Games are still getting banned – I thought we had an R18+ rating now?

I was an Authorised Assessor for Computer and Video games for nine years. That means that for nine years I was the person at the publisher I worked for who was in charge of completing the submissions to the (then) Office of Film and Literature Classification for our games. I’d fill out the reports detailing all the nastiness in the game – the violence, the drugs, the sex, the coarse language etc.

I was also recording footage of said violent content, giving a recommendation to the OFLC as to what level that content fell in (G, PG, M, MA15+ etc), and basically painting a picture of what all the stuff which was classifiable in each game was like and where in the game to find it.

With the new R18+ rating firmly in place, there are a lot of people wondering why we’re still seeing games being banned, with Saint’s Row IV and State of Decay both falling by the wayside this week.

It’s a shame, but here’s the skinny on why this stuff is still happening. When the R18+ rating was under consideration at a Federal level, the proposed guidelines for them were first releases publicly after some consultation.

The guidelines existed previously when we didn’t have an R18+ rating and listed precisely what was allowable at each level. For example, at G, you couldn’t have any nudity (obviously). At MA15+, you could, but only if it was ‘justified by context’.

Nudity being justified by context was always an interesting one since someone streaking at a footy match is still technically in context.

Regardless, some guidelines changed, others were moved up to R18+, new ones were stipulated and in general, the whole landscape shifted.

Those which are worth noting include that at MA15+ sexual violence was not allowed to be implied unless justified by context. Now, under R18+ it can also not be ‘interactive’.

The interactive nature of the alien anal probe in Saint’s Row IV is the reason is still managed to contravene the guidelines in spite of the R18+ rating being in existence. For a great couple of write-ups on different perspectives on this side of the debacle, see my own work on MCV and Brenna Hillier’s writing on VG247.

But since both titles were flagged for drug use, I wanted to outline the drug guideline, which simply hasn’t changed.

Both before and now, drug use ‘must not be related to incentives or rewards’. This meant that if you snorted cocaine in a video game and it gave you powerups or something, you were banned.

Fairly black and white.

Where the area got grey was in the use of things which were analogous to drugs. In Bioshock, the only thing which saw the obvious drug reference of the Plasmid get through was its name. It was injected intravenously, was addictive as all hell and saw the breakdown of society. An incredibly obvious analogy for drugs. And they definitely were tied to incentives or rewards – they gave you fireballs in your hands for god’s sake!

But they weren’t drugs.

They were Plasmids.

When Fallout 3 got into hot water for the same problem, it was because the drugs were used for health purposes (an incentive or reward), and were real world drugs. Granted morphine is actually used for those exact purposes in real life war situations, but that wasn’t the point. The guidelines don’t specify illegal drugs.

Flash forward to this week, where the guidelines haven’t been changed at all, and what have we got?

‘Alien narcotics’ in Saint’s Row IV. I’d argue here that by virtue of being ‘alien’, they can’t be real world drugs, but since they’re called ‘narcotics’ specifically, the Classification Board has seen fit to override their alienness.

And there’s the myriad of drugs available to create, take and ultimately use for survival in State of Decay. Now that one is in direct contradiction of the guidelines, and it makes sense that it would be banned.

Not that I think the guidelines are right to phrase things the way they do. I don’t think it should be as clear-cut as it currently is.

But the guidelines are what they are, and we’re still going to get games slapped with the RC label from time to time. We may not agree or like it, but this is the reality of what the R18+ classification is and means.

If you want to know exactly what is and isn’t allowed, check out the current ratings guidelines for yourself.