Ben’s latest post really got me thinking; and instead of posting an article long comment in the comments section I figured I would write a post on it. Believe it or not, here in Canada we are actually quite lucky when it comes to games and ratings!
Here’s why; In Canada it is up to the parents to say yes or no to kids… But how would you feel about the government saying yes or no… To everybody? Yes we have the ESRB, but they are much more forgiving and understanding than the Censorship team in Australia. For those of you who do not know me, I spent a lot of time in Australia where the censorship is completely out of line! In fact up until July 22, 2011, Every game that got a rating over MA15 would get an instant ban! In 2013 steps were finally taken by adding a R18+ (same as our M) to allow more games into the market… But what did this instant ban do to the market down there?
2011 was a very important year for the Aussie market because the R18+ rating was put to a vote. This was crucial because if the vote was passed to ban the R18 rating indefinitely from video games, publisher would have to drastically change their games in order to sell them in the country. I find this really funny because R18 movies are perfectly fine for the general public. Almost every R rated movie I went to had no kids in the audience. So why are parents OK to tell their kids no to an R movie but not an R game? I was looking at this possible ban as a business opportunity to be honest. There was a brief point where a North American Xbox and games would sell for outrageous prices in Australia. I sadly missed this opportunity and was forced to live there during the very rough transition from the passing vote in July 2011 until the day I left in 2012. Now Keep in mind Canada has an Adult only 18+ rating but this is reserved for just that Visual adult content, and Prolonged scenes of intense gore (if you read the definitions found on the ESRB website the M and Ao the violent section is almost identical) ! The R18+ in Aus covers everything that has strong adult themes (not actual visuals) and intense gore and violence.
The over censoring of video games forced a lot of gamer’s to miss out on key games and gaming moments. When Fallout 3 was originally released in 2008 it was denied classification in Australia because of its references to drugs and drug use. The original issue was the reference to Morphine, since this was such an easy fix Bethesda made a world wide change from Morphine to Med-x so it could be sold in the stricter countries… Makes a bit of sense now that you think back on it huh? The Witcher 2 was banned because a side mission rewarded you with sex. Which is hilariously contradictory considering prostitution is still legal in parts of the country! Left 4 Dead 2 was banned for being too violent, it wasn’t until the gore was toned down that the game was aloud to be sold. The worst part about this is how Steam toned it down. Every fan of the game knows that if you were getting swarmed by zombies a pipe bomb would help get you out of a deadly situation, well this was deemed too violent!! So in the Aussie version (apparently the German version is like this as well) the zombies would chase the bomb, and just before it would explode the bomb and the zombies would disappear. There are more but the list would cause this post to go on forever!
With refusal of classifications, publishers had two choices: changing the content then reapplying for classification, or sending their product else where. Both of which would have a negative financial effect on the company. In fact when the MA15 only ban was lifted allowing all previously banned game publishers to reapply for classifications, for the same fee they have already paid… This is a major factor in the pricing of games. The average title over there is $99… For the regular run of the mill edition. It was actually cheaper for me to mail order my games from Japan, I never actually went through with this because the legality on ordering in games that were banned from over seas was iffy so I stayed away with it and waited for someone to visit me to get the titles I really wanted. Now there are many factors adding to this massive inflation, but extreme censoring is definitely a heavy hitter!
I can happily say, that after researching this topic the censorship issue has gotten better. I’m not sure what gamer’s would do if the ban was put into effect. Can you imagine if all games released here had to stick to the T for Teen rating? Now I’m not saying games have to be gory, violent, have bad language, or sex/drug references to be good, but when used correctly those elements can help immerse you in the title. I mean how satisfying was it in Gears of War when you and a team mate would both chain saw the same target? Or Fallout; can you justify missing this title due to a morphine reference? Or Left 4 Dead 2 because mindless zombies chase a pipe bomb and explode… Yet some how the Walking Dead is perfectly fine. I’m personally relieved that it is left up to parents and their individual choice of what is and is not OK. Honestly after living in Australia during this ban, I noticed no difference in society. The bars will always have the dudes that just want to fight, there were still punk kids roaming the streets, robberies and murders happened just like in every other first world country. Yet there were no R rated games… Go figure… Maybe people should start looking at other causes for the violence in our world, and let publishers do what they do best. With any luck the ratings process will get simpler meaning a reduction in cost, which would help all gamer’s… I’m not going to hold my breath but; Hey, a man can dream can’t he?
Well that’s it for now guys,