Friday, July 16, 2010

Australia and Computer Games

Australia has a major problem at the moment when it comes to gaming.  It's called the OFLC - Office of Film and Literature Classification. To speak more accurately, it's actually the Australian Classification Board. The OFLC was actually dissolved in 2006, yet it's still referred to be that name by many people.  Regardless, the point is that this Government run body determines what media is allowed to be shown in Australia based on the Australian classification system.  For gamers, this has proven to be in illogical and inequitable farce for many years. Incoming rant warning...

For those not in the know, Australia has no R18+ classification for computer games. The classification exists for other media such as film, books, magazines and CDs, but not for computer games. This in the past was due to a South Australian Attorney General named Michael Atkinson who staunchly opposed the creation of this classification, and because its creation required a unanimous decision from the ruling committee, his vote meant that it would never happen. When he finally stepped down this year, gamers across Australia celebrated. However, the classification still doesn't exist. As such we end up with ridiculous situations where we sometimes get the same game with a reduced classification. This is a photograph of my Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening DVD...

It's a Choose Your Own Classification Adventure!

A public request for comment was put out by the Attorney General's Department (who own the Classification Board), asking for opinions on an R18+ classification for games. Needless to say, a campaign from gamers meant an overwhelmingly positive response, despite the fact that the questionnaire had been worded with blatant bias against it. However, even that response has proven useless, as it has been deemed that the response was skewed by interest groups and an independent review would have to be undertaken.  Why? If people did not care enough about the issue, or were not well-enough informed to make a decision on the issue, why should they be consulted and have this casting vote on it?

Why does this annoy me (and countless other gamers)? For starters, we end up with games that are crippled in function and/or atmosphere: the Australian version of Left 4 Dead 2 has features removed from the game, and the zombies magically disappear upon being killed. This isn't a Twilight game with sparkling vampires for crying out loud!  The other option is that we ban the game completely...

Take at a glance at what is on the horizon...

Let's look at the RPG Risen by Piranha Bytes, who also released the Gothic series. I've never played any of them, and apparently Gothic 3 was a bit of a disaster so I'm not sure that I will. But when I heard about Risen, I thought it sounded somewhat interesting. However, it was banned in Australia, so unless I choose to import and play it illegally, I won't get to do so. However, with the help of an overseas friend and the Internet, I'm able to demonstrate what it is that got the game banned.  Now, according to the classification board, the rationale for the ban was due to "sexual activity and drug use related to incentives or rewards".

So I asked my overseas friend (an Australian ex-pat) to take some screenshots of anything that might fit this description. Unsurprisingly, (to me at least) the evidence was very thin on the ground. Let's deal with the drug usage first. So apparently there is a plant called "Brugleweed", which is suggested to be a drug of some sort, though the actual nature is never elaborated on. It is possible to collect these plants, abbreviated to "Weed" and also to smoke a "Weed Reefer". Smoking one of these "Weed Reefers" provides a very small experience gain... about double what you get for killing a defenseless chicken. Yes, a domestic chicken. Perhaps the game is also encouraging people to act like Ozzy Osbourne and murder animals in live concert performances?

Apparently, this will teach kids to smoke marijuana...

The second point relates to sexual activity.  I think it's first necessary to point out the obvious hypocrisy for banning any game for "benefits due to sexual activity" when we have games like Grand Theft Auto IV are freely available. Let's not forget the female characters in that game who you gain benefits from (a lawyer who can reduce you wanted level with law enforcement being the most useful), simply because you had sex with them.  Or how about the fact that there's specific XBox achievements to be earned for having sex with characters in games... like Grand Theft Auto IV... or *GASP* Dragon Age: Origins.  And let's not forget about family friendly Mario and how Princess Peach keeps offering him some... "cake".  Okay, so having set the standard with games that are allowed classification... what terrible crime does Risen commit?

Your character has the option to pay a prostitute for sex, and then there's a fade-to-black encounter with her. Now, we've had "explicit" sex scenes in a video game plenty of times before, so that's not the issue. No, the issue is that after you sleep with this prostitute, she claims to be a psychic who foresees that you will have a hard road ahead of you and may need help. Now if they were banning terribly cliched and ridiculous dialogue, then I wouldn't complain... oh wait, I would, because that would cover most computer games. :-P But I digress...

Anyway, the prostitute gives you a scroll that with cause anyone you have offended to forget about the wrong you have to them.  Basically, it's a "get-out-of-jail-free-card" if you happen to pick a fight with someone you shouldn't.  I was also informed that the impression she gives is that she's doing it out of genuine concern rather than a "services rendered" situation.

Ahh, such is the moral decay of society...

Of course, I've been told to note that both of these things are entirely optional within the game, and there's nothing forcing you to smoke a "Weed Reefer" or any suggestion that there will be any benefit from sleeping with the prostitute.

So can I back up the claims of how ridiculous this game being banned is? No. I have no reasonable legal recourse to complain about the decision. True, the review board does have a complaint/review system, but without having the source material, any complaint I make is hardly credible. If I've never played it or seen it, which I can't legally do, I can't provide any evidence to prove the decision is ridiculous apart from simple hearsay. So please, overseas readers and gamers, spare a thought for those of us in Australia and the ways that games here are currently crippled or banned entirely.


  1. I had no idea you were Australian! Clearly the reduction in available games gives us more time to spend on modding ;)

    You can also add to your rant the difficulties we face with the lack of local servers for MMOs (allegedly due to Telstra's pricing practices) - APB isn't getting an Australian release for that reason. Add high retail prices for games on top of that and it's not an ideal place to be a gamer.

    - Mengtzu

  2. Was Witcher banned from the AU as well? I don't see how this game is any different from the Witcher. You could sleep with prostitutes any time you wanted, and she wouldn't get pregnant.

  3. Mengtzu: Ahh, I didn't want to complain about cost (I know I've done that before) nor the terrible lag we face in any online gaming. But yes, they're equally horrible detriments to the gaming. I wonder if TOR will be playable in Australia...

    anduraga: No, The Witcher wasn't banned. I bought & downloaded the deluxe edition via Steam not so long ago but haven't played it much yet. I've also been told that the Fable games allow you to sleep with prostitutes as well...

  4. Sex in fable was more like a comical afterthought than anything else. I'm not exactly sure I would call most of the people you sleep with prostitutes, but I think there was a whore house in one of the Fables. Once you fart enough, do the pelvic thrust, insult or woo the women enough, a heart will show up over their head. Most will ask for a ring, in which case, you punch them and make them go away (not really), but there's a few that'll skip the ring and demand that you take them to your quarters. Once you use the bed, it fades to black and she giggles a bit like a naughty school girl.

    There were stats in Fable of how many times you had sex and with what gender, how many wives you have, how many STDs you had and what not.

    Honestly, I thought the whole sex thing in fable was pointless. Certainly didn't add anything in game especially when its a single player game.

    On another note, I thought the Witcher was a great game. The english version had terrible Voice acting, but if you look past that, it's definitely worth looking into. *goes back to playing Starcraft II Beta*

  5. I totally agree with your post Amstrad - its ridiculous that as an adult in Australia I am not legally allowed to play games which are unable to be classified under the existing classification regime, because of a lack of an R18+ classification. L4D2 is a perfect example - what most people ended up doing was circumventing the classification system by buying the game from overseas and illegally importing. The only other countries which have such backward, draconian classification laws are places like North Korea, Iran, get the picture.