The Australian government seem to think that video games are only for kids but hate both of those terms. They denied even the existence of adults who played games for years, until the R18+ rating was introduced at the start of 2013. So if you were over 18 and played Skyrim before that, you legally didn’t exist.
We love video games, and if we tried to write down how we felt about censorship we’d trigger it. So we’re looking back on some of the most ridiculous moments in Australian gaming censorship.
The Night Trap terror
Night Trap was a failed audition tape from the Union of Unemployably Bad Extras, accidentally released on Sega-CD in 1993. It triggered global political outrage over video games, and those politicians couldn’t have been more out of touch if they’d been demanding apologies from the Klingon ambassador.
The game was denounced as a digitised Necronomicon capable of doing everything but building the blood-soaked altar in your basement. But anyone who actually played it could tell you it had less violence than most pantomimes, and a smaller special effects budget. There wasn’t even any blood. A sachet of tomato ketchup has more gore potential than this game.
People ‘died’ by leaving the room, either falling down a trapdoor or being escorted out by bad guys. If it is a horror game, it’s the first to simulate a baby’s fear of object impermanence.
The outrage proved that politicians involved thought that ‘turning on’ a console was a sex scandal. Complaining about the evil of Night Trap is like complaining about the oral sex on a rugby pitch: it doesn’t just reveal that you don’t know what you’re talking about, but reveals things that make people worry about your thought processes.
Despite this, and the fact it was one of the worst games ever made, it contributed to the introduction of a gaming classification scheme.
Grand Theft Auto III makes war, not love
Grand Theft Auto is famous for creating hugely impressive virtual worlds and then filling them with vague chores to kill time, often by killing everything else.
In Grand Theft Auto III you could hire virtual sex workers, and that was clearly more fun in the imaginations of Australian lawmakers than it was in the game. In the game they climbed into your car, it shook for a bit, and then you had a bit less money. A brutal satire of the eternal struggle of our species, to be sure, but we don’t think this stark summary of organic life is why it was censored.
This suspension-shaking had to be cut before the game could come to Australia. The suspension could still shake if you rammed people, ran them over, or rammed them then ran them over after using their corpse to test the littering effects of grenades, but implying that there might be such a thing as sex is unacceptable. Which is weird, because that’s the only one a child can prove just by existing.
Teaching 15-year-olds about violence but not sex? Media censorship might just be the world’s slowest and worst attempt to wipe out the human race.
Fallout 3, the master of disguise
Fallout 3 is one of the greatest games ever made, and it was refused classification in Australia because it mentioned morphine.
(Note: an entire band called Morphine had already spent ten weeks in the Australian charts without incident).
Apparently the nuclear war, cannibal super-mutants, and slow-motion shotguns to the face were fine, but mentioning painkillers went too far. It’s possible the Australian Classification Board thought video games were an early form of the Matrix, teaching children about crimes by uploading the concepts directly into their heads. Which should cause a temporal paradox, since nobody would have been able to invent drugs before games existed to tell us about them, but that’s easily explained by the time travel machinery featured in Sonic CD.
The only change required was renaming ‘Morphine’ ‘Med-X’, a medical opiate analgesic which binds to opiod receptors in the nervous system, often found in first aid kits and used as a painkiller. Good job, ACB, no-one’ll figure that one out.
The game still featured laser weapons, plasma grenades, and the Q-35 Matter Modulator plasma weaponry. Maybe the ACB left those in because they thought kids would boost the tech industry by inventing them once the concept has been uploaded into their minds through the controller.
Marc Eckō’s Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure
In 2006 Marc Eckō’s Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure was banned for glorifying graffiti.
In 2007 Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 was released without incident, and that’s not a title, that’s a Mad Lib of words related to shooting people (or having been shot) through the head.
Getting Up had originally been given an MA15+ certification, but Federal Attorney-General at the time Philip Ruddock specifically targeted it, overturning the certification because of the graffiti. So well done on having apparently eliminated all other crime back in 2006, Australia. You’d think the rest of the world would have noticed something like that.
The Federal Classification Review Board decided that the game not only encouraged but provided instruction for how to create graffiti.
Listen, if your hoodlums can’t even work a spray can without instruction, you should probably let the video games teach them, because your educational system clearly isn’t up to it.
And if the worst crime problem facing your society is teens tagging things, you want to encourage that. Leave pallets of spray paint unattended near freshly whitewashed walls. Replace your police forces with painters and decorators.
Aliens vs Predator
Aliens vs Predator was banned in 2010, barely 30 years after the release of the original Alien movie. As you can see, Australia’s gaming authorities are up to speed on modern media. That’s barely a different century!
The game was refused certification because of violence – which, to be fair, is entirely and only what Aliens and Predators do. This case was notable because the publisher refused to change a thing. You know your government has gotten ridiculous when video game companies start ignoring it.
Game developer Rebellion stated “we will not be releasing a sanitised or cut down version for territories where adults are not considered by their governments to be able to make their own entertainment choices.” It’s a good thing the Alien franchise is famous for flamethrowers, because burn.
Publisher SEGA stood firm and eventually forced through an MA15+ certification. It was a powerful victory for gamers – not because they got to play Aliens vs Predator, which was horribly mediocre for such an awesome premise, but because even members of the censorship board had effectively admitted that they hadn’t known what they were doing all this time.
There was an even more wonderful admission in the Classification Review Board’s statement: “The more contentious violence is randomly generated and is not dependent on player selection of specific moves.” That’s a more terrifying psychological revelation than seeing your own entrails in a Rorschach test. They’re saying you’re not allowed to commit violent acts, but if an uncaring universe brutally randomly subjects you to evisceration then that’s just fine.
Not only is it scary, but when the video game review board doesn’t like it when the player can do things they might be in the wrong career.
South Park: The Stick of Truth
South Park tested Australia’s newly enlightened censorship strategy to destruction. The censorship board understood that there is such a thing as an adult, awarding the game an R18+ rating, but decided that adults can’t quite be trusted, censoring swathes of the game anyway.
The developers hid these scenes pictures of crying koalas. That’s not a joke. Or at least, not a joke by us.
On the upside, this time we weren’t alone. The European Union also censored several scenes, this time behind an EU flag with a weeping Greek statue. Don’t worry about missing anything important: South Park’s entire gimmick was having cartoon children do things cartoon children shouldn’t do, and 17 years later they seemed as surprised as anyone else that they were still going. Which caused a slight shortfall in originality.
Quick, think of the most obvious ways to try and shock people. Correct! It was anal rape and abortion! Yes, some people do still think that’s edgy.
Saints Row IV
Saints Row IV is what happens when people play Grand Theft Auto and think “What if this was fun?” It takes the open-world quest design and turns it up to 11, then replaces that silly finite number with an infinity symbol, superpowers, and as many tanks as you want.
The game was initially refused classification because of drugs. A single use of drugs. Alien drugs. We feel it’s very important you know that this game was banned across an entire continent because of a single use of xenonarcotics. Those aren’t things that exist!
The censorship board thought that implying extraterrestrial chemicals could make you stronger would be the electronic signal to start a narcotics crimewave. By the way, the Captain America movies are released in Australia with no problem. As was the Captain America video game.
The game was already a parody of Grand Theft Auto, but here’s where it also satirised the concept of Australian censorship. Saints Row IV wasn’t just a game, it was a game inside a game, where the main characters had been abducted by aliens and uploaded inside another game, and it’s inside this visibly pixelated and glitching double-video-game world that the character Shaundi takes alien drugs. While fighting flying aliens and TRON soldiers.
It couldn’t have been more unrealistic without causing the console to float.
A revised version of the game was released with the single mission removed, and the slight problem that Australian’s can’t play co-op missions with anyone else in the world. You know, in case those scary foreigners mention any dangerous non-existent substances.
If this issue had been any more disconnected from reality it would have been working for the censorship board instead of being censored by it.