification Board has a history of being extra hard on video games due to the addition of interactivity. This opens up a whole different kettle of fish which aren’t present in other entertainment mediums.

    “Interactivity is an important consideration that the Board must take into account when classifying computer games,” the Guidelines For The Classification Of Computer Games explains.

    “This is because there are differences in what some sections of the community condone in relation to passive viewing or the effects passive viewing may have on the viewer (as may occur in a film) compared to actively controlling outcomes by making choices to take or not take action.

    “Due to the interactive nature of computer games and the active repetitive involvement of the participant, as a general rule computer games may have a higher impact than similarly themed depictions of the classifiable elements in film, and therefore greater potential for harm or detriment.”

    While I’ll acknowledge that video game interactivity does heighten impact in some circumstances, the cartoony graphics of the Saints Row series diminishes the impact hugely. I think it’s safe to say that most adults would be more emotionally affected by a gruesome horror movie than anything contained in Saints Row IV; anal probes ‘n’ all.

    What does everyone else think? Did the Australian Classification Board get it right, or are we being denied something that is perfectly acceptable for adults? Let us know in the comments section below.

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