You might remember that Dragon Age: Inquisition has some, um, interesting-sounding sexual content. That, according to EA, might not jive with India's obscenity laws, so they have decided to forgo releasing an Indian version of the dungeon-and-dragon-packed RPG altogether.
You may have seen other publications reporting that Dragon Age was either banned in India or EA chose to clip the massive beast of a game's wings because of its gay character and gay romance options. EA, however, claims that's not the case. The rep I spoke to instead said the following:
"In order to avoid a breach of local content laws, EA has withdrawn Dragon Age: Inquisition from sale in India and the game is no longer available for pre-order. Customers who pre-ordered the game will be contacted directly and will be fully refunded."
" The decision here is in relation to local obscenity laws, but not specific to same gender romance."
The EA rep went on to call same-sex romance and gay characters "irrelevant" to the matter at hand. That's a bit strange, though, given that other major games positively drowning in blood and, um, other fluids -- case in point, Grand Theft Auto V -- released in India without a hitch.
Upon request for clarification as to which obscenity laws EA is hoping to avoid breaking, I was pointed in the direction of India's penal code. Here's where things get rocky. As it turns out, India's actual definition of obscenity is exceptionally vague. And while it's perfectly legal to chill out and enjoy a Playboy/29-hour online porn marathon/Indecent Goresex Murder Simulator Electronic Game in the privacy of your own home, the production and distribution of such materials is illegal.
Outside of a few clearly, unquestionably off-limits stipulations from a more recent "Information Technology Bill" like child pornography (and anime child pornography, because not even anime is above the law), it's hard to get a handle on what exactly India deems obscene. Influential court cases narrowed it down to that which is "offensive to modesty or decency, lewd, filthy and repulsive," but that's not exactly a lot to go on.
Section 67 of India's IT Act, meanwhile, deals with "publishing obscene information in electronic form," but it's equally unclear. The closest it gets to a definition is "any material which is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest." Publishing or distributing any material deemed as such, however, can net people between five and ten years in prison (depending on number of offenses) and a hefty fine.
EA said I should look to Dragon Age: Inquisition's ESRB description to see why they feel it might be in danger of breaching laws, and while it might not top, say, Game of Thrones on the breasts-and-bits-o-meter, there's quite a lot going on here:
The game includes some sexual material: a female character briefly depicted in front of a man's torso (fellatio is implied); characters depicted topless or with exposed buttocks while lying in bed or after sex; some dialogue referencing sex/sexuality (e.g., "'I will bring myself sexual pleasure later, while thinking about this with great respect'" and "The way your t*ts bounce when I pin your arms and take you on the side of the bed…").
Is that obscene by India's standards? I can't say for sure, but EA seems to think the risk is too high for it be worth chancing. Game developers and publishers sometimes remove objectionable content from games on a region-to-region basis, but EA opted not to do that here.
But again, games like Grand Theft Auto V (and a whole host of other major releases) have proven just as "obscene" as Dragon Age, if not more so. Weird, right? Meanwhile, gay rights in India are in quite a sorry state, especially after section 377 of India's penal code was restored last year. It allows for the criminalization of homosexual acts and relationships, an idea previously abolished in 2009. Tensions, as you might imagine, are high.
That said, other games that involved gay characters or same-sex romance options -- for instance, previous BioWare games, Fable, and The Last of Us -- all freely flew their colours in India. But that was before the most recent change to Indian law. Careful where you step; if you fall into this rabbit hole, you may never see the light of day again.
So to be quite honest, we don't really know precisely what's going on. On one side we have reports -- some of which include alleged confirmation from Dragon Age: Inquisition's Indian distributor, Milestone Interactive, that this is about gay characters/relationships -- blaming same-sex issues for Inquisition's deportation, but on the other we have EA saying almost the complete opposite. I've reached out to EA for further clarification, as well as Milestone Interactive. I've yet to hear back from either, but I'll update this story when/if I do.