When I woke up this morning, I thought the Fallout 3 ban had been a dream. Yet, when I opened my browser to Kotaku AU's front page, there it was: my own post declaring the event as fact. When I wrote the post, I could only guess at the reasons why the game was refused classification, though rumours suggested drug references as the likely cause.
Well, Australian Gamer managed to get its hands on the OFLC's report for Fallout 3. The ban had nothing to do with decapitation, gore or dismemberment. It was the drugs, and only the drugs. I should be shocked, but all I can do is shake my head. And shake it hard.
From the report:
The game contains the option to take a variety of "chems" using a device which is connected to the character's arm. Upon selection of the device a menu selection screen is displayed. Upon this screen is a list of "chems" that the player can take, by means of selection. These "chems" have positive effects and some negitave effects (lowering of intelligence, or the character may become addicted to the "chem"). The positive effects include increase in strength, stamina, resistance to damage, agility and hit points.
Corresponding with the list of various "chems" are small visual representation of the drugs, these include syringes, tablets, pill bottles, a crack-type pipe and blister packs. In the Board's view these realistic visual representations of drugs and their delivery method bring the "science-fiction" drugs in line with "real-world" drugs.
The report then states that "material promoting or encouraging proscribed drug use" is grounds enough to refuse classification. Furthermore, the use of morphine is highlighted, as well as its in-game effect: allowing the player to ignore damage.
Wait, doesn't Call of Cthulu on Xbox have a similar morphine mechanic? It does indeed. What rating did the OFLC give it? An MA 15+.
As a lot of readers have mentioned, Half-Life constantly refers to the use of morphine. Yet, by the same guidelines, the OFLC gave the 1998 title an MA 15+. While the OFLC has no control over the guidelines - that's up to the Attorney-General's department - it does determine how they're applied.
I think in Fallout 3's case it was the addictive qualities of in-game drugs like Jet and Mentats and their visual representation, combined with the "morphine" mention, that pushed Fallout 3 into RC territory. Throw in a stricter board and we have our magic formula.
Yet, seeing as these drugs (with the exception of morphine) and their effects were present in previous Fallout games, it still feels like half-arsed application of the guidelines. Of course, none of this would be a problem if the Attorneys-General could agree on an R18+ rating.
Sadly, it is only a "vocal minority" that want such a rating, according to the AG office's 2007 report on games classification.
Update: A while back I made a post on what you can do to help make an R18+ for games reality. I plan on writing an update to the article in light of recent events. Remember, if you do email the Attorneys-General or the OFLC, be articulate, well-mannered and logical with your arguments - rants built of swear words will only hurt our chances.
Fallout 3 OFLC documents [Australian Gamer]