BlogThe Darkness II has been rated MA15+ (legally restricted for sale/hire to people over the age of 15) twice by the Classification Board of Australia, after voluntary re-submission to include a newer version containing a sex scene. Coming with the advice of "strong horror violence, blood and gore, sex scenes and coarse language", the game was not refused classification despite very strong violence.
Stephen Totilo from Kotaku describes the game's objectionable content:
It’s the kind of a game that will show you, through a half-cracked door, the back of a fully-dressed woman giving a man oral sex, but will let you stretch a man, supine, across the length of your TV screen — suspended by the demon arms protruding from your protagonist’s body — and than penetrate one of those arms up into his back and then through his chest, murdering him as he gurgles his last bloody breath1.
It’s this weird mix....some get through and some don’t....it seems to be all about story context...and since we do have that story – where our narrative context provides a reason why you’re doing this stuff – I’m hoping it’ll get through2.
It has been confirmed the game has not been censored for Australia3 which lands this game in a very interesting position; why was it not banned? Mortal Kombat was very violent and banned. It's not hard to argue that there is very little narrative context to make the violence in Mortal Kombat acceptable - it doesn't need to be that violent - it just is.
The debate rages on about videogame classification in Australia - below is a list of some of the titles that are either banned or were initially banned:
- 50 Cent: Bulletproof - banned due to constant bloody & gory violence. Later released censored.
- Aliens vs. Predator - originally banned because of violence involving graphic depictions of mutilation. Rating later appealed and overturned and now is rated MA15+.
- BMX XXX - banned due to high impact sexual references. Later released censored.
- Dark Sector - banned due to gory violence involving mutilations. Later released censored.
- Fallout 3 - Originally banned because of drug use in relation to real world drugs and subsequent connection to its incentive/rewards. Edited world wide due to the insignificant change that was done (the name of morphine being changed to Med-x). Therefore the same game that was rated 17+/18+ in other countries was rated MA15+ in Australia.
- The House of the Dead: Overkill Extended Cut - Originally banned due to relentlessly graphic and detailed depictions of violence and gore. Sega successfully appealed the rating and is now rated MA15+ uncut on the basis that the over the top violence mitigated the impact.
- Left 4 Dead 2 - banned due to relentless gore. Later released heavily censored.
- Pretty much every Grand Theft Auto game - general pattern is to be initially banned for sexual content and to be re-released censored.
- Marc Ecko's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure - Originally rated MA15+ but appealed by Federal Attorney-General. Appeal voted to ban the title due to its glorification of grafitti.
- Manhunt - Originally rated MA15+ but appealed by Federal Attorney-General. Appeal voted to ban the title due to high-impact violence involving torture. Manhunt 2 was never submitted by Rockstar as they safely assumed it too would be banned.
- Mortal Kombat - Banned due to the graphic realistic depictions of mutilations and gore performed by the fatalities. Ban upheld by Australian Classification Review Board.
- Risen - Banned because of sexual activity and drug use related to incentives.
- Silent Hill: Homecoming - Banned because of a scene of very disturbing content involving drilling into body parts. Konami has since modified this part of the game to meet MA15+ guidelines.
- The Witcher 2 - Banned because of sex related to rewards. A side quest was given a minor edit (changing the context of sex being used as an incentive) and the game was subsequently rerated MA15+.
There is also the question of why many titles are being released here with a lower rating than other counties including:
- Halo 3 - received an M15+ in Australia (recommended to those 15 years and older). Received 17+ rating in the US.
- The Witcher - received an MA15+ in Australia, 18 rating from PEGI, BBFC and USK.
- Both Zone of the Enders and Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner received a PG (parental guidance recommended for young children) (the first received a G8+, the older game-only equivlant that was phased out) in Australia, M17+ from ESRB and R16 from New Zealand's OFLC.
Note the above list could also include just about any first-person shooter, such as Bioshock (MA15+ in Australia, M17+ in the US, 18+ from PEGI) and Deus Ex: Human Revolution (MA15+ in Australia, M17+ in the US and 18+ from PEGI).
The last point I'd like to address is the aspect of mobile and some online games. World of Warcraft was rated M15+ on the 16th of September, 2009 despite the game going live in November 2004. Why the five year wait? The game technically was not required to be rated due to a legal loophole - it is an online game. Despite being sold in stores, the game flouted the legal requirement for all games to be rated prior to being sold. But mobile games? That's much more amusing. in August 2010 a loophole was pointed out that mobile content providers were not required to have their products rated. Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor was then considering whether to make this a requirement, similar to the way films and games are required to submit prior to being sold in stores4. It turns out the government did not want to allocate the huge amount of resources required to the classification board that would be required if all mobile applications were required to be classified. Instead, the decision was made to just have a complaint system whereby the public can complain about content it believes is questionable.5
Whie I understand it is a large cost and effort to have every mobile application classified it does leave a huge difference in the law between traditional videogames and those on mobile devices. Australia's government doesn't know what it wants to do - how can they please the majority and keep the minority groups happy? That is the ever-lasting conflict of a liberal democratic government like ours. Internet censorship is also a problem here, with web-based games and general content that would be refused classification if it were released conventionally generally being accessible. The government is currently unable to consider their intended legislation due to currently being in a minority government. Past tests have raised concerns about independence, accuracy and filters lowering data speeds - but that's a story for another time. For a great example of what videogam.in might look like in Australia in the coming years click here.
Our classification system is not keeping up with the times and is a general mess. We still do not have an adult's only rating (despite the in principle agreement to get that ball rolling) for videogames. Our film industry is still generally unable to display actual sexual activity (it's meant to be only simulated) but exceptions occur making the rules pointless. R18+ films must be censored for television broadcast. There are inconsitencies in television and DVD classification (as they are done by two different groups) and video pornography is only legal for sale in the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory. Yet it is somehow legal for anyone living elsewhere to order them from these states and legally watch them in their home. We're a nation that tries to control the viewing/playing habits of everyone despite the classification code containing the goal that "adults should be able to read, hear and see what they want"6. I guess this is what happens when the government is meant to please the individual and the majority at the same time - crazy chaos.