Video Game Censorship: Getting it Wrong

Video Game Censorship: Getting it Wrong

Another month, another game cited for retail extinction in Australia. This time, it’s Warner Bros rather brave attempt to reboot the Mortal Kombat franchise that’s received the sharp end of the Australian Classification Board’s censorship stick, with the slaughter-‘em-up joining the likes of Left 4 Dead 2, Aliens Vs Predator, Silent Hill: Homecoming and Fallout 3 in the reject pile.

That Mortal Kombat’s fallen foul of the country’s lack of adult classification shouldn’t come as a surprise – like previous entries in the series, it’s a game that revels in a dose of the old ultra-violence and then layers the severed body parts on thick purely because it can. What the failure does highlight, however, is just how backwards Australia is as a country when it comes to its ability to offer the very classification services that it holds onto so stringently.

Brendan O’Connor, Australia’s Home Affairs minister, already said it best in an interview with ABC News: “We’re becoming the laughing stock of the developed world, where we’re the only country that doesn’t have an R18 classification level for videogames.” But while it’s easy for those us with our ESRB M for Mature or BBFC 18 ratings to point and laugh at the misfortune of Australian gamers, the problem here isn’t that they’re being denied the chance to play certain titles. No, it’s more that they’re being given easier access to others that are more restricted elsewhere.

Take Duke Nukem Forever, for instance, which is currently doing the controversy rounds with its butt-slapping multiplayer mode – while it’ll be coming out as M for Mature in the US and Rated 18 in the UK, any Australian gamer over 15 can walk into a store and buy it on release thanks to the ACB giving it an MA 15+ classification, the highest available rating in the country. The same goes for Bulletstorm (which now has the right to call any 15+ Australian gamer ‘d*ck tits’, whether they are or not), Yakuza 4, the frankly petrifying Dead Space 2, the ridiculous-but-still-gory Dead Rising 2, Splatterhouse, Saw II… hey, we could go on.

It doesn’t take a genius to spot the trend: Thanks to Australia’s classification system only going up to MA 15+, many games are actually getting under-rated and, as such, offered to a much younger audience than they probably should be. Such facts only make the arguments of the religious and parent groups decrying the idea of an R18+ rating moot, since bringing in the classification would lock more of the graphic content away instead of exposing younger gamers to new levels of violence as they say it will.*

* Side note: That in itself is a ridiculous claim anyway – surely if it was behind an R18+ barrier, younger gamers shouldn’t have access to it in the first place so long as parents made sure their children were playing games suitable to their age group? Nothing like an example of rights groups being willing to lay blame, but unwilling to accept responsibility to get the blood pumping in the morning…

On the plus side, it looks as though Australia finally has the people in power to make a judgement call on the matter – O’Connor himself has declared that he wants a consensus on bringing in the rating by July 2011, and will act even if one isn’t reach. Still, he said the same thing before the talks last December – talks that fell disappointingly flat – and anyone with a calendar can work out that the debate has dragged on for the best part of ten years, so we won’t be holding our breath for a resolution any time soon.

All the while though, the ACB’s role as the gatekeeper of violence looks more and more farcical. Keeping titles that older gamers would want to play out while allowing younger gamers to experience ones that their similarly-aged overseas counterparts can’t? We’re pretty sure that’s not how it’s meant to work.

About Martin Mathers
Martin Mathers has written about games for the last 12 years and worked on some of UK’s best magazines including X360, Official Nintendo Magazine and gamesTM (which he helped create). He now consults for publishers, freelances for numerous websites and writes his own blog.

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