Top 5 Tuesdays

Sometimes, Censorship Is More Important Than Creativity

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Since the introduction of an R18+ rating for games at the start of this year, the Australian Classification Board has restricted 17 titles for purchase only by those considered ‘adult’by the state. Earlier this week, we discovered that, in spite of this, the Board is still not averse to banning games featuring content that it deems too extreme, with Saints Row IV and State of Decay both failing to fall within the restrictions of the new rating. I’ve seen several articles in response to this, attacking the government body for being overly conservative and continuing to think that we Antipodeans deserve to be wrapped in cotton wool.

Those voices of dissent have valid points. Our ilk fought for more than twenty years to gain unrestricted access to the products of game designers. The average age of gamers, according to numerous studies, is over 30 pegging them -us- as adults and therefore more than capable of making our own decisions about the content that we choose to partake of. Further, the vast majority of people over the age of 18 are capable of distinguishing reality from fantasy and are thus not likely to be influenced strongly, if at all, by what we see. In most cases, these arguments mirror those brought up in the initial struggle to get R18+ and leaves it feeling as though that war of attrition was for naught.

I sympathise with those sentiments. Nevertheless, I feel that in the name in common decency, a line has to be drawn somewhere. Allow me to state clearly right now that I am fundamentally opposed to the use and abuse of drugs, and can thus see why the ACB frowns upon their use being incentivised in both of these banned games. It promotes a fallacy that drugs are, in some nebulous way, beneficial to the well-being of your character. In a society where illicit drugs are easily accessible, is this the kind of message that we want propagated, regardless of whether those receiving it are children or adults? Surely not.

To be fair though, the inclusion of ‘Medications’ in State of Decay is somewhat understandable, as it was in Fallout 3, which also initially ran into the very same issue. In these titles, you are playing in a post-apocalyptic landscape influenced heavily by reality in terms of survival mechanics. Making it all but impossible to complete the game without utilising these buffing agents is, perhaps, taking things a bit too far, but I ask how could this mechanical reliance be mitigated without robbing State of Decay of something that makes it unique and even special? By featuring the mechanic as one with context and artistic legitimacy, I can’t help but think that the ACB’s decision to ban it based upon the incentivisation of drug taking is a case of refusing to see creative merit in a game. Saints Row IV is a different matter entirely.

Its ban is based on two factors, the first being the same as State of Decay. The difference is that in Volition’s latest, drug use is not tied to a sense of realism and necessity, but instead to the granting of superpowers to the player character. It very likely is not the developers’ intentions, but trivialising drugs by using them as a source of fantasised power-ups sends what is, unconditionally, the wrong message in any society that knows the true effects of drug use. Even so, if that were the worst the game had to offer, I would question the decision. No, the more controversial feature that has led to the ban is the one that has attained the lion’s share of attention: the ‘Alien Anal Probe’ weapon.

Even in a series founded on lunacy, excess and obscenity, a weapon based on sexual violence, one that is inserted into the backside of NPCs before launching them into the air, is one to cause furrowed brows and pursed lips. While absolutely in keeping with the irreverent nature of Saints Row, there is nothing that can justify it. It crosses a line that needn’t be drawn as irreverence descends into indecency. One commentator brought up the fact that The Human Centipede and A Clockwork Orange both feature sexual violence and were released in this country with R18+ ratings. I would hesitate to bring up the latter in this instance. The scenes involving sexual violence in A Clockwork Orange are handled with discretion and are clearly used, not for titillation or to push the boundaries, but to set up the depravity inherent in that world and its characters. Beyond this, the film takes a topical stance on criminal reform, among other relevant topics. To compare it to Saints Row IV, which is simply fluff entertainment is apples to (clockwork) oranges.

A comparison to The Human Centipede is much more apt. The film is nothing more than an exercise in just how vile and base film-making can get and, in my opinion, should never have been conceptualised, let alone produced and released. It is void of any artistic merit and any person, unless possessed of a particularly morbid curiosity, would do best to avoid it. Like Saints Row IV, it has nothing of any meaning to say and uses gratuity to appeal to a very select audience. I care not what Volition and Deep Silver have to say in defence of their latest game, the inclusion of this weapon puts it firmly on the very same level as The Human Centipede. I hardly figure that any comparison could be worse.

The rights of free speech and creative license are fine things, but the right of common decency to thrive is, in this case at least, more important. The world does not need an ‘Alien Anal Probe’ to make an appearance in gaming. What it does need is more people to take a stand against uncommon indecency. Society is already base enough.

Damien Lawardorn
Damien Lawardorn is an aspiring novelist, journalist, and essayist. His goal in writing is to inspire readers to engage and think, rather than simply consume and enjoy. With broad interests ranging from literature and video games to fringe science and social movements, his work tends to touch on the unexpected. Damien is the former Editor-in-Chief of OnlySP. More of his work can be found at https://open.abc.net.au/people/21767

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5 Comments

  1. Saints Row (at least the latest ones) and I would argue also GTA (since it is a really base game about hurting people) are bringing this industry down. I think that games like CoD, Battlefield, and others that are considered mindless shooters are better games purely on the moral standpoint. In those games you shoot faceless “enemies” that are actively trying to kill you. In GTA, you are allowed to run around and kill unarmed, innocent civilians. Those are two VERY different things, and the only reason I bring this up is so that others don’t argue that against me.

    I guess my point is that games like Saints Row IV really just shouldn’t be made, because they keep the perception of video games by the rest of the world as childish or even harmful entertainment items.

  2. I agree with the mature rating and proper control over sellers (it costs to make sure no children get to such games, but it’s necessary), but not banning. No adult should be banned from watching/playing any type of entertainment they want, when it does not feature real and physically or sexually abused individuals harmed to make it.

    The minute you take the right to culture, art and entertainment (as bad or immoral as the pieces may be) away from adults, you are tresspassing on their basic rights for access to the above material, which in no way trespasses anyone’s basic rights in its making.

    So, I’m all for enforcing the Mature rating, making special licenses for parents or friends or whoever who buys such games to keep them away from children. I’m all for educating adults in why Saint’s Row is not something your child should be playing. I agree with doing our best to keep the games away from people not capable of making their own choices and recognizing what is harmful to them and keeping it at bay. But I think banning a non-illegally, non-violently made piece of work is a disgusting rape of an adult citizen’s rights.

    I enjoy deep, thoughtful games, but I also enjoy the Saint’s Row titles, or similar ones, as mindless bashing of game objects and letting off some steam in a non-harmful way, inside my own home. They are not people, not human beings, just objects. If an adult can’t distinguish between a game object and a real person and between harming one and harming the other, said adult has way bigger problems that no amount of banning can solve and will just find something else to use as an excuse or inspiration for harmful behavior. Banning such games is treating a symptom and not the illness.

    My two cents.

    1. I get where you’re coming from and I really have no objection to Saints Row or other such games as a rule. They are fine, mindless entertainment that you can use to unwind in a particularly unrestrained form and if I came across as though I support the ban of games of this ilk, I did not intend to. I may not like that the game is a celebration of excess and freedom from constraint, but I recognise that there are those that do. My gripe with SRIV comes almost exclusively from the inclusion of the weapon that I talked about above and, if that had never been included, I would feel nothing against Volition’s vision. Knowing that they considered it appropriate has caused me to lose a degree of respect for them. I’m not calling for the game to be banned, necessarily, but only that creative freedom is metered to avoid an abuse of common decency.

      I’m not sure how it works in America, but here, everytime that I try to buy an R18+ rated product, regardless of whether it is a movie, game or magazine, I am asked to show ID, so here, at least, keeping restricted media out of the hands of youth isn’t considered such a difficult thing, unless of course the parents buy it for their children, but this, I think, is less likely due to the universal ratings labels for all media that people just understand.

      Finally, for all the posturing above, I don’t condone the banning of media. I fundamentally agree with your viewpoint that to do so is to rob consumers of the basic human right of engaging with what they choose to. However, I would fight to my last breath against products that use the name of art to promote obscenities. It’s just not needed.

      1. I fully agree then, but still think this is the least of games’ problems. I do agree we should speak up about such issues and demand for better games, where violence and sex matter and where the tone is consistent to the message.

        I do think the gun you mention is too much, but given the games themselves are humorous in nature, I don’t find it worse than some other things we see. Watch an episode of Naruto. He has a move kids in Japan do as a joke to others, where they poke their behind, but the anime turned it into a humorous jutsu called 1000 Years of Pain. It’s childish, but nothing really graphic. Since I have not seen the gun and how it works in-game, I can’t say for sure it would be as mild as that, but still.

        What I mean is, this is an industry where every game objectifies female characters in horrible ways, sometimes even encouraging the use of force on them, and idolizes male ones. We play games where it’s ok to look at women as a piece of meat with boobs and a butt. We play games where we sever heads and feed people grenades. We play games where anyone who is not a white American is ‘the enemy’ and the good soldiers make sure to wipe them off the map. We play games where violence is ok as long as the main character’s goal is achieved. Nathan Drake leaves corpses and destruction behind for the sake of material goods/relics, way before defeating the baddie becomes a necessity to actually save lives. I think games and the industry, as well as gamers, have much bigger and deep-rooted problems of morality than a silly dildo weapon. And I believe those issues do pose a bigger problem and bigger threat to young gamers’ minds than it too. Although they partly come from those problems too. Chicken-egg situation.

        So I agree these are issues, but definitely not the biggest issues and definitely not something any country should ban a game for, which as you also say, is one step too far.

  3. Aussies are such cry babies. Boohoo the game made me mad.

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