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.